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40 years serving throwaway children

From university professor to providing shelter for teenage prostitutes? What led Lois Lee, founder of Children of the Night, to change her life’s goal so drastically?

By Sr Bernadette Mary Reis, fsp

“This was not the plan”, Lois Lee begins. “My goal was to be a college professor, drive a sports car, spend my summers in Europe”. What led her to embrace such a different path, opting instead to found Children of the Night—Rescuing Children from Prostitution? Vatican News spoke with Lois Lee, asking that very question.

Doctoral research project

It all began as a doctoral research project at UCLA. Ph.D. candidate Lois Lee and her research team began collecting data regarding clients of prostitutes not being arrested along with the prostitutes. Lois decided to pursue an interesting piece of data she had uncovered in her research: Why “the most common age on the police reports was age 19”.

Personal research project

So Lois drove over to Hollywood Blvd in Los Angeles in her red sports car and asked the girls that very question. “That’s how our relationship started”, she says. Later she received a call from the girls when one of their companions was murdered and the police did not want to talk to them.

At the end of 1977, Lois had decided to give up the research project which had reached a dead end when she got the second call for help – an escort operator suspected foul play regarding one of her girls. Lois spent hours on the phone with the police: “No one would listen to me”, she says. She then went to the police station only to be told that “the Los Angeles Police Dept was not going to send out a car – that the girl was just a whore…”. The next morning, she learned that the missing girl was “Hillside Strangler victim number 11”.

Advocate

Lois went on the news giving her own home phone number asking anyone with information to contact her if they didn’t want to call police. Lois not only receive tips from the “underground” which led to the arrest of the Hillside Strangler. She also received pleas from callers to help the kids who were applying for jobs in their sex industry businesses.

“Okay, you can stay with me”

“So I go talk to these kids”, Lois says – kids unwanted by parents, kids unwanted by social services because “prostitution was a crime”, and kids unwanted by court judges who would not put them in programs because it “wasn’t worth spending taxpayers money”. That’s when Lois opened the doors of her home. “And over the next three years, over 250 kids came through my apartment”.

And I remember … one night there were 11 kids in my apartment on the floor in the living room. I remember laying in bed and crying and saying, ‘Oh God, why do I have to do this? I don’t want to do this. This is not what I want to do. And I woke up the next morning and never looked back. And that’s what I have done with the rest of my life.

Listen to our interview with Dr Lois Lee

39 years in the making

Children of the Night started with services which included a hotline, clothing, showers, obtaining documents, and medical services. For those prostitutes who didn’t want to come to her, she went to them with street teams.  Finally, in 1992 her dream came true—a world-class 24-bed shelter with a private school which operated until the end of 2017. Volunteers include doctors, lawyers, dentists, optometrists, plastic surgeons who perform tattoo removal, educational advocates, therapists, psychiatrists, hair dressers.

Now Children of the Night educates children involved in prostitution through its Children of the Night without Walls program. Children from the US, Dominican Republic, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, the Philippines, Ghana, India and Nepal are educated face-to-face, on-line, with tutors.

Future goal

Through the generosity of benefactors, volunteers, and Lois’ tireless work, Children of the Night has saved over 10,000 children in America from a life of prostitution. With all of this behind her, what is Lois’ goal now? “Rescuing another 10,000 in a fraction of the time at a fraction of the cost”. With all the changes that have taken place over the years or will take place at Children of the Night, that goal will always remain the same.

13 July 2018, 10:39