San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon kicked off a partnership Thursday morning with local youth advocacy groups as part of his commitment to support young victims of human trafficking.

At the Larkin Street Youth Services center, located at 869 Ellis St. in San Francisco, Gascon signed a memorandum of understanding with three San Francisco-based community organizations–Larkin Street Youth Services, Standing Against Global Exploitation and the Youth Justice Institute–to launch the “Exploit No More Youth Hotline.”

The hotline, (800) 669-6196, hopes to provide a safe resource for victims of what Gascon called “modern slavery.”

He said young children are often exploited as sex or labor workers.

Youth are “vulnerable” and “don’t know where to go for help,” Gascon said.

He said the number of affected youth in San Francisco is unknown, with sex and labor traffickers operating in a “tremendous undercurrent” that is difficult to track.

The 24-hour hotline aims to offer a way to support victims and not treat them as suspects or criminals, Gascon said.

“They can call and will be supported and treated with sensitivity and respect,” he said.
He encouraged victims from the immigrant community to seek help with no threat of deportation or other legal repercussion at the city level.

As part of the partnership, Larkin Street Youth services will run the hotline and connect callers to resources, including shelter beds.

SAGE will connect youth to services such as caseworkers and life skills classes, while the Youth Justice Institute will provide mental health services.

Sherilyn Adams, executive director of Larkin Street Youth Services, said the center already has a running help line at the same number that is now expanded to include resources for exploited youth.

Gascon today also recognized the efforts of a Marin County 9-year-old to stop child slavery.

He presented Vivenne Hart with a certificate of honor for her work raising $150,000 in the past year through her Make A Stand! Lemonade fundraising.

Vivenne had set up a stand this morning at the center to give samples of her “lemon-aid” that she has been selling at stands since last summer after she learned about children forced to work.

Vivenne said the outpouring of support from her community and strangers–some who have donated up to $5,000 for her delicious beverage–is amazing, and she encourages others to make stands to help exploited youth.

“I’ve learned that everyone can make a difference,” she said.

February is Human Trafficking Awareness month in San Francisco.

Sasha Lekach, Bay City News

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