Prostitution, Exploitation Worsening in Los Angeles After New ‘Safer Streets’ Law

Prostitution, Exploitation Worsening in Los Angeles After New ‘Safer Streets’ Law
Women stand in "The Blade" area of Los Angeles on Feb. 8, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)
John Fredricks
Updated:
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LOS ANGELES—At Figueroa and 69th streets, girls appearing to be as young as 15 stood in G-strings and unbuttoned blouses on a Wednesday evening earlier this month, as cars idled in a small traffic jam under the weak glow of faded street lights.

Even on a weeknight, Los Angeles’s busiest area for sex work—known colloquially as “The Blade”—has smiling men with their car windows down shopping for women and girls.

In this South Los Angeles neighborhood, outreach groups say, young women and underage teens are encouraged to solicit sex for profit by the overwatch of their pimps.

“A ‘John Jam’ is like a traffic jam but with people lined up to buy the girls for sex,” Mari Clark of the After Hours Ministry, a Christian organization working to help victims of sexual exploitation, told The Epoch Times from the passenger seat of a van the organization uses to help prostitutes in the area.

“On the weekends, [jams] happen much more frequently, and it can take up to 20 minutes just to drive down a small block of houses.”

Women stand in "The Blade" area of Los Angeles on Feb. 8, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)
Women stand in "The Blade" area of Los Angeles on Feb. 8, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

On this particular Wednesday evening at about 10:30 p.m., two women with the ministry were handing out small gift bags that contained hand sanitizer, mints, hand warmers, Chapstick, and their business cards. They also provided snacks and water bottles, which most of the young prostitutes joyfully accepted.

“Thank you. I’ve been out for three hours already!” one young Hispanic woman wearing fishnet stockings and shiny platform boots told ministry worker Tracy Speers.

The interaction gave Speers an opportunity to remind the young woman that the ministry is there if she needs it.

“You give us a call if you need any help, OK?” Speers told her. “We love you guys, and our business card is in the gift bag.”

A gift bag made by the After Hours Ministry sits ready for distribution in Los Angeles on Feb. 8, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)
A gift bag made by the After Hours Ministry sits ready for distribution in Los Angeles on Feb. 8, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

As one drives through the area, it’s hard to miss that homes lining its narrow residential streets have iron bars over their windows. Front porch lighting is scarce, as most residents keep to the back because of shootings and criminal activity.

Outreach workers familiar with the area say that some of the area’s pimps have purchased the homes—using names of the women over 18 working for them—and use them as their bases of operation.

The pimps here operate in public view, sometimes slowly patrolling in their cars trailing loud rap music and pungent marijuana smoke while keeping an eye on their girls.

Some sex workers even have brands of sorts, having their pimp’s name tattooed across their faces.

One pimp sat atop his vehicle watching all move along one narrow residential street. The glow of his phone revealed that he wore sunglasses even in the darkness of the night.

“You need to keep the camera down. That guy will kill us if he sees it,” Speers told an Epoch Times journalist as the van drove past him.

The ministry workers doubled back to where they had been earlier to connect with a group of girls they had missed before. Again, they offered those they saw what they had on hand: hand warmers, this time, and some potato chips.

“No, I’m OK, thank you,” a girl who appeared to be no older than 15 said. She was wearing a short plaid skirt and only a bra.

Nearby, her pimp, a middle-aged black man in his car with its door ajar, watched.

Sexual Exploitation Increases

Development of The Blade can be traced to the 1960s, when access from the Port of Los Angeles to downtown along Figueroa and nearby streets gave way to an open-air sex market and provided working class men commuting this stretch of roadway 24-hour access to prostitution.

Eventually, motels sprang up, as did some small businesses and residential areas.

“I grew up near the area and remember seeing [prostitutes] during my high school days [in the ’70s],” Stephany Powell, vice president of the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, told The Epoch Times.

“There were always girls there,” said Powell, who is the director of law enforcement outreach and training for the center. “But now is probably the worst I have seen.”

She said officers of the Los Angeles Police Department, where she previously held the position of sergeant, have told her they feel similarly.

One factor in more girls and women being exploited on The Blade and throughout some cities in California, she says, is the Safer Streets for All Act, Senate Bill 357, authored by state Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco)—a new state law that repealed previous legislation that made it unlawful to loiter with the intent to commit prostitution.
State Sen. Scott Weiner hosts an event in San Francisco on Oct. 23, 2022. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)
State Sen. Scott Weiner hosts an event in San Francisco on Oct. 23, 2022. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Though the bill was signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom last July, it went into effect on Jan. 1, 2023. News of it spread quickly.

“As soon as Newsom signed it, you started to see an ‘uptick’ out there,” Powell said.

“The word on the street was ... prostitution is legal. ... As of January 1st, they can’t do anything to you if you are flagging down a car and all you have on is a G-string and panties.”

For Los Angeles police officers, the repeal of loitering for prostitution has been noted as taking away a “major tool,” especially when trying to crack down on those who buy sex from the streets.

“It is common for sex buyers to drive around high prostitution areas with no other lawful reason to be in the area,” Los Angeles Sheriff Department officials wrote in the Senate Floor Analysis for the bill. “While the intent of this legislation is to protect the prosecution of a vulnerable community, the unintended consequences will be to benefit the sex buyers as well.”

Children on The Blade

When most high school-aged girls in Los Angeles were preparing to shop for prom dresses, a girl of the same age on The Blade recently walked away from a potential sex buyer in little more than her underwear under the watch of a man pimping her for his profit.

Her customer had a slight grin on his face as she walked away as two other prostitutes were waiting by his car to negotiate a deal for sex.

In a city where more than 50 percent of children who become sex trafficking victims come from the child welfare system, the average age of those entering prostitution is between 12 and 13, according to Los Angeles officials.

“I think that the issues at play in The Blade run so deeply that I’m not really sure if either the city or county knows where to begin. ... It’s a daunting task that involves so many aspects of human life and would require vast amounts of resources,” Krista, a Los Angeles health care worker working closely with foster youth, told The Epoch Times. She asked to be identify by a pseudonym for fear of retaliation.

Figueroa street in Los Angeles on Feb. 8, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)
Figueroa street in Los Angeles on Feb. 8, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

“That’s not to say that people in local government and in the community shouldn’t try. We absolutely should.”

As reports increase of more minors trapped in sex work on The Blade, Krista said, she and others like her blame city leadership that is “soft on crime.”

“The political or cultural ideologies of those in power are reflected in policies and laws, which have real-life consequences for the citizens,“ she said.

But like Krista, like-minded individuals who feel called by God to serve children and women trapped in prostitution on The Blade said they keep grounded by not “sugarcoating” the reality of what’s happening along one of Los Angeles’s most dangerous 10-block areas.

“Keep in mind that hearts and minds would have to change,” Krista said. “Humans have free will, and inevitably some will choose not to accept the help and continue in these patterns of abuse and crime that we see.”

Staff for California Gov. Gavin Newsom and state Sen. Scott Wiener declined to comment.

John Fredricks is a California-based journalist for The Epoch Times. His reportage and photojournalism features have been published in a variety of award-winning publications around the world.
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