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Public News Service

November 27. 2016 (Los Angeles) -- California is home to three of the top 13 hot spots for child sex trafficking: Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco. Now LA and Long Beach are launching a new "Safe Youth Zone" to help young victims escape.

On Tuesday, officials launched a pilot program that prepares police and fire stations to care for a young person who is running from his or her sex trafficker. Michelle Guymon, director at the Los Angeles Probation Department, said this program refocuses previous safe house efforts to specifically reach out to kids in trafficking situations.

"It's force that literally keeps them stuck. And so when kids try to escape that, the level of desperation does escalate,” Guymon said. "And so they're looking for that safe place where they can get some support and help."

The program will likely be enlarged to eventually include hospitals as well. A large yellow sticker will be displayed on the front door of each facility identifying it as a safe youth zone. Once a young person seeks refuge in one of these locations, a team will be called in to find the child a place to stay and connect him or her with counseling and other services.

Law enforcement will begin promoting the safe youth zone program in schools, in the foster system, in youth shelters and in juvenile hall, Guymon said. More than 130 kids in the Los Angeles area in 2015 said they had been trafficked for sex.

"Kids have not been arrested for prostitution but are disclosing that this is happening,” Guymon said; "because we're more sensitive than I think we used to be when we labeled them as teenage prostitutes, which was not a sensitive way to really approach the issue."

Recently Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill preventing police from arresting minors involved in the sex trade, unless it is for their own safety.

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