On Skid Row, manicures and pedicures make homeless women feel like queens

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Skid Row is a man’s world. But the Downtown Women’s Center is a sort of safe haven for the women who get caught up in homelessness and just need a hand to get them to a stable place.  What’s great about the Center are the volunteers. I met two incredible volunteers-twins,  who give manicures and pedicures to formerly homeless women. Above is a photo of one of the twins by John McCoy. Below are photos from AP Photographer Jae C. Hong. Here is their story (Daily News, Nov. 28, 2006):

Once – before their nails glimmered under shades of wine red, before their skin felt like velvet – the hands and feet of the residents of the Downtown Women’s Center bore their history of homelessness.

Theirs were fingers stiffened by cold, toes tender from too-small shoes, heels and ankles rough with neglect.

But thanks to the hands and hearts of the “Salon Girls” – twin sisters from the San Fernando Valley who swoop into downtown once a week – the women’s pasts are buffed, massaged and polished away.

“It makes you feel better about yourself,” resident Angela Boughton said of the free manicures and pedicures she receives from the Salon Girls. “It makes me feel good because I’m a little bit of a prima donna.”

The Salon Girls are Anne Walker and Alice Chapman, 47-year-old twins who grew up in Northridge, two of 11 children in a family raised with a sense of giving.

“We were 11 children living on a teacher’s salary,” said Chapman, now a teacher herself. “I remember thinking we were poor because my father was always working, sometimes three jobs. But my parents still set the example of volunteering.”

One night a week for the last three years, the sisters have donned “Salon Girls” T-shirts, loaded the car with snacks, nail files, buffers and dozens of bottles of nail polish with names like Cool Blue Blast and Cappuccino Creme, and headed to the Downtown Women’s Center.

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To the dozens of women who live at the center, the sisters are their own personal fairy godmothers.

“I thank God for Anne and Alice,” said resident Melzina Smith, her toenails twinkling with silver polish.

Chapman and Walker said what they receive in return is a connection to women they otherwise never would have met.

“These are wonderful women,” said Walker, a bookkeeper for a construction company. “I can have the most stressful day at work, and then I come here and all that goes.”

The front door of the Downtown Women Center’s opens directly onto Skid Row. It is the only building where the lights shine from windows at night, not far from the lopsided pup tents and dented cardboard boxes that sprout on sidewalks like mushrooms.

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Founder Jill Halverson established the center in 1978, after noticing that Skid Row was very much a man’s world. Facilities where homeless women could bathe, eat and sleep were nonexistent after the closure of mental hospitals in the 1970s, forcing women with emotional problems to turn to shabby hotels or the streets.

Halverson’s storefront has since evolved to a facility that houses 45 women who pay $190 a month for a personal bedroom, as well as a day center, where up to 2,000 homeless women a year stop in for meals, showers, and a place to rest and socialize.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s recent commitment to clean up Skid Row has benefited the agency, with politicians recognizing that women have special needs, officials said. There are even plans to move and expand the center.

“The mayor has put a lot of good focus on homelessness in the community,” said Anisa Mendizabal, the center’s planning director. “Councilwoman Jan Perry has helped us locate a building which will be very accessible.”

Still, women who live on Skid Row remain vulnerable, Mendizabal said. A survey conducted in 2004 found that 70 percent of the women living in on Skid Row have been victims of violence.

“Another thing that is very disturbing to us is that about 20 percent of the women exchange a sexual favor for protection, for food,” she said.

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As a result, many of the women are mistrustful – a reticence the Salon Girls help overcome.

“Anne and Alice help break the social isolation of these women,” said Brooke Lykins, volunteer coordinator for the center. “By giving these women a simple manicure or a pedicure, by talking to them, they spot health issues such as diabetes and bring it to our attention.”

For Chapman and Walker, the few hours they spend at the center is less about volunteering and more about visiting with friends.

They liked the experience so much, they began to bring their daughters along, to instill in them a sense of giving.

“I wanted them to have an experience outside themselves,” said Chapman, whose daughters Jackie, 18, Caitlin, 14, and Margaret, 13, along with Walker’s daughter, 10-year-old Alyssa, all help paint nails.

“I’m really thankful that I had this opportunity,” said Jackie Chapman, who wrote a paper about one of the center’s women that helped her get into California State University, Northridge.

“I think it’s helped me grow … It’s taught me everything is not always about me.”

Chapman and Walker said businesses in San Fernando Valley have been generous in donating supplies, but the sisters hope to encourage more women from the Valley to volunteer. The center hosts several volunteering opportunities-from cooking clubs to serving meals.

“Being here with these women demystifies Skid Row,” Walker said. “It takes out some of the fear of what it’s like down here. I realized after meeting them, it could be any one of us.”

Detectives search for ID’s among unclaimed dead

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There have been many stories lately regarding the John and Jane Doe’s at the Los Angeles County Morgue. That’s because not only are there more than 6,000 unclaimed bodies, but among them, there are nearly 600 unidentified human beings. Back when I wrote about it in 2005, there were actual photographs of the dead on the Los Angeles County Coroner’s office website. Here is my story about the unidentified, unclaimed bodies (Daily News, Nov. 9, 2005):

Inside the Los Angeles County morgue, John Doe No. 132 plays a silent game of Who Am I? with the forensic investigators trying to identify him.

A ragged, heart-shaped tattoo around the word “Hi” marks his left calf. Stud earrings shine from his lobes. Scars run up his right leg to his hip. His white T-shirt reads: “Simply for Sports.”

“He could have been a labor worker,” said Gilda Tolbert, an investigator who works with her husband, Doyle Tolbert, and a partner, Daniel Machian, for the Los Angeles County Department of Coroner.

“He could have wanted to be in a gang. Those tattoos, they seem homemade, not done in prison.”

Often with even fewer clues to guide them, the investigating trio embarks on an arduous search for the names – and then the survivors – of about 30 corpses each year whose identities stump authorities.

Now, the Internet is making their job a little easier. Inspired by a similar Web site run by Mexican authorities in Tijuana, the county coroner last year set up a virtual morgue, complete with photos of the deceased and a description of when, where and how they were found.

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So far, the macabre site has been credited with identifying two bodies and leading family and friends to claim the remains of 10 others.

That may not sound like a huge accomplishment, if you consider the county – home to one of the nation’s busiest morgues – has had some 3,000 unclaimed remains since the early 1990s.

But the three investigators are confident it will lead to more identifications and claims.

“We’re going back a lot more, putting in older cases,” Machian said. “We’ve had a couple of hits on it. We expect to get more hits as people become more aware of it.”

Carrying a warning that the contents could be disturbing to viewers, the site includes a collection of photographs and sketches of thousands of unidentified corpses. Their expressions vary from peaceful to tormented, depending on their manner of death.

Descriptions of race, approximate age, scars, tattoos, clothing and other remains are also noted.

“They all leave behind a tale,” Machian said, referring to the scars, the tattoos, the moles and the gold or silver dental fillings. “You just have to know how to uncover it. You have to determine what they are trying to tell you.”

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Thousands of people flock to Los Angeles each year in search of fame or fortune or simply to start a new life.

Many, such as migrant workers, die in anonymity, far from loved ones in Central America and Mexico. In recent years, the number of Latino corpses has increased, making the job tougher for Machian and the Tolberts.

“I think a lot of the difficulties (in identifying) in the last years are those that are coming over the border and are here illegally,” Gilda Tolbert said. “There are times they could be here under a different name.

“Some of the difficulties we have is loved ones are not coming forward. A lot of them don’t even know where to start looking for someone.”

But even if a body is identified, the job is not finished. In fact, that is when Doyle Tolbert begins searching for the deceased’s next of kin.

He searches the Internet, credit reports and criminal records. He may have to contact former neighbors of the dead in Oklahoma or find a translator to help him call Iran.

But some identified bodies are never claimed or families members never found.

“They could have lost touch with the family,” Machian said. “Family members get into disagreements. Sometimes people leave because of a lifestyle they lead, and they don’t want their family to know. There are a lot of reasons.”

Sometimes, a family member will emerge 20 years later.

“I just had one mom in here who hadn’t seen her son since 1982,” Doyle Tolbert said. “It can be like a kick in the stomach to have to tell a loved one the final news.

“But a lot of people fear the worst. They imagine their son or daughter out on the streets, exposed, exploited, but for some reason, even though the death is hard, it is easier to take.”

Over the last year, the coroner’s office has worked to get its Web site linked to more databases across the nation and around the world, which has cut down on some of the legwork in getting clues. And any help is welcome.

Each year, about 400 nameless dead come through the Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office.

Most cases are relatively easy to solve: They’re listed as a missing person, have fingerprints with a police department or have children or a spouse searching for them.

But about 30 arrive without wallets or driver’s licenses or even a piece of paper with a friend’s telephone number.

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John Doe No. 132, who had the poorly drawn tattoo on his calf, was found Aug. 15 on a sidewalk in the 100 block of West 45th Street in Los Angeles.

A Latino believed to be in his 20s, who was known around the neighborhood of Chakali, he was killed in a gang-related shooting. Based on police interviews, he is believed to have come from Van Nuys.

After three months, Machian said, there are no missing person’s reports on a man fitting No. 132’s description, and his prints do not match with those in the police database. If Machian believes a lead is coming, John Doe No. 132 will stay in the morgue a bit longer, maybe up to a year.

But if no one comes forward to help identify him, No. 132 will be X-rayed and photographed from head to toe, then cremated. His possessions will be placed in a box and his remains will be held for three years.

After that, his ashes will be deposited into a common grave at the Los Angeles County Cemetery.

“The last thing we want to do is have (the Does) cremated by the county,” Machian said. “You feel bad, because you kind of failed.”

 

Comfort women statue causes discomfort for some

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There is not a people or a nation innocent of committing acts of atrocity on others.  How the U.S. ignored the humanitarian needs and ongoing genocide in Iraq and Syria until it was almost too late, for example, will be judged  by future generations. Right now, this  notion of shame is being felt very deeply by some Japanese people, who are angered over how some American cities have allowed “Comfort Women” statues in parks. The monuments memorialize the women and girls, mostly Koreans, who were forced into sexual slavery during World War II by the Japanese military. The Japanese government has apologized, and Glendale has installed a monument, but  some Japanese nationals have taken issue, saying that the Koreans have exaggerated the stories and that many were prostitutes. A lawsuit was filed against Glendale, but a federal court judge recently dismissed it, saying the city was within its rights.   Above is a photo of the Comfort Woman statue in Glendale taken by David Crane. Below is a photo of Bok-dong Kim, who said she once was forced into sexually slavery. From my story (Daily News, July 29, 2013): 

GLENDALE- She was once like the teenage girl now immortalized in bronze, dressed in Korean attire who sits still and silent, with clenched fists on her lap and her feet bare.

For Bok-dong Kim and others once like her, the new bronze statue unveiled in Glendale on Tuesday symbolizes two moments of their lives: when they were “comfort women” — a euphemism for the 200,000 mostly Korean women and girls forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese military during World War II. And when their stories became acknowledged, and victims of sexual slavery could come out from the shadows of silence and shame, to tell their stories freely.

“I am grateful and very appreciative,” said Kim, 88, through an interpreter. “I cannot express my thanks.”

The Glendale City Council approved the monument earlier this month, over the objections of some Japanese-Americans who said during council meetings that comfort women did not exist or their stories were exaggerated. But historians have said that 200,000 women and girls — mostly Koreans, but also Chinese, Taiwanese, Filipina and Dutch (from the then-Dutch colony of Indonesia) — were rounded up and forced into brothels where they were raped by Japanese soldiers.

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The Japanese government issued a formal apology in 1993, but some within the Korean community have said there was a lack of sincerity.

Council members called the memorial a “peace statue,” meant to forge solidarity with Glendale and its sister cities in South Korea. The Korean American Forum of California, a nonprofit human rights organization, funded and built the memorial unveiled Tuesday in a park near the Glendale Public Library.

The memorial depicts a girl in traditional Korean costume sitting on a chair, and from head to toe, she is a symbol: from her fists that represent her resolve for justice to her bare feet which mean she was abandoned by a cold, unsympathetic world. It is a replica of one installed by Korean civic leaders directly across the street from the Japanese Embassy in Seoul, where surviving comfort women have held a protest every Wednesday for 21 years.

“We had a lot of pressure at City Hall and hundreds and hundred of emails opposed to this,” said Glendale City Councilwoman Laura Friedman.

But in the end, the council agreed 4-1 that Glendale would become the first city on the West Coast to install a memorial to comfort women.

“The city of Glendale stands united with the Korean community and with sexual victims,” Friedman added.

For Councilman Zareh Sinanyan, who is of Armenian descent, the memorial represents the importance of acknowledging man’s inhumanity to man. The grandson of survivors of the Armenian genocide — which the Turkish government continues to deny was a genocide but which resulted in the deaths of more than a million people, including Greeks and Assyrians — Sinanyan said the lack of acknowledgement means the wounds inflicted on his people remain.

“I’m very happy we’re taking this step to heal a deep wound to Korean women,” Sinanyan said. “I understand the pain the victims have undergone.”

And many from the Japanese community applauded Glendale’s decision.

U.S. Rep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose, a Japanese-American, expressed support for the proposed memorial in Glendale. And Kathy Masaoka, of the Nikkei for Civil Rights & Redress, said during the unveiling that Japan must apologize again and make reparations.

Korean artist Bok Lim Kim said the bronze memorial offers a broader, universal meaning.

“Every girl has dreams,” she said. “Dreams of happiness, of peace and of freedom.”

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In Iraq, the “N” word caused a Christian genocide, but gave birth to #DemandForAction

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Weeks before Iraq’s Yazidis took refuge on a mountain to escape Islamic radicals,  Assyrians, Chaldeans, Syriacs and other Iraqi minorities were forced to abandon their ancestral homes to run for their lives to get away from the terrorists known as ISIS.  President Obama, and indeed much of the West, said nothing.   And so Middle Eastern Christians from around the world did something big: they united and under the direction of  Nuri Kino, a journalist and author from Sweden, formed #DemandForAction.  Rallies took place in nearly 50 cities on four continents for one cause: to demand that the United Nations help form a safe haven for their people in the Nineveh Plains . And they are taking back the N-word… “N” means Nazarene…follower of Christ.  #WeAreN…. From my story (Daily News, July 30, 2013): 

Across the ancient cities and villages of Iraq, an “N” word also is used out of hate.

Members of the extremist group known as ISIS spray paint the letter “N” in blazing red on the homes of those they deem different. Scrawled in Arabic and pronounced “noon,” the N stands for Nazarene, or follower of Christ, and to an outsider, it may look like a happy face.

But ISIS uses it as a mark of death. It warns Christian families who live in those homes to convert to Islam, pay a hefty tax, or prepare to die.

“There is a Christian genocide happening in Northern Iraq and no one is doing anything about it” said Delilah George, a 31-year-old Assyrian woman and Valley Village resident. “My people are experiencing unspeakable horror and grief at the hands of these radicals.”

Since the takeover in June of Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant or ISIS has targeted the Christian population, whose faith has been present for almost 2,000 years. In the last two weeks, Assyrians were forced to leave their ancestral homeland under the threat of death. Many have been beaten, robbed and brutalized, or killed along the way as they search for a safe haven.

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The sadness, frustration with the lack of public awareness and even anger has prompted George and countless Assyrians to hold a rally Saturday at the Federal Building in Los Angeles. Dubbed “Demand for Action,” the Los Angeles event is one of nearly 40 worldwide to be held also on Saturday across the United States, Europe, the Middle East and Australia.

“What I am is sad and very frustrated that there is an ethnic cleansing occurring on our homeland and no one is talking about it,” said Nuri Kino, an investigative journalist and author from Sweden whose work has led him to become an activist.

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Kino founded Demand for Action, which has taken off on social media, reaching Assyrians worldwide. At its heart, the Demand for Action is a rallying call to the United Nations to ensure that the Christian communities of Iraq are given safe haven in the Nineveh Plains, Kino said.

That the issue hasn’t garnered much attention in the West doesn’t surprise Amir Hussain, a professor of theology at Loyola Marymount University. He said the West can’t seem to grasp that there are Christians living outside of Europe and the Americas.

“We don’t pay attention to minority communities in general, and often lump all people in the Middle East as ‘Arabs’ or as ‘Muslims,’ ” Hussain said. “In fact, many people in the Middle East are neither Muslim nor Arab. I remind my students that Jesus never went to Rome. He stayed in the Middle East, mostly in Israel and Palestine. Palestinian Christians pride themselves on coming from the same place as “the Man from Galilee”.

Hussain said the West should care what’s happening to Christians in the Middle East for several reasons.

“First, simply, because it is taking place,’ Hussain said. “‘Injustice anywhere,’ as Dr. King reminded us, ‘is a threat to justice everywhere.’ These people are fellow Christians for the majority of people in the West. These Christians are some of the oldest Christian communities in the world.”

At least 1,500 people are expected to attend the Los Angeles rally. Organizers said Chaldeans, Armenians, Copts and other Middle Eastern Christians who have seen their homeland’s churches bombed and their religious symbols desecrated under extremism, also are participating and people of many faiths and backgrounds have pledged their support.

“Our supporters see this as a crime against humanity,” said Sandra Assaker, 27. “It’s not about one religion or ethnicity. That’s why we are all coming together.”

Several organizers gathered at Assaker’s home Wednesday to prepare signs and banners. The signs include the Arabic letter N in red. Assaker and her friends marveled at the fact that it has been modern social media, such as Twitter and Facebook, that has revived an ancient people’s struggle. One of the Twitter handles that has taken off recently is #WeAreN.

“We’re taking this symbol back,” Delilah George said. “We’re proud to be Christians.”

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The Demand For Action rally will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday (Aug. 2) at the Federal Building, 11000 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles

#Assyrian music survives despite wars and threats

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I’ve written many stories about the local Assyrian American community’s struggle for recognition. When I wrote about a concert of Assyrian folk music only in February, it seemed as if Assyrians would finally have some formal representation on their homeland. Today, only five months later, their rightful lands, the Nineveh plains have gone to Islamic extremists, and frankly, no one cares or listens. The largest paper in Southern California, the LA Times, has rarely bothered to write about us (I wrote about Assyrians there as an intern in 1996). What people don’t realize is that when a terrorist group eliminates a people, that terrorist group won’t stop unless they are held accountable. It will hunt down all they deem different. By the time our (Assyrian) plight is recognized, most of the Middle East will be in the hands of extemists. Women will have no rights. And I’ll be here to say: I told you so. In the meantime, for what it’s worth, here’s a story about how Assyrian folk music has managed to survive (Daily News, Feb. 26, 2014). The concert was organized by the Assyrian Aid Society.

Their songs were born in Mesopotamia, where villagers sang of the mystery behind a woman’s deep gaze, their love for their vast, verdant land between two rivers and the mountain ranges that stretch toward the sun.

Now, thousands of years after those folk songs were created, some of the same melodies that survived time, wars and assimilation will be heard Saturday in Glendale as part of a fundraising concert and dance performance held by the Assyrian Aid Society of America.

“This folk music is still very strong in our culture,” but has not been widely heard in the Western world, said Sargoun Issa, president of the Assyrian Aid Society’s Los Angeles Chapter.

Since 1991, the nonprofit, along with its national and international counterparts, has worked to rebuild homes, fund schools and provide medical needs to Assyrians in Iraq affected by the two Gulf wars. But Saturday’s event also is a fundraiser to provide humanitarian aid to the Assyrian refugees who have been caught in the middle of Syria’s civil war.

An estimated half-million Assyrians fled to Syria in 2003 during the second Gulf War because of a surge of Islamic extremist attacks against them and other Christian minorities.

Now, Syria’s current civil war has forced many of those same families to return to the borders of Iraq. But their plight has been largely ignored and they remain an invisible minority. Assyrians are the indigenous people of Mesopotamia, presently Iraq, where the last and largest concentration of Aramaic-speaking people in the world have lived for thousands of years. Because many Assyrians call Iraq and Iran their homeland, they have been confused with Arabs and Persians.

Some relief may come in the near future. Last month, the Iraqi Council of Ministers approved a plan to establish three new provinces in Iraq, one of them the Nineveh Plains, which holds the largest population of Assyrians, Chaldeans and Syriacs. The legislation may make way for Assyrians to form a self-administered region.

Still, even after a mass exodus from their homeland and even within the diaspora, Assyrian music has managed to survive.

During a rehearsal for Saturday’s performance, musicians warmed up on a zornah, or wind pipe, and a dowlah, a drum. Mehdi Bagheri, who is from Iran, practiced on a kamacheh, a small, cello-like instrument.

Singer Sargon Youkhana said his songs celebrate the beauty of everyday life, a theme all people, no matter who or where they come from, can relate to.

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“Music doesn’t have an ID,” Youkhana said. “It’s for everyone.”

Singer Helen Saint Vincent said her goal is to expose more people to traditional folk music before it is forgotten.

“I want to rebuild this forgotten music,” Vincent said. “We (Assyrians) are an old nation, but we are scattered, and we have no land. We shouldn’t forget our music because this is part of world history.”

Saturday’s performance is one of two arts events sponsored by the Assyrian Aid Society. An exhibit featuring works by several artists from Iraq, Iran, and Syria will open Friday in Montrose and run through Sunday.

Artist and poet Paul Batou said the themes presented in the work transcend differences in religion and ancestry.

“Artists from those countries are sending a message of peace using the colorful art that explores the culture and beauty of their homeland,” Batou said. “These artists believe that peace, art and education are the keys for change, a change needed for beauty to overcome hate, love to overcome war and destruction.”

Issa said the goal behind these events is to raise awareness of the Assyrian culture through the arts, so they are not lost.

“This heritage doesn’t just belong to Assyrians, but to all humans,” Issa said. “When we lose a part of a nation’s culture, all human beings lose a part of human heritage.”

Help for sex trafficked victims often lacking

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Once, when I was visiting Children of the Night almost 10 years ago, I saw a 13-year-old come in with breast implants. She looked around the center, then walked onto the back patio where she saw a pet rabbit. She asked if she could hold it. As she cradled the bunny with one arm, she put her thumb in her mouth and rocked the rabbit back and forth. It was difficult to believe that someone had been pimping this child just a few days before.  Sad and tragic what humans do to young women. Below is my most recent story about how politicians all want to help sex trafficked victims, but provide no funding on how to rehabilitate these teens and adults in the long term (From the series Prostitution in Los Angeles:  Daily News, May 20, 2014):

The children come through the doors with blackened eyes and broken teeth.

Some are branded; gang members tattoo their marks on a girl’s jawbone to show she’s their property. Once, a 13-year-old was brought in with breast implants. Her pimp’s idea.

Lois Lee has seen all kinds of youth walk into Children of the Night, the organization she founded 35 years ago, first as a drop-in center in Hollywood, then as a 24-bed residential shelter in Van Nuys for prostitution’s youngest victims. It is one of only a handful of its kind in the nation.

 In the early days, law enforcement wasn’t prepared to deal properly with the youngest teens who were selling their bodies for money, Lee said. No one wanted to admit that adults were paying to have sex with 14-year-olds.

But in the last two years especially, the attitude toward children sold for sex has changed. The word “prostitute” has been replaced with the phrase “sex traffic survivor.” Awareness has grown through billboard campaigns, marches down Los Angeles streets and government-backed task forces. And state legislators have introduced more bills that would penalize pimps with longer jail sentences and higher fines. But while Lee praises the increased awareness, the posters of doe-eyed children and proclamations to end sex trafficking still don’t translate into the kind of complex help and funding many youth and adults who have sex for money need.

“People only want to help the little children,” Lee said. “They don’t want to help my kids. My kids are teenagers who put earrings in places they don’t belong. Their favorite word starts with the letter F.”

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Especially lacking are the number of residential facilities that provide specialized long-term care and rehabilitation. Those services include helping teens and young adults obtain high school diplomas, therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder, and life skills that can help them live on their own. Of the 10 state and federal legislative bills proposed this year to combat sex trafficking, for example, only one directly addresses the need for government funding for long-term and residential services.

Lee runs Children of the Night through private funding. Children who come to the program are referred by police from across the nation.

There are relatively few other facilities around the country that provide similar services — and the numbers are hard to track, researchers say, because programs open and close, while others may offer help for sex-trafficked victims as just one of many services.

One study, in 2008 by the U.S. Health and Human Services Department, found only four residential treatment centers in the United States for sex trafficked children with a total of 45 beds, including Children of the Night.

 Another one, last year by the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority, found 33 residential programs nationwide with 682 beds that worked exclusively with trafficking victims. California had the most with nine residential programs offering 371 beds for victims.

“We need more services and shelters for juvenile and adult victims,” said Donna Hughes, a leading international researcher on human trafficking and professor of Gender and Women’s Studies Program at the University of Rhode Island. “We don’t have nearly the support for victims of trafficking that exist for victims of domestic violence.”

She said while there are experts who know how to work with victims of sex trafficking, their specialized knowledge may not be widely accessed among service providers. She too has noted the change in attitude for victims of “sex trafficking,” but not victims of “prostitution.” The terminology makes a big difference on funding.

“If people see the issue as one of prostitution, then they don’t want to give support for services,” she said. “Sex trafficking is called ‘modern-day slavery’ and the traffickers are seen as brutal criminals. Change those words to ‘prostitution and pimps’ and people assume that everyone involved is consenting to the activity. Prostitution and sex trafficking have different definitions, but in practice, they are often the same thing.”

Nearly 150 youth were arrested last year for prostitution in Los Angeles County and of those, 94 were from the Compton and Long Beach areas, county officials said. About 89 percent of those arrested were known to the foster care system.

“All counties currently lack capacity to provide enhanced supervision and support to protect victims through the regular foster care programs,” according to a February report by the County Welfare Directors Association of California to the state Senate Budget Committee. “Victims have immediate needs for clothing and safe shelter away from the abusive pimps and require long term services.”

The association says at least $20 million in state funding is need to establish an adequate infrastructure in California to raise awareness, increase prevention and provide long-term care. An additional $14 million annually would be needed to maintain such a program.

Long term residential homes continue to be a big issue for Los Angeles County, agreed Nick Ippolito, the children and social services deputy for Los Angeles County Supervisor Don Knabe. Along with Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, Knabe has worked to raise awareness about the issue of sex trafficking across the county.

“I don’t want anybody to think we’re just putting up posters,” Ippolito said. “We are actively working to put those services in place.”

Armenian Genocide, nearly a century later

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It has been 99 years since the Armenian Genocide began in full force, and while progress has been made to acknowledge the events, neither the United States nor Turkey want to talk about the killings and death marches. No matter. Evidence continues to show the suffering endured among Armenians, Assyrians and Greeks from 1915 to 1923. This week, the  Armenian Film Foundation gave J. Michael Hagopian’s collection of 400 interviews of Armenian Genocide survivors and witnesses to the USC Shoah Foundation. It is a powerful collection which includes an interview with Armin Wegner, a German soldier who photographed the horrors of the genocide and who later protested the crimes of the Turks. Above, a photo I took of a mural in Little Armenia in East Hollywood. Below, a photograph by Wegner of an Armenian woman carrying her child toward the desert and filmmaker Hagopian, who I had the honor of interviewing years before. Here is my story about the collection at USC (Daily News, March 21, 2012):

The question would forever link one crime against humanity to another.

“Our war aim does not consist in reaching certain lines, but in the physical destruction of the enemy,” Adolf Hitler said in his 1939 speech to justify his proposed invasion of Poland.

“Only thus shall we gain the living space which we need. Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?”

More than 70 years after Hitler asked that question, the voices of Armenians who survived the Genocide that began in 1915 will join the testimonies of those who survived the Holocaust of World War II, as part of a collaboration between the Shoah Foundation Institute and the USC Institute of Armenian Studies Leadership Council.

“These testimonies exist because (the survivors) wanted the world to know that this happened,” said Stephen Smith, executive director for the Shoah Foundation Institute, at the University of Southern California.

The voices and images not only strengthen evidence that such atrocities occurred, but also will show how crimes against humanity are born out of bigotry, prejudice, and intolerance if gone unnoticed, Smith said.

Founded by Steven Spielberg in 1994, the Shoah Foundation Institute includes more than 52,000 digitized testimonies of the survivors and witnesses of the Holocaust. It took more than 15 years not only to record the accounts, but also to index them properly so that scholars, journalists and those serious about learning could find specific stories by name, birth place or experience.

The foundation is now conducting a similar project with more than 400 films made by J. Michael Hagopian. He was a small child when his mother hid him in a well from Turkish soldiers who raided the village of Kharberd in what was then Western Armenia, now part of Turkey.

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He survived and migrated to the United States and became a filmmaker who recorded the experience of Genocide survivors and witnesses.

Filmmaker Carla Garapedian, who worked with Hagopian and is leading the Armenian Film Foundation’s effort to digitize the work, called the availability of the accounts significant.

“This is the first time that Armenian Genocide interviews will be made available on such a wide network, so that universities around the world will be able to access them,” she said. “This is an important moment in terms of educating the public, from the point of view of survivors and witnesses. … In understanding genocide in that comparative way, we may be able to prevent it.”

An estimated 1.5 million Armenians died from 1915-23 in what has been called the first genocide of the 20th century.

The Turkish government maintains the deaths were a consequence of betrayal and civil unrest in what was then the Ottoman Empire.

Armenians, however, say the killings involved the systematic cleansing of Christians, which included Assyrians and Pontic Greeks.

But the word genocide has become politicized, with both the United States and Turkish governments refusing to call it such. Armenian-American activists have said the U.S. government won’t officially recognize the killings as genocide because it would hurt relations with Turkey, a NATO ally.

In an interview with the Daily News in 2010, months before his death, Hagopian said the accounts he filmed should be enough proof of what occurred.

“The evidence against Turkey is enormous,” Hagopian said. “The Germans have admitted what had happened (during the Holocaust). The Turks have to admit it so that there is remorse, and after that atonement and then forgiveness.

“They can’t kill babies and take wives and not face retribution.”

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Samples of survivor and witness testimonies include recollections of babies pulled from their mother’s arms by Turkish soldiers then thrown into the air, and caught by a bayonet at the end of a rifle. There are memories of bloodied bodies floating down a river, and the systematic torture of intellectuals.

What makes Hagopian’s films that much more connected to the testimonies to the Holocaust is that he was encouraged to record survivors’ accounts by Armin Wegner – a German soldier. Wegner was an Army medic who was stationed in the Ottoman Empire during World War I. While there, he took hundreds of photographs documenting what was happening to the Armenians, which eventually resulted in his arrest. But he was able to sneak the photographs out.

Hagopian’s first film that related to the genocide was an interview with Wegner.

Both of their contributions, as well as the Shoah Foundation, will be honored at a gala and fundraiser on April 15 by the USC Institute of Armenian Studies’ Leadership Council. Funds raised will go toward the continued work of digitizing Hagopian’s footage.

“Wegner is very much a real symbol for what we’re doing,” Smith said. “Wegner was Hitler’s (symbolic) nemesis. He was there and photographed the Armenian Genocide. While Hitler is saying who now remembers the Armenians, Wegner says he remembers the Armenians.”

The digitalization process, which includes indexing key words in Hagopian’s films, should be completed in about two years, said Jerry Papazian, an advisory board member with the USC Institute of Armenian Studies Leadership Council.

“This (project) so defines who we are, this horrible thing that happened to our ancestors,” Papazian said. “Our theme has been `Don’t let their voices be forgotten’.”

The Shoah Foundation Institute also is working to archive witness accounts of the massacres in Cambodia, Rwanda, and Bosnia.

The goal is to make people aware of what can happen if the world closes its eyes and turns its back.

“I’m delighted that the Armenian community trusts us with their personal community legacy,” Smith said. “Trust is the first step. When you don’t trust, that’s the breeding ground for bigotry, prejudice, and intolerance.”