Kyeisha has a message for childhood sex trafficking victims: your past does not define your future.
“I’ve been there, been manipulated, been abused,” said Kyeisha, herself a childhood sex trafficking victim in Los Angeles County when she was just 13 years old. “But I survived, and now I’m excited for my future.”
Kyeisha, now 18, has escaped her abusive relationships with the help of intervention from her probation officer, law enforcement, strong mentors and programs designed to remove children from the aggressors and pimps who prey on young kids. In June, she graduated from high school, and this fall will begin general education work at El Camino College.
Kyeisha was also recently selected to be a part of the Annie E. Casey Juvenile Justice Strategy Group Youth Advisory Council, a group devoted to changing juvenile laws around trafficking, as well as educating government and communities about this heinous crime.
“When I was arrested, I was labeled a prostitute,” said Kyeisha. “I felt judged and hurt – but what I really needed at the time was help.”
Thankfully, at 15, Kyeisha was assigned to LA County Probation Officer Terrika Woolfolk, and together they identified a plan to keep her off the streets and place her on a path to success. The young teen voluntarily entered a treatment program in Iowa, received counseling, and got a healthy dose of ongoing encouragement from Woolfolk.
“I immediately noticed Kyeisha’s leadership capabilities and built on her strengths,” said Woolfolk. “She has such a good heart and I wanted to channel that positive energy to help her, and allow her to help others.”
Woolfolk notes many girls like Kyeisha lack a family support system, so they need individuals in their lives to be open, honest and encouraging – not label.
“We didn’t even realize childhood sex trafficking was happening right here in Los Angeles,” said Michelle Guymon, director of the child trafficking unit within probation for LA County. “I thought it was something that happened in other countries, not here.”
But in 2010, the trafficking issue entered Guymon’s radar. As the director of Camp Scudder, one of the local probation camps within L.A.County, Guymon began to make a link between the stories she was hearing from the girls around sexual abuse and trafficking.
“Girls didn’t even realize what was happening to them when they were arrested for prostitution,” said Guymon. “I saw we needed to change the conversation – these girls were not out on the streets by choice, they were victims.”
Now, with the help of advocates like Guymon and Woolfolk, the County is working to support the girls rather than incarcerate them.
For Kyeisha, the different approach has made all the difference.
“There are still days I feel judged about my past,” said Kyeisha. “But now I want to help victims, show them they are loved and put them on the path to education, building a resume, and finding a job.”
With her advisory work, Kyeisha will continue to tell her story and shape how this nation handles sex trafficking victims today and in the future.
“In all of my years of service, child sex trafficking has truly been one of the most horrific issues I’ve seen,” said LA County Supervisor Don Knabe. “With the help of survivors like Kyeisha, we can learn how to stop the cycle, protect our youth and help them find their own bright futures – we owe them that.”