By Dorany Pineda
Walking down Compton’s Long Beach Boulevard, Sinetta Farley often saw something that deeply troubled her: the numerous girls and women soliciting sex on the streets.
Unable to turn a blind eye, she felt an urge to reach out and help them, some of whom looked no older than 13 years old.
She soon realized that Compton didn’t have an organization designed to help sex trafficking victims leave the streets. So she took the initiative of creating her own organization to aid them and called it Restoration Diversion Services.
“The idea is that we would like to set them on the right track, what I guess we’d call ‘normal,’” Pamela A. Bryant, the nonprofit’s executive director, said. “Normal as far as working and taking care of yourself, or being able to provide for yourself without being enslaved by someone taking all of your money, leaving you hungry where you can’t even spend $5 to get a McDonalds, or they get beat up…”
Stories like those, Farley soon discovered, were not uncommon. When she started conducting research in 2009 ––which entailed reading about sex trafficking and walking down Long Beach Boulevard talking to the girls –– she uncovered some startling and recurring details about the workers.
A large percentage of them were teenage runaways or abandoned by their families. Others had nowhere to go after aging out of the foster care system and many of them were victims of sexual abuse, including rape and incest, either as adults or children.
The girls and women also didn’t have any form of identification on them, as their pimps seized their passports, driver’s licenses and other IDs. Their “sponsors,” as the pimps often were called, took all of their money and separated them from loved ones.
It quickly became apparent to Farley that the women –– particularly those over 18 who have less resources and services –– needed a refuge, and so she provided one.
The Drop-In Center became that place of refuge. Inside, girls and women receive everything from toiletries, snacks and a place to shower to condoms, information on sexually transmitted infections, GED preparation and other resources. Anyone can drop in Mondays and Fridays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Wednesdays from noon to 5 p.m., or by appointment Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.
The organization offers also a Prostitution Diversion Program, a one-to-18-week court and non-court ordered program for women arrested for doing sex work.
“[The program] is to give them some thoughts on what their life is about, the things they’re going through,” Bryant said. Volunteers who teach the programs work on building the girls’ confidence to “show them the importance of who they are, that they’re more than what they’re going through.”
Volunteers also do preventive presentations for young girls at churches, group homes, charter schools and other agencies that invite the organization to present.
“If we can talk to them while they’re young, reach girls from 13 to 17 [years old], we can avoid them from even getting caught in it completely,” Bryant said.
But although prevention efforts aren’t always successful, the organization has seen some women rise out of the sex trafficking world. One, Bryant said, completed about 20 diversion classes, attended beautician school, removed all of her tattoos, got involved in church and essentially “turned her life around.”
And Bryant believes more girls can change their lives, and she never loses sight of that. Every third Saturday of the month, Bryant and other Restoration Diversion Service volunteers do Street Witnessing down Long Beach Boulevard. On these walks, they give women bags of toiletries and a card “in case one day they need to call us” for help or shelter.
Though the work is anything but easy, Bryant believes it’s crucial.
“We’ve been around for a while, but even though sometimes we may not always know the impact that we make on a person’s life, we really do believe that what we do is more than not doing anything,” Bryant said. “We just want to be able to do more.”
Executive Director: Pamela A. Bryant
Years in operation: 9
Number of volunteers: 4
Annual budget: $12,000
Location: 208 N. Long Beach Blvd., Compton 90221