LOS ANGELES — Withelma “T” Ortiz Walker Pettigrew grew up in the foster care system in Los Angeles, where she lived in 14 different group homes, most of which featured various levels of abuse. Her experience showed her how children, in a system built to protect them, often face life-endangering risks that often go unnoticed by the public.
Pettigrew and others have seen how cases of abuse in the foster care system can drive the children out of their group or foster homes in search of someone who can fill the painful void left in their lives by the lack of family, or any other kind of caring adult.
“At the age of 10, I met a man that said he was going to love me, care for me, everything that I wanted someone to do, because I had no one,” Pettigrew said. But “love” and “care” turned out to have harrowing strings attached. “From the age of 10 to 17, I was employed here in California, from San Diego all the way up to Washington.”
By “employed,” Pettigrew means she was sexually abused for money as a victim of child sex trafficking.