Juvenile prostitution-related cases in San Bernardino County increased 80 percent in 2012 compared to 2011, and District Attorney Mike Ramos is leading a campaign to crack down on what he and other prosecutors call human trafficking, the D.A. announced Thursday evening in Redlands.
Ramos and D.A. staff have produced a 45-minute documentary to raise awareness about sexual exploitation of minors in San Bernardino County, and they premiered the video at Krikorian Theatres in Redlands on Jan. 17.
A trailer for the documentary, titled "Teenage $ex 4 $ale," is attached to this report.
"They are trapped in a business where if they're not killed by their pimp or their john, or the drugs or the alcohol, or the diseases, that they're going to be darn lucky," Chief Deputy District Attorney Karen Bell, who oversees the D.A.'s Juvenile Division, says in the trailer of prostitution victims in San Bernardino County.
In 2011 there were 312 pimping, pandering and prostitution-related cases filed in San Bernardino County, and that total increased to 380 in 2012, according to statistics released Friday Jan. 18.
Of those cases, 15 in 2011 were described as "prostitution-related cases - juvenile." In 2012, the number of juvenile prostitution-related cases increased to 27, representing an 80 percent increase, according to the D.A.
On Thursday night, Anne-Michelle Ellis, coordinator of the San Bernardino County Coalition Against Sexual Exploitation, told the audience at the Krikorian:
"It's important to realize that commercial sexual exploitation affects children in all parts of our County. It's not just the kids from 'those' neighborhoods or 'those' families. All children are vulnerable, and the biggest vulnerability is their age."
Officials who attended the documentary screening Thursday in Redlands included:
- San Bernardino County Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Gary Thomas
- Pastor Paula Daniels of Forgotten Children, Inc.
- San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon
- Deputy Special Agent in Charge Jere T. Miles, U.S. Department of Homeland Security
- Julie Nauman, Executive Officer of the Victim Compensation and Government Claims Board
- Wayne J. Quint, Jr., Bureau Chief, California Department of Justice, Division of Law Enforcement
- U.S. Attorney André Birotte
Internet-based trafficking has made it easier for people who solicit sex for money, Ramos said, and he focused on a website called Backpage.com.
Johns "are now able to simply go online and purchase sexual services from the confines of their home without ever having to leave and risk being caught," District Attorney staff said. "Among the biggest perpetrators of online sex trafficking is Backpage.com . . .
"Advertisements for 'escorts' can be found for nearly every city in San Bernardino County and they all include girls and boys who are selling sexual services - some of whom are juveniles as young as 13 years old," D.A. staff said.
In 2011, the National Association of Attorneys General called on Backpage.com to shut down its adult services section, Ramos' staff said.
"In response, Backpage representatives stated they were and continue to be committed to preventing minors from being posted on their site, although little action has been taken to actually support such assertions," D.A. staff said.
Ramos' staff said the website is owned and operated by New York-based Village Voice Media, which also publishes LA Weekly and OC Weekly.
But a spokeswoman for the Village Voice and Voice Media Group, a new holding company formed in September 2012, said Friday the newspaper and the holding company now have no affiliation with Backpage.
"Backpage.com, also currently owned by Village Voice Media Holdings, is not part of the buyout," Voice Media Group officials said in a September announcement of the reorganization. "Backpage.com will go its own way as a separate company with separate ownership."
Backpage.com officials could not be reached to comment for this report.
Following the screening Thursday night in Redlands, Ramos announced several initiatives, including formation of a Human Trafficking Vertical Prosecution Unit, and implementation of a "Stop-the-John" project, to reduce demand associated with sex trafficking.
As part of the "Stop-the-John" effort, the District Attorney's Office will release and post online names and photographs of defendants convicted of solicitation in San Bernardino County, Ramos said.
"For some time there has been the misconception that human trafficking is an evil that only happens in faraway countries, but make no mistake, it is happening right here in our own county," Ramos said in a statement issued Friday.
"Today, we have taken significant steps and strengthened existing partnerships to send the message that if you commit this horrendous crime in our county you will be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law," Ramos said.
For more about the Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit in San Bernardino County, visit www.sbcountyda.org.