#sextrafficking | After foster care, where do young adults go? Too often into arms of sex traffickers – Orange County Register | #tinder | #pof | #match


For too many young people whose lives have been spent in the tumult of foster care or group homes, turning 18 means becoming homeless. They are no longer wards of the state but they typically have nowhere to go except the streets.

That makes them, along with underage youth who run away from protective custody, particularly vulnerable to predators who see them as easy targets for sexual exploitation — vulnerable, isolated and broke.

The California Child Welfare Council reported that 50% to 80% of sex trafficking victims in the United States were or are in the child welfare system. In FBI raids conducted around the country in 2013, 60% of the child sex trafficking victims had been in foster care or group homes.

In Orange County, a 2019 report by the Orange County Human Trafficking Task Force found that about 30% of 359 individuals sex trafficked over the previous two years were minors.

And of those children who were victims of commercial sexual exploitation in Orange County, all had histories of being abused or neglected, with one in three already under the jurisdiction of the juvenile court, according to the report.

Those kind of statistics are driving stepped-up efforts to prevent homelessness and rescue foster youth from the streets, including a new federal rental-assistance program for young adults. Vouchers from the so-called Foster Youth to Independence program have been made available in Orange County and other local communities.

And with National Human Trafficking Awareness Month underway in January, Orangewood Foundation, whose nonprofit mission is to serve youth from the foster care system, is holding two community workshops and highlighting ongoing programs it offers to young people who have been trafficked or are at risk of being targeted.

The first workshop is Thursday, Jan. 16, and will cover issues such as some of the risk factors and warning signs exhibited by victims, and recruitment strategies used by predators. The other workshop, on the care needs for people who have been trafficked, is Jan. 30. Both are 6-8 p.m. at Orangewood Foundation’s offices, 1575 E. 17th St., Santa Ana. For more information or to RSVP, email info@orangewoodfoundation.org. Walk-ins also are OK.

The nonprofit also runs two programs that focus on providing safe spaces for trafficking victims — one is residential and the other is a drop-in center.

In 2016, Orangewood Foundation opened The Lighthouse, a five-bedroom home in Orange County that can house up to six young women, 18 to 22, who were formerly in the child welfare system and are survivors of human trafficking and sexual exploitation. They can live in the home, which includes a house manager, for up to two years, while pursuing an education, finding a job, or doing volunteer work.

While the Lighthouse has a waiting list of 12, the Project Choice drop-in program launched in January 2019 at Orangewood Foundation is more open-ended, helping youth ages 11 to 25 from group homes or on the streets. So far, it has served about 100 people.

Project Choice is operated separately from Orangewood Foundation’s traditional drop-in center. For young people who have been traumatized by human trafficking, and could be triggered by something as innocent as flirtation, Project Choice offers an alternative.

In addition to therapy options, visitors can get everything from showers and laundry services to groceries. Activities include yoga, art and drumming, but care providers say there is no pressure on victims to participate in anything. They can interact — or not — at their own pace.


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