L.A. County acts to curb child sex trafficking in some motels

L.A. County supervisors tighten rules on emergency shelter motels to combat child sex trafficking

Looking for an additional weapon in their continuing battle against the peddling of teens and children for sex, Los Angeles County supervisors moved Tuesday to more tightly regulate emergency shelter motels to ensure they aren't sites for child prostitution.

On a motion by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, the board directed county officials to develop agreements with motels that get money from the county to provide short-term housing for the destitute.

Operators of motels that want to continue to receive county-paid clients would be required to sign a statement promising not to participate in or allow any form of sex trafficking on their premises. They would also agree to undergo training in how to spot sex trafficking, allow police or sheriff's deputies to check their guest registries and post information for occupants on how to report suspicious activity.

Supervisors also agreed to explore the feasibility of raising the per-voucher amount it pays the motels to provide emergency housing for general relief recipients, now $24 a day.

The Department of Public Social Services, which runs the housing program, and the county counsel were instructed to report back to the board within 30 days with a proposed contract between the county and motel operators and the feasibility of requiring operators to submit bids to participate in the program.

The county's move came the same day the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in a Los Angeles case in which the city wants the authority to check, without obtaining a search warrant, the guest registries of hotels and motels suspected of harboring sex trafficking. The county has supported the city's case, as have several law enforcement agencies.

"The ability for law enforcement to inspect hotel registries without a warrant is a powerful weapon in our fight to end child sex trafficking," Supervisor Don Knabe said in a statement Tuesday.

He did not attend Tuesday's meeting but, along with Ridley-Thomas, has spearheaded efforts to combat child prostitution and pornography that authorities say is on the rise, especially as street gangs discover that sex trafficking is often more lucrative than selling illegal drugs or guns.

Ridley-Thomas' motion said that about 45 motels or hotels throughout the county — 22 of which are in his 2nd District — participate in the county's housing voucher program. In 2013, the county paid about $3.5 million in vouchers. He said authorities have seen evidence of unsafe conditions — including possible child sex trafficking — at some of those establishments, thus the need for tighter regulations via contracts and competitive bidding.

Supervisors Sheila Kuehl, Hilda Solis and Michael D. Antonovich all said they strongly supported the proposal but added amendments. Kuehl wanted to ensure that the proposal would not deplete the number of rooms available for the homeless, and Solis wanted to find ways to help the young girls who had been coerced into prostitution find better lives. Antonovich said he wanted officials to identify ways the county could cover additional costs of the "important" program.

"These kids have no one to look out for them," Antonovich said. "That's our responsibility."

Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey, Sheriff Jim McDonnell and Compton Mayor Aja Brown were among the elected officials supporting Ridley-Thomas' proposal.


twitter: @jeanmerl

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times