Lost in the System: Girls, Foster Care and the Commercial Sex Trade in L.A. County

Hundreds of L.A. children are sexually exploited every year. Experts in the field say it’s not surprising that 70 percent of them are in foster care.

“A lot of times, pimps want them to get arrested or want them to end up in foster care or whatever the case because they have the [better] ability to recruit when they do that,” says Charity Chandler-Cole, board member of the Anti-Recidivism Coalition and a former foster child, in regard to the criminalization of girls who have been victims of commercial sex trafficking.

“When I realized that threatening them with these sort of punishments was not effective, I realized that I need to find another way to engage them and help them,” said Judge Catherine Pratt of the Compton Juvenile Court in Los Angeles.

Now Judge Pratt spearheads the STAR Court (Succeeding Through Achievement and Resilience), where girls receive specialized supports and bring together a multidisciplinary team “who are invested and passionate about providing intervention services for youth.”

Boys, too, are victims of commercial sexual exploitation. STAR Court documents note that they focus on girls specifically because girls comprise 95 percent of the young people referred by law enforcement for prostitution-related crimes.

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