Editor’s Note: On Dec. 9, 2014, Deputy District Attorney Karen Martinez, presented the following proposal for a collaborative effort currently underway aimed at assisting young girls who have been victims of human trafficking. Collaborators currently include the District Attorney’s Officer, Public Defender’s Officer, Probation Department, and the Superior Court.
By Deputy District Attorney Karen Martinez
When I say the words “prostitute” “hooker” “whore” or “pimp,” I am certain that you have an image in your head of what those labels represent.
Janie D. was born to a mother with substance abuse and mental health issues. Because of this, she was raised primarily in the home of her father from the age of four. At age 13, she was being sexually abused by a 28-year-old cousin of her father. By the ages of 14 and 15, Janie had been arrested for battery and resisting arrest on multiple occasions.
During this time, she began to run away from home on a frequent basis. She felt abandoned by her drug addicted mother and knew her father was overwhelmed and unable to parent well. She stopped attending school. By the age of 16 she was regularly arrested for using drugs and admitted to being “out on the streets, getting high (on meth).” She had also begun cutting herself on the wrists. She had multiple hospitalizations, diagnosed with bipolar disorder and major depression.
Her history of molestation and self-harm issues were not immediately known to the juvenile delinquency court. When it was discovered, the juvenile mental health court tried to intervene, but Janie had no interest in cooperating. She continued to run away. Eventually, it was discovered that Janie was a victim of human trafficking. That is, she was engaging in sexual activity in exchange for money. However, Janie wasn’t getting paid. Rather, she was handing the money over to a pimp.
She disclosed that she had at least two pimps who beat her. Probation officers assigned to monitor Janie soon found that she was pictured on the internet advertising sex for money. The pictures showed Janie in various states of undress, surrounded by money and the headless body of a male who was believed to be her pimp.
From age 14 to 18, Janie was in juvenile court many times. She repeatedly acknowledged that she engaged in acts of prostitution. She turned 18 while in custody and was then released into the community as an adult, no longer able to rely on resources previously available and fending for herself.
Janie and other young women in our community represent a population at immediate risk of harm, often including death.
A brief and simplified overview of the juvenile justice system is this: Children under the age of 18 who are accused of committing a crime come to court and the crime is found true or untrue. The judge then imposes some consequence for the criminal action, such as probation or placement away from home. The goal of the juvenile court system is the rehabilitation of the minors rather than punishment.
The current state of the law is that if a child is found to be engaging in the act of prostitution activity, they are arrested and charged with that crime. At this time, it is one of the few ways to identify the issues, prosecute the abusers and attempt to offer services and rehabilitation to the child.
We are attempting to establish Girl’s Court to address those charged with prostitution AND those who are in danger of becoming involved in that lifestyle. We believe that establishing a specialized court for these girls is imperative. By using a collaborative approach, we believe we can have greater success in identifying these girls and provide more specific services to meet their individual needs.
Our focus is on the female offenders in the juvenile justice system. We propose to be gender RESPONSIVE, not just gender specific. We acknowledge that there are historical, societal and individual factors which differentiate the female offenders from the males. This collaborative court will include not only those girls found to be actively engaged in sexual trafficking , but also those who may be at risk of becoming victims of sexual exploitation. Risk factors may include a history of sexual or physical abuse. Other risk factors may be family instability, substance abuse by parents, girls who identify as lesbian, bisexual or transgender, family or parental rejection, homelessness or poverty, etc.
As a community, we already provide many of the basic living necessities for the people of San Bernardino County. Many of us have dedicated our professional lives to the public through our individual departments. We have chosen public service for a reason. We have an interest in our community and we are invested in its well-being and are proud of our opportunity and ability to help others. As public servants, we know the value of giving and investing time and energy into all individuals because making one person stronger benefits society as a whole.
The Girl’s Court we propose would provide consistent supportive services in an attempt to redirect and empower young women who come before the juvenile delinquency court. We envision females as leaders in this court. In addition, we will strive for consistent and more frequent proceedings than those currently utilized (normally, after a crime is found true, the juvenile court may often place the juvenile offender on probation for a one-year period without intervening court appearances unless there is an identified/reported problem).
However, when a young girl is referred to this court, she will find that the judge, the Deputy DA and her attorney will be knowledgeable on the subject of human trafficking and sexual exploitation and indicators that put her at risk. With an understanding of the girl’s specific needs, the court staff will provide education, support, and encouragement.
The collaborative nature of this court may include several different county agencies. These young women have likely suffered trauma. They may suffer from depression or other mental issues. We hope to involve mental health professionals who can offer them treatment. They also have physical medical issues and will benefit from family planning professionals who can treat them for pregnancies, STDs, birth control
They will have issues with substance abuse and often will begin using drugs to “escape” from trauma endured. Substance abuse counseling should be offered. Many have had their education interrupted and will need tutors or credit recovery experts to assist so that they can earn their high school diploma.
Young women can benefit from classes in self-defense. They may also need help with issues of bullying and other issues affecting self-esteem. They will likely benefit from exposure to survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault and human trafficking. They may need shelter, food, clothing and assistance and support if they are asked to participate in the prosecution of their pimps. County agencies such as the Probation Department, Behavioral Health, Children’s Fund and Network, Public Health or Arrowhead Regional Medical Center may be willing and able to contribute time, professional services or other resources for the benefit of these girls. This short list is not exhaustive and we welcome participation from any agency or department capable and willing to help.
The girls we intend to serve are not always easily helped. They have often experienced bonding with their abusers, similar to domestic violence survivors. Often they are not “ready” to be “saved.” Working with these young ladies can be challenging. They may run away, they may lie, etc. When we become enlightened and knowledgeable, working together with consistency we have a better chance of reaching them as soon as possible.
We’ve all heard the parable of the Starfish:
AND, when you think of those children, you will also remember that they are young ladies who matter in our community. They deserve our attention and assistance. With proper tools and patience we may be able to help them achieve a different life, with a new and brighter future.