Sex-trafficking diversion program helps young victims in LA County


Officials on Wednesday announced a first-of-its-kind program for young sex trafficking victims. It aims to get them off the streets and give them a chance to rebuild their lives.

It's a counter attack on the pimps of Los Angeles County, like the one who recruited Kristina Fitz into a life of selling her body.

"I didn't have any place to live at the current moment. It was presented to me as a love that this man had for me," said Fitz.

District Attorney Jackie Lacey says the circumstances that lead minors into the sex trade makes them victims, not criminals. With law enforcement heads and child welfare advocates, Lacey announced the "First Step" diversion program.

"We want to give these children a chance to rebuild their lives," said Lacey.

Upon arrest, an eligible victim, 12 to 17 years old, will receive attention like never before, including a personal advocate. The group, Saving Innocence, is partnered with the Department of Probation, the courts and the D.A.'s Office to provide one-on-one help for teens in trouble.

"We respond 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. We go down to that police station or on the street level and we are that victim advocate for that child from that point. So we sit down with that kid. We are the first often to hear her story, to validate her, to give her the love and the resources she needs," said Kim Biddle, founder of Saving Innocence.

Lacey said minors who complete the program will have no record of arrest, which gives them a fresh start. Vice officers are getting new training and adopting the shift in how minors should be treated.

Fitz is now a survivor advocate for Saving Innocence. She says the attitudes of police and the public have in the past made a bad situation worse.

"They think that it is your choice that you are choosing to go out there and sell yourself, and in actuality, it is not your choice," said Fitz.

From the D.A.'s office to the streets, the message to exploited teens is: There is a way out.

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