Child Sex Trafficking

On any given day, nearly 400,000 children are living without a permanent family in the U.S. foster care system. Many kids are bounced from one temporary placement to another, never knowing when next they’ll be uprooted. Too many are abused in a system that is supposed to protect them.  Each year 20,000 children “age out” of the system, released at 18 years old onto the street. The statistics are heartbreaking: some 40 percent may become homeless, according to the National Council for Adoption. Thirty three percent have not had enough food at some point within the past year; only half will be employed by age 24, while 71 percent of women will become pregnant by 21.  One individual in four suffers posttraumatic stress disorder.

No wonder, then, pimps in search of girls to control and enslave, prey on group homes. “Foster care is absolutely a pipeline into sexual exploitation,” says Los Angeles Times investigative reporter Garrett Therolf.  “Pimps can empty a group home in a matter of weeks.”

These throwaway children seek protection, food and shelter from a pimp, who may pose as a father or brother figure or boyfriend, using a psychological mix of affection, violence and intimidation to assure their loyalty.  Coming from chaotic families characterized by domestic violence, incest, substance abuse, and mental illness, girls often view life with a pimp as better than life at home.

“Guerilla” pimps work faster, kidnapping girls off the street. They are taken to hideouts where they are drugged, beaten, raped and often videotaped. “You’re tortured, you’re sodomized, you’re branded,” recalls Shamere McKenzie, who was a college student when a man forced her into prostitution.  “You work without food sometimes because if you don’t make money you don’t eat. You can never leave, because he threatens to kill your family.”

But perhaps the individual ultimately responsible for child sex trafficking is the predator known only by the innocuous name of “John.” And these Johns are legion. The most profitable day for pimps to traffic young girls is the Super Bowl. Men pour into the city, where they may not be known, ready to pay for underage sex. And though an 18-year-old man can be incarcerated for consensual sex with his 16-year-old girlfriend under statutory rape laws, an adult man can pay for sex with an underage girl—and she’s the one who may end up in jail. State laws are changing to decriminalize prostitution, but in many jurisdictions, johns simply pay a fine and attend a class to have their records wiped clean.

“We work with law enforcement, who frequently say they are locking up these girls—even as they identify them victims—because they have nowhere else to put them,” says Stephanie Richards of the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking. “I’ve never heard that about any other victim population.”

Indeed, few facilities exist that are able or willing to help sexually exploited girls. With only 100 beds, Children of the Night in Los Angeles is the largest safe haven in the nation.  Many children return to foster homes, where the cycle begins again.


Number of children in foster care in America: 400,000
Children’s Bureau, Office of the Administration for Children and Families
Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute

Estimated earnings a pimp can make annually prostituting one child: $150,000–$200,000



Garrett Therolf
Los Angeles Times

Xiomara Flores
Department of Children and Family Services, L.A. County

Captain Kelly Mulldorfer
Commanding Officer of Detective Support and Vice Division LAPD

Stephanie Richard
Managing Attorney – Coalition to Abolish Slavery & Trafficking

Lieutenant Andre Dawson
LAPD Child Sex Trafficking Unit

Patricia Arquette
Actress and Activist

Michelle Guymon
Probation Director – Los Angeles County Probation Department

Dr. Lois Lee
Founder and President – Children of the Night

Leslie Acoca
Founder – National Girls Health and Justice Institute

Kim Biddle
Founder – Executive Director Saving Innocence

Thomas Kelly
Gang Counselor

Detective Dana Harris
LAPD Child Sex Trafficking Unit

Heidi Rummel
Co-Founder – Post-Conviction Justice Project
Professor – USC Gould School of Law

Lisa Maatz
Lead Policy Advisor
American Association of University Women

Gloria Steinem
Journalist and Activist
Presidential Medal of Freedom Recipient

Beth Adubato
Professor of Criminal Justice – New York Institute of Technology


Children of the Night
(800) 551-1300

National Human Trafficking Resource Center
(888) 373-7888

National Center for Missing and Exploited Children
(800) 843-5678

National Runaway Hotline
(800) 786-2929

Saving Innocence
(323) 379-4232