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Saving Innocence founder Kim Biddle describes her realization that child sex trafficking was “shockingly common” in L.A. as her Matrix moment — as if she had taken the red pill that allows Neo to go “back into the computer system, and everyone thinks that's real life, but he knows better, and he knows this dark truth.”

Biddle's life and work had been leading her to that point. A survivor of sexual abuse, she'd traveled to Thailand with Saddleback Church's HIV/AIDS initiative and seen children being sold to sex tourists. She had done research at USC talking to teens on L.A.'s streets and learned that, although they performed sexual acts as a form of currency, they did not see themselves as prostitutes.

And she'd talked to people in law enforcement and found some who realized that “these typical 'runaway' or 'rebellious' kids or 'prostitutes' are not what we think is happening. In fact, these kids are being kidnapped, coerced, manipulated, forced, and the light bulb had gone on to realize, how did we miss this? We can never associate the word 'child' with the word 'prostitute' — prostitute denotes choice and job, and these are 12-year-olds!”

Biddle, 34, traces her urge to help to her own experience with abuse, which began in early high school. After that, “It's a hard road to really believe that you're worth love and you're worth life to the fullest, and that you have something important to offer other people, not just be used by other people.”

Although Biddle and other girls testified against their abuser, he walked free on a technicality. The injustice of that “also drives some of my work, to see justice come where justice is due for [kids], and to be their shield.”

Founded in 2012, Saving Innocence operates out of an East Hollywood bungalow with a staff of five social workers. The nonprofit has contracts with L.A. County's probation office, judges and prosecutors to help children in the system, including youths in STAR Court, the first juvenile court to recognize that commercially sexually exploited children need intensive aftercare.

Saving Innocence also provides immediate response when trafficked children are identified by police or other authorities — often in the midst of other crime scenes.

Biddle praises the members of law enforcement who work with Saving Innocence, calling them “amazing leaders” who are “trying to bring awareness to their own teams to be able to identify these children and treat them as children.” But she bemoans the fact that child victims are sometimes a low priority under the law: “It's so ludicrous that, in our system, it has to be prioritized to investigate selling a bag of cocaine over a human being.”

The Studio City resident credits her calling to her Christian faith, which she came to as a “seeking” college freshman who'd been coping with her past abuse via alcohol and drugs. At her lowest point, considering suicide, Biddle says she heard God's voice. “God reached out his hand to me and saved me, and then very graciously journeyed me out.”

Biddle now plans to call upon her fellow Christians. “It's naive and dangerous for Christians and churches to ignore the orphans in our neighborhoods,” she says. “It's a high priority to awaken the faith-based communities to that, because that won't only help the kids, it's going to help their own health and faith and understanding of God's grace.”

Check out our entire People Issue 2015.

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