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Collateral Damage: A Look At How California And Los Angeles Prosecute Sex Trafficking, And Who Really Pays The Price

Sex trafficking in Los Angeles
Sex trafficking in Los Angeles
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The message has been delivered by Los Angeles leaders time and again in recent years: Local law enforcement is cracking down on human traffickers.

Police and elected officials have promised L.A. is leading the way when it comes to locking up bad guys and rescuing their victims — hidden in massage parlors and motel rooms, truck stops and residential brothels. KPCC/LAist took a close look at L.A.’s anti-sex trafficking efforts and found that operations ensnared female sex workers far more often than any traffickers, and the women arrested rarely ended up in programs designed to get them out of the sex trade. 

City officials contend that policing the sex trade is one of the best methods for rescuing trafficking victims and giving sex workers a way out, if they want one. But critics complain that law enforcement has conflated trafficking and prostitution, painting all sex work as exploitative and doubling down on vice arrests under the guise of trafficking enforcement. In some cities, including San Francisco, prosecutors have changed course and stopped filing prostitution charges altogether.

Today on AirTalk, we’ll explore how different cities in California currently prosecute sex trafficking, the different tactics take, and whether or not there should be a move toward decriminalizing street prosecution.

To read the full series, “Collateral Damage,” at, click here

With files from LAist

AirTalk reached out to Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer's office to invite him on to talk about how Los Angeles prosecutes sex trafficking but he was not made available to us for comment.


Annie Gilbertson, KPCC investigative reporter who led KPCC's reporting on our "Collateral Damage" series; she tweets @anniegilbertson

George Gascón, district attorney for the City and County of San Francisco; he tweets @georgegascon

Stephany Powell, executive director of Journey Out, a nonprofit organization based in Los Angeles providing advocacy, outreach and resources for victims of commercial sexual exploitation and sex trafficking; she is also a retired Vice Sergeant with the Los Angeles Police Department, where she spent 30 years as a law enforcement officer

“Siouxsie Q” James, sex worker, member of the board of directors of the Adult Performer Advocacy Committee (APAC), and author of the book “Truth, Justice and the American Whore” (ThreeL Media, 2016); she tweets @SiouxsieQMedia