COMPTON — For the girls and women who are ensnared in the world of sex trafficking, the nonprofit Restoration Diversion Services is a welcome refuge.
Founded in 2014 by 76-year-old Sinetta Farley, the organization acts as a resource and drop-in center for sex trafficking victims who nightly stroll along notorious Long Beach and Compton boulevards.
“The sex trafficking trade on those two streets has been occurring for decades,” said Farley, who added that the women caught up in the trade are usually between the ages of 18 and 42 years old.
“But I have seen girls out there on the street soliciting sex as young as 13 years old,” Farley said. “I’ve been told that some of these women are forced to bring in $500 or more a night or they get severely beaten by their pimps.”
She also discovered that once they are recruited, the young women’s pimps immediately take all forms of the women’s identification, which include driver’s licenses and passports. The pimps then seize all of the young women’s money and then systematically cut them off from their families, friends and children so that the women cannot escape.
Farley also learned that Compton gangs are notorious for controlling the Long Beach Boulevard’s sex trafficking industry.
Despite several protests waged by a local block club that attempted to shut down the prostitution activity, sex trafficking continues to be a brisk business in Compton even though law enforcement regularly conduct sweeps every two months.
“During the sweeps, we arrest the customers,” said Capt. Michael Thatcher of the Compton Sheriff’s Station. “The women are asked if they want help. If they agree, we connect them with resources. If they don’t agree, they are arrested.”
Farley said she was shocked by how many women were involved in sex trafficking and several years ago started meeting with other women at a local church to see how they could help the ladies who were forced to walk the boulevards, known as the “track.”
“The women at the church believed that if these women got more jail time, they would leave the city of Compton,” Farley said. “But the girls didn’t get more jail time and they didn’t leave.”
Concerned, Farley said she often prayed with the women on Friday and Saturday nights as they walked up and down the street.
“I would say, ‘Can I pray for you?’” she recalls. “Some of them were hesitant, but many accepted my offer. Most couldn’t pray long because they knew they were being watched by their pimps.’’
Farley realized there was no organization the women could turn to for help. That is when she flew into action.
A local nonprofit that was closing its doors offered Farley its building and Farley negotiated with the city of Compton to purchase the edifice. She founded Restoration Diversion Services to offer the women a refuge from the streets.
“We teach them how to get out of sex trafficking,’’ said Farley, who has since retired from running the day-to-day operations at the center but still works closely with new executive director, Pam Bryant.
Bryant said the organization collaborates with different agencies and offers a number of services. ‘’We offer court ordered and life skills classes, a GED class, and we can also refer the women to mental health organizations,” said Bryant, who said that RDS subsists entirely on donations.
“They can also drop by to pick up toiletries and hygiene products and even take showers. We also refer them to housing and training.”
Bryant said that the girls are often hungry. ‘’The pimps withhold food,” she said, “so we also have snacks available. Sometimes the women just want to come in to take a nap.”
So far, Bryant said her organization, which was named Nonprofit of the Year by Assemblyman Mike Gipson in 2017, has serviced approximately 600 women since opening its doors in 2014.
Bryant said she has heard horror stories about how some of the young ladies got involved in prostitution.
“One 15-year-old girl was distraught after her father died and she didn’t know what to do with herself,” Bryant said. “She met a ‘Romeo pimp’ who sweet talked her into his clutches. Soon he was forcing her to walk the streets.’’
Bryant said that the pimp was often violent. “The girl became pregnant and he beat her up. She lost the baby.’’
Bryant also said another young lady got hooked on drugs through her pimp and she began holding on to her money. “The pimp beat her up, raped her and threw acid on her head. She went to the hospital and the incident was reported to the police, but she is still out there on the track.’’
Bryant said that the girls stay with the pimps for a number of reasons.
“The pimps are manipulating and controlling the girls so it’s hard for them to break away,” she said. “He’s controlling their minds and their lives. These pimps know where their families live and often threaten violence. Ninety percent of the girls are too afraid to break away — it’s almost like they are slaves.”
But Bryant said there are success stories as well.
“There are about 10 girls who have gotten out of the lifestyle,” Bryant said. “Many have gone on to enroll in college.
“It’s so fulfilling when the girls start to trust us and they begin to change,” said Bryant, who speaks at group homes, charter schools and churches to warn girls about the dangers of sex trafficking. “If they hear one phrase or word I say that will help them to start to change their lifestyle, then it has all been worth it.”