Los Angeles offers new programs to curb prostitution in the San Fernando Valley

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Two areas of the San Fernando Valley known for prostitution will get special police patrols and other programs aimed at getting rid of the pimps, sex workers and their customers.

Los Angeles city officials announced Monday that the areas of Sun Valley and Van Nuys will each get a patrol unit dedicated to cracking down on prostitution activity. Lankershim Drive in Sun Valley and Sepulveda Boulevard in Van Nuys are considered hot spots for the sex trade.

RELATED: Prostitution plagues Lankershim Boulevard and area residents

LAPD Valley Bureau deputy chief Jorge Villegas said a social worker with the Mary Magdalene Project — a women’s non-profit — will ride along with police when they conduct special prostitution stings.

“That’s a shift for us in terms of working with them much more closer than we have before,” Villegas said.

The Mary Magdalene Project is also working with the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office on an 18-week diversion program aimed at people arrested on suspicion of prostitution. It will offer social services, such as housing and counseling 

City Attorney Mike Feuer said that if the person completes the program, they can be eligible to get the charges dropped. He added that the program would be available even to repeat offenders.  

“A mere conviction and sending someone back on the street a short time later doesn’t benefit anybody,” Feuer said.

For the people arrested for the first time on suspicion of soliciting sex from prostitutes, Feuer said there would be a diversion program for them called Johns School.

It’s an eight-hour class that discusses the dangers of sex trafficking and the health risks of paying for sex. If the person completes the program, he or she can have the charges dropped as long as they don’t commit another offense within one year. Since July 2008, the city has held 34 classes with 1,155 men attending. Only four have been re-arrested for prostitution-related offenses, according to the City Attorney’s Office.

L.A. city officials said the programs and increased efforts to curb prostitution activity are designed to complement the L.A. County District Attorney’s anti-sex trafficking diversion program aimed at juveniles younger than 18 years old arrested for prostitution.

“We are going after the supply side — the pimps — and drying up the demand on the John side,” said L.A. City Council Member Nury Martinez.

Sex trafficking has been a platform issue for Martinez, who represents a part of the San Fernando Valley where prostitution activity is prevalent.

The topic has gained significant attention from politicians and the media recently. In the last few years, there have been changes in penalties for people convicted of sex trafficking.

This week, the San Bernardino County district attorney published the names and photos of five men convicted of soliciting sex. Other cities such as Oakland send “Dear John” warning letters to the owners of vehicles seen circling high-prostitution areas.

The L.A. city attorney said his office has not made a decision on whether to implement either of those strategies.

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