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Protesters march in Oakland to condemn human trafficking

on April 21, 2011

Just under a hundred people marched through the streets of Oakland Wednesday afternoon to demonstrate against human trafficking, holding signs and shouting, “every child is too valuable to be bought and sold.”

The rally, the second on the topic in the neighborhood in the last month, began on the corner of International Boulevard and 24th Avenue in the East Lake neighborhood with a speech by Mayor Jean Quan, who condemned the buying and selling of minors for sex in Oakland and around the world.

“This is a really big business, a very dirty business,” Quan said.

Two years ago, the city of Oakland declared the fourth week of April “Commercially Sexually Exploited Children’s Awareness Week” and several of the city’s nonprofit and activist groups participated in the rally.

City leaders, including Quan and Police Chief Anthony Batts, have acknowledged Oakland’s problem with prostitution, particularly along International between 2nd Avenue and High Street, an area that is sometimes known as “the track.” Both leaders have vowed at previous rallies to do everything in their power to combat the issue, particularly where it involves minors that are bought and sold for sex.


“I don’t care what they say, if they’re under 18 and working these streets they’re not doing it willingly,” Quan said Wednesday.

A pimp with four girls can make up to $600,000 per year, Quan said, citing a conversation she had recently with one of Oakland’s police officers.

Pimping women or girls for sex is a felony, and carries a sentence of 20 years to life in prison if convicted, according to Captain Ed Tracey who oversees the San Antonio and East Lake districts, where prostitution is most prevalent in Oakland. But soliciting is only a misdemeanor, and Tracey said that often the johns have the charges reduced to an infraction, which carries minimal fines and no jail time.

Tracey said that soliciting would never become a felony because the “social tolerance for this kind of crime is so high.”

“Too many see [prostitution] as a victimless crime,” he said. “If people want to pay for sex and people want to sell it, then let them. But what people don’t see is the issue of child exploitation. They don’t see the used condoms lying in people’s front yards or the robberies and assaults that are associated with this business.”

Tracey has overseen more than 100 arrests in the past 90 days that, he said, were the result of a public outcry to do more about prostitution.

After marching down International Boulevard to the supportive sound of car horns and shouts from across the streets, the marchers stopped at San Antonio Park, where they listened to more speeches about how to stop the sexual exploitation of minors.

The rally was organized by members of the Sexually Exploited Minors Network, which is made up of Bay Area groups dedicated to providing services for youth who have been or at risk for sexual trafficking. Members of the SEM network include MISSSEY, CALICO, Bay Area Women Against Rape, and the East Bay Asian Youth Center, all of which had representatives at yesterday’s rally.

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Photo by Basil D Soufi
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