The Board of Supervisors unanimously voted Tuesday to support a state ballot initiative that would strengthen penalties against human traffickers and protect sexually exploited children.
Supervisor Don Knabe recommended support for the Californians Against Sexual Exploitation Act, saying the Los Angeles region is a major hub for that type of criminal activity.
"I had just assumed that child prostitution and sex trafficking was something that happens in Third World countries, but this is happening right here in our own backyard, in our own communities," Knabe said.
Victims, on average, are between 12 and 14 years old, he said.
Daphne Phung, executive director and founder of California Against Slavery, addressed the board.
"These girls should be worried about their algebra problems and not worried about how they're going to make the money that night so that they won't be beaten or so that they can have some food to eat," she said.
If enacted, the CASE Act would be the toughest human trafficking law in the country, Knabe said. It would increase prison terms for human traffickers, require convicted sex traffickers to register as sex offenders, mandate training for law enforcement officers and require criminal fines from convicted human traffickers to pay for services to help victims.
"I want Los Angeles County to be a national leader in fighting this heinous crime and protecting our vulnerable youth," Knabe said.
"Earlier this year, I asked the county's Probation Department to implement a program that will give the girls who come into our (juvenile justice) system a chance to heal and an opportunity for a new life," he said.
"But we must also deal with the real criminals here—the pimps who forcibly coerce and manipulate young girls into selling their bodies. ... The CASE Act would be a major step forward in enacting tougher penalties and putting an end to the physical and mental abuse of these young girls."
The board also urged residents to vote in favor of the ballot measure in the November statewide election.