Los Angeles County officials are ramping up efforts to curb child sex trafficking by increasing county oversight of certain hotels and motels.
These budget facilities provide emergency shelter under the Department of Public Social Services (DPSS) General Relief Emergency Housing program, but are often used by traffickers and their customers.
The motion passed today by the county’s Board of Supervisors instructs DPSS and County Counsel to conduct a feasibility study on changing the requirements and contracting procedures for hotels and motels participating in the program.
If the proposed changes are implemented, participating hotels/motels would have to sign contracts, rather than less-restrictive agreements, stating they will not allow or participate in any form of sex trafficking on their premises. They will also be provided with anti-trafficking posters and hotline information, which they must hang in a visible location such as a lobby, in addition to agreeing to allow law enforcement to check guest registries at-will.
Lastly, all vendors will be required to participate in a training session on sex trafficking provided by the county.
The feasibility study will also look at increasing payments to hotels and motels that participate in the emergency housing program. The rate has been frozen at $24 per day since 2003. Additionally, the study will examine the prospect of instituting a competitive bidding process for vendors.
Fueling the move by county leaders is the fact that many of the current emergency housing vendors are located in corridors where prostitution is known to be prevalent. The motion submitted by Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Don Knabe cites the California Child Welfare Council, which has estimated that a trafficker may earn as much as $650,000 in a year by selling as few as four children.
Also of concern is that vendors appear to under-report criminal activity on their premises to law enforcement, and that DPSS only makes a single monthly visit to each vendor, which takes place during regular business hours.
A spokesperson for DPSS said during today’s board meeting that the agency is committed to working with the board to ensure it does not contract with entities who allow sex trafficking at their facilities. DPSS also plans to collaborate with the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department and other law enforcement agencies to establish a reporting protocol in order to capture criminal activity taking place at hotels and motels under contract with the county.
One of many community-based nonprofit organizations supporting the motion is Saving Innocence, which works to rescue children from sexual trafficking.
“One-hundred percent of the children we serve were held captive or sold in these hotels and motels,” said Kim Biddle, executive director, during the meeting. “I would say we also need to look into criminalizing owners and managers of these hotels, but at the very least we need to increase their accountability.”
Biddle said Ariel, a recent child victim served by Saving Innocence, “was held in a Studio City hotel for three months, and no one identified her or the other children being held there. This was a case of five traffickers and violent acts of rape and child pornography.”