LOS ANGELES — Michelle Guymon is a hero in the world of child sex trafficking prevention.
LOS ANGELES — Michelle Guymon is a hero in the world of child sex trafficking prevention.

Seven years ago, she had no idea Los Angeles County had a child sex trafficking problem.

Now Guymon is director of the Child Trafficking Unit for the Los Angeles County Probation Department and is part of the group that aims to make LA’s efforts to combat child sex trafficking a model for the nation. Her connection to child trafficking began in November 2010. She was the director of Camp Scudder, one of the two girls’ camps in the probation system. Guymon also served on the Interagency Council on Child Abuse and Neglect (ICAN) committee, which — as the name suggests — looked at various types of child abuse within the county. At a committee meeting, an FBI agent gave a presentation on human trafficking worldwide, and domestic sex trafficking of minors. She was startled by the domestic part of the presentation. Today, child sexual exploitation is a significant problem nationally.

But back in 2010, Guymon didn’t realize the scope of the problem.

“At this point in my life, the only thing I knew about human trafficking was that it happened in other countries to other kids,” she said. “It had nothing to do with me.”

She realized that the young kids she’d viewed as teenage prostitutes throughout her probation career were no different than the victims from other countries the FBI agent was talking about.

“The girls at my camp that are in for prostitution are victims of sex trafficking?” Guymon thought. The concept made her head spin.

“I questioned why these young girls were doing that, not really understanding that this was something being done to them, not something they were choosing to do. I had no idea that they were under the control of an exploiter. [That] they were not out there by choice,” she said.

After this realization, Guymon talked to the now-retired chief of the probation department, Jerry Powers.

Read more: How LA County Began to Face Its Big Problem With Youth Being Sex-Trafficked | Youth Today