Minors arrested for prostitution who agree to take the “first step” in rehabilitation, will be given resources, a clean record and a chance to start over.
The average age of entrance into prostitution in the United States is 12 to 14 years old, and for years, minors caught in prostitution for years have faced punishment instead of protection.
However, LA county District Attorney, Jackie Lacey, and a local nonprofit, Saving Innocence, have implemented a new plan that could change the fate of these children in Los Angeles.
The plan is called the First Step Diversion Program. It aims to offer minors alternative support and rehabilitation in place instead of going through probation and facing criminal charges. Those who complete the First Step program will have the arrest taken off their record, giving them a chance to start over. The campaign will debut in the coming months in Compton and Sylmar in south Los Angeles County.
The program will consist of referral services helping give the minors shelter, food, clothing, and health services for physical or mental needs. Police officials say that the one-on-one attention these trafficking victims will receive is unlike any other program, calling First Step the first of its kind.
These minors are under the legal age of consent and pimps control many of them, so giving them services seems to be an obvious alternative to incarceration or criminal charges.
“The majority of women have a pimp whether they admit it or not,” says Kristin Ross Lauterbach, director of the documentary ‘Flesh: Bought and Sold in the US.”
The plan has been widely supported by groups working to fight domestic sex trafficking, such as the Valley Trauma Center, the YWCA Greater Los Angeles and the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking.
However, while the mission of this new program is widely supported and the end result sounds promising, the effectiveness cannot yet be determined.
Cheryl Hock, director of The Nest, a rehabilitation home for sex-trafficked minors, says the real test lies in getting minors to stay.
“So they’re going to have an advocate which is great. The question is, do they really want out? That’s what it’s going to come down to,” says Hock. “These kids are really savvy. Some of them are going to say I’ll go here instead of going to jail, and then I’ll go back to my pimp.”