Human Trafficking Task Force Efforts Receive Mixed Reviews in Van Nuys

Devyn Shea
4 min readDec 4, 2017

A mother pushes her basket of clothes and toddler into a laundry mat while an older man scuffles to the bus stop as a car blasting Spanish music zips by and backpack laden teens are walking home in groups from school. During the day, the Sepulveda strip in Van Nuys could be any other street in Los Angeles, filled with people from varying backgrounds; but at night, it’s known as one of the busiest prostitution strips in Los Angeles.

“This block gets trimmed once a year,” said tree trimmer and driver for Gabriel’s Tree Service Adrain Guizar. Guizar confirmed there have been no changes in this schedule following Martinez’s efforts. Photo by Devyn Shea

In January of 2017, councilwoman Nury Martinez announced the cutting down of trees and installment of light posts around the Sepulveda Blvd strip in Van Nuys in an effort to deter prostitution that has plagued the city since the 1980’s according the Los Angeles Daily News.

Martinez launched a Human Trafficking Task Force in 2015, allocating millions of dollars toward fighting sex trafficking, including the arrests of 200 johns and pimps last year in the sting operation in Van Nuys. The force is dedicated to Sepulveda and Lankershim Blvd, a hub of prostitution and drug usage.

Now, as the year comes to a close, there are mixed results from Van Nuys residents on the success of the councilwoman’s efforts.

Geno Burgess, 6-year resident of Van Nuys, is elated as to what he sees around his town.

“It’s gotten a lot better in the past 8 or so months, it’s improved considerably-it’s not as out in the open as much and it just feels safer,” said Burgess.

Burgess admits he doesn’t go out at night, but he hasn’t seen any prostitution and isn’t bothered by the drugs in the area.

“There are drugs everywhere. I’ve lived in really nice neighborhoods and I’ve lived in really rough ones, and there are drugs in both, that’s not a Van Nuys thing,” Burgess said.

Sean Sashid, a long time employee of Motel 6 on Sepulveda, says he has seen some decrease in prostitution and drug related behavior, but that it’s simply not enough.

“I’d say it’s decreased 30–40%,” said Shasid. “I think the police department needs to be more aggressive. It can be taken out easily. You see them walking around-if we see them, why don’t they see?” said Sashid.

Motel 6’s Sepulveda Blvd location surrounded by overgrown brush. Photo By Devyn Shea

Sashid is adamant prostitution and a drug epidemic is bringing property value down and hurting business around the area, as Motel 6 has a clear policy of not renting to anyone suspected of breaking the law.

“We don’t want this kind of business. We are very strict on that in the last two years-it’s not good for business,” said Sashid.

Unfortunately Motel 6’s record is not completely clean, as according to Associated Press News, Motel 6 just settled a law suit in August of 2017 for $250,000 with the Los Angeles City Attorney over drugs, gangs and prostitution at it’s Sylmar location.

Chanel Stevens, a small business owner along the Sepulveda strip, is hopeful more businesses will be able to save the neighborhood she calls home.

“It’s gotten better as far as upcoming business and traffic but when the sun goes down the freaks come out-prostitution and drugs,” said Stevens.

“The corner of Sherman and Sepulveda and everything in between is where it goes down. There is no change, there is a big heroin epidemic, and crystal meth,” Stevens said.

Stevens and her husband are excited about the new auto body shop about to open across the street from her store, hopeful it will create jobs for locals and bring more legitimate business to the area.

Others haven’t seen any change since the light pole installments and cut shrubbery.

Young mother Monica Tobar, 24, has lived in Van Nuys her entire life.

“I just see the same stuff I always have, it hasn’t changed at all. We see a lot of prostitution,” said Tobar. “I come here around 3 am with my husband and you see a lot of girls around working-it hasn’t changed. You get used to it, but it would be nice to see a change.”

While reports of prostitution related arrests have not yet been released for 2017, according to Los Angeles Police Department, Van Nuys homicide rates have increased 33.3% from 2016, rape has increased 10%, and aggravated assault has remained on par with those in 2016.