Higher Learning: Sex Trafficking
InsideOUT Writers is honored to be a part of a community of organizations and individuals who are committed to transforming the juvenile justice system. This column highlights people who are making a difference. In this issue, Markese Freeman of the Los Angeles County Probation Department, discusses the tragedy of sex trafficking in LA County.
The Exploitation of Children in Los Angeles County
I was born and raised in Los Angeles. I am one of 18 children with whom my parents had the pleasure of sharing their wisdom and knowledge. I attended the local schools in my area and learned to respect my community. Growing up between Figueroa and Hoover, it was very common for me, as a child, to witness what I now know is human trafficking and the exploitation of children. I was not aware of the psychological damage it was doing to me until I started working for the Probation Department.
At first, I would see the minors come in for prostitution charges and I would immediately assume that they were bad people and that they were committing a crime. I was wrong. After attending a conference on human trafficking and the exploitation of children, I dramatically changed my thinking and my life’s work. I was determined to make a difference in the lives of our youth who are detained for selling their bodies for the profit of another person.
A girl typically enters “the life” between the ages of 12 and 14. These girls are not necessarily running away from something horrible at home. Sometimes, the girls are running towards something. You have a young lady with no father in the house — she’s looking for a male role model. Someone to give her attention to praise her and call her “daddy’s little girl.” The pimp understands this. He drives around the neighborhood and hangs around the children’s court, identifying potential victims. Then he makes contact. He uses language like, “We’re a family” and “I’m in love with you.” Not long after that, he tells her that she has to pay her way to be a part of the family. She’s only 12 years old and can’t get a job. He tells her the only way she can make money is to sell her body and if she loves him, she will do it. If she disagrees, the pimp will threaten physical punishment or harm to her or her family. Drugs are also introduced at this time to control and to manipulate the child. Physical, mental, emotional and spiritual abuse are introduced in rapid succession.
Since the start of the Probation Department’s Task Force on Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (CSEC), I have interviewed hundreds of minors and all of their stories are similar in nature. I consider it an honor to be a voice for these victims, both living and deceased.
– Markese Freeman
Markese Freeman is a Senior Detention Officer with the Los Angeles County Probation Department at Central Juvenile Hall and heads the task force on Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (CSEC). He is dedicated to educating the public about issues surrounding the sex trafficking industry in Los Angeles.