Quan announces plan to stop sexual exploitation of children in Oakland

Civic leaders speak out against child exploitation in East Oakland. From left to right: Councilmember Noel Gallo, Lt. Henderson Jordan, Community Activist Genice Jacobs, and Mayor Jean Quan.

Civic leaders speak out against child exploitation in East Oakland. From left to right: Councilmember Noel Gallo, Lt. Henderson Jordan, Community Activist Genice Jacobs, and Mayor Jean Quan.

In one of her last organizing projects as mayor of Oakland, Jean Quan announced last week a new effort to stop the sexual exploitation of children along a stretch of East Oakland that Quan said “the girls call the track.”

Spanning International Boulevard from about 1st Avenue to 109th, “the track” is now nationally notorious as a place where minors are subject to human trafficking, Quan said. “Children are basically sexually trafficked and [are] under slavery of a sexual kind throughout the United States and many places in the world,” Quan told reporters Friday afternoon at the Youth Employment Partnership (YEP), located at the corner of 23rd Avenue and International. “We are going to stand up against Oakland being considered one of those places.”

Quan said the initiative will “put sunshine” on sex trafficking throughout the area, creating a stronger community presence to let predators know their crimes won’t be tolerated. As part of the effort, according to Quan’s spokesman Sean Maher, the city began putting more police officers on the streets late last month in order to discourage pimps, as well as adult males seeking to buy sex, from preying on victims and minors at risk.

“It’s important to note that child prostitution is one of the most common forms of human trafficking in Oakland,” Oakland Police Department Police Lt. Henderson Jordan said at the news conference. “The OPD recognizes that sex trafficking is a victim-driven crime.”

With these new efforts, Quan warned potential Johns, “You’re more likely to be stopped, more likely to have your car towed, you’re more likely to have your picture posted.”

The officers plan to patrol the quarter between 16th and 25th avenues on bicycles from 4:00pm to midnight every day, Quan said, to allow for more agile access to suspected predators.

Neighborhood programs like MISSSEY, (Motivating, Inspiring, Supporting, and Serving Sexually Exploited Youth) are available to victims who have become caught up in sex trafficking because they feel that they don’t have other options. “We feel like this is an abomination, and it’s happening on our watch” said Executive Director Falilah Aisha Bilal, who joined Quan, Jordan, and city council member Noel Gallo at the news conference. Funded by the voter-approved Measure Y (and by Measure Z next year), MISSSEY is a local nonprofit whose programming is inspired directly by the experiences and philosophies of different survivors. “We need to stand together,” Bilal said, “to help free them from this form of slavery.”

Over the next year, Quan said, different community groups will lead weekly walks from 6:30pm -8:30pm, similar to the city’s Ceasefire program, in which organizers talk to people directly in the trade or those who are most at risk of being recruited. Gallo, who represents the area that includes the troubled stretch of International Boulevard, told reporters that as a father to three daughters who grew up in East Oakland, he feels a special responsibility to involve himself in this effort to keep the area safe for women and children. “I live two blocks away,” Gallo said.

Quan said she and Gallo are participating in the community organizing effort in part because though the police and nonprofits can’t patrol the area around the clock, neighborhood residents can. This was the philosophy behind the “Dear John,” letter campaign, a community initiative that began in 2011 and is supported by the City of Oakland, the Oakland Police Department, and local community organizations. That campaign teaches locals to identify and report the license plate numbers and state of origin of cars driven by people who appear to be soliciting sex. The information is sent anonymously to the police, sometimes with the help of community groups like the East Bay Asian Youth Center (EBAYC) or Oakland Community Organizations, a coalition of churches, schools and neighborhood groups that relies on religion as a community organizing strategy.

“This is a neighborhood of children and families,” said Andy Nelsen, Deputy Director for Public Policy and Organizing at EBAYC and an active community member who, according to Quan, organizes local parents on marches to raise awareness around sex trafficking. “This issue is a business and it is about supply and demand. And so one of the things we’re trying to do is to disrupt the demand.”

Community activist and local parent Genice Jacobs said Oakland’s sex trade has evolved into a regional business, and suggested that schools educate young people on refusal tactics to avoid recruitment by boyfriend pimps and Internet predators. Around the U.S., Jacobs argued, the rate of sex abuse is alarmingly high for both under aged girls and boys. “In a city like Oakland, with so much poverty,” she added, “the odds are much worse.”

Quan said the area’s sex trade operations now appear to have a national reach. “Many of the girls that are working the streets are from out of town now,” she said. “I met a young lady who had been brought from New Orleans.”

The mayoral effort will work in partnership with The Alameda County District Attorney’s Human Exploitation and Trafficking Unit (H.E.A.T. Watch), which launched in 2010. A five-point program that involves working with both the community and the police to reduce sex trafficking, H.E.A.T. Watch asks residents to submit tips on suspected behavior by email or through a telephone hotline. “We, in our county, are prosecuting 40% of the human trafficking cases that are being prosecuted in the state of California,” said Assistant District Attorney Teresa Drenick. “We cannot turn a blind eye to 12, 13, 14-year-old children who are being sold for sex in our back yard,” she said.

Drenick said that the message to the community remains the same. “If you see something, say something.”

The city’s other initiatives to support the effort include a revised towing policy to target those who use cars to solicit sex. “If you come to Oakland you have a greater chance of getting prosecuted,” Quan said. “We’re not open for business – this kind of business – any more.”

8 Comments

  1. Arianna

    I attended a SF CAHT meeting in 2012.
    The former DA, Sharmin Bock was speaking on human trafficking.
    The statistics provided from Alameda County were as follows:
    Btwn 1.1.2006 & 4.30. 2012
    251 cases of felony human trafficking
    177 convictions
    Feds, took, 2 cases.

    That averages out to around 50 cases per year. Whereas child abuse & neglect is upwards of 80k confirmed cases per year.

    She would not state whether or not any of these victims were under age.

    Mostly likely, because none or, very few were.

    Now that the Prop 35 & SB1138 have passed, I’m curious as to how this has affected conviction rate or if it is, only being used to entrap & arrest, more homeless folks, street based consensual sex workers
    and at-risk youth?

    Not to mention, how do these policies of criminalization and incarceration address the over 80k confirmed cases of child abuse & neglect (stats from 2006, because apparently the county stopped tracking because the numbers are growing, not lessening.)

    I think the focus on the fear-mongering moral panic of human trafficking is disservice to those 80k youth who are in abusive situations, in, our own backyards.

    That those funds are better used to shore up the services for those 80k youth who are not receiving adequate care, currently, vs. utilizing more $ to feed the PIC & fattening cops wallets/budgets over, a baseless moral panic.

  2. Burt

    This issue of “trafficking” has always been about prostitution. Just look at the way this article conflates “trafficking” and prostitution.

    • This article is about underage prostitues…seeing as how they are underage, they cannot give consent. So the term prostitues doesn’t really apply. They are sexual slaves, and as such, they are being trafficked. Maybe you think these children are 17, and that makes discounting what they go through ok. Well, most of them aren’t (not that it would be ok if they were). The average age for entering prostitution in Oakland is 12-14 for girls and 11-13 for boys. They are children, so your blasé attitude about what they go through as victims of sexual slavery is disgusting. It’s people like you, who turn a blind eye, that make it so hard for these children to get help. If you don’t believe my stats, Google it. Here’s a start:

      http://oaklandlocal.com/2014/01/dispatches-from-city-council-the-campaign-to-mitigate-child-sex-trafficking-community-voices/

      • Burt

        There is a world famous cyclist out there (if you don’t know who I am talking about, google it) who was born to a 17 year old mother. Was she a ‘slave’ because “she couldn’t legally consent”? How many millions of high school students should be in prison (according to your logic) because they had sex with a person “who couldn’t legally consent”? The fact of the matter is they can and do consent.
        As for the statistics regarding ‘trafficking’, nearly all of them are lies. The link in your post is propaganda. It is not a study. Send me a link to the study that says that “The average age for entering prostitution in Oakland is 12-14”. KUOW in Seattle did a radio program on ‘trafficking’ and said that the 12-14 stat is basically bogus.

        • Thug

          Burt it’s good you noticed the “minors can’t consent! thus it is rape!” nonsense. Going by that logic everything an adult does with a minor is abuse since a minor “can’t consent”. Fudging these stats and being emotional is harming any kids who are actually forced and not trying to make a buck. Not to mention most of these “kids” are 15 16 or 17. They also have issues that no one cared about until sex was involved.

        • Jan

          The problem isn’t a minor falling in love and having sex with a boyfriend. The problem is with an exploiter coercing a vulnerable youth into the life with every intent on using her for his own profit. While she believes he loves her, his intent is only to use her. He is trained on how to break her and control her which isn’t hard since she is only 13 or 14 years old. She has low self esteem likely because of being a below average student, she comes from a broken home, and has a naive personality. Above all she believes her boyfriend loves her and doesn’t even know he is a pimp until he has her thoroughly brainwashed. Even after he has her convinced she wants to sell her body for his profit and give him all the money she still believes he loves her.
          How can you be so sure of something you know nothing about?

          I work with parents with a child that has been coerced into this life and they are regular families in the Bay Area with girls ranging from 13, 14, 14, 14, 18 at first exploitation. The girls are abused, controlled and are certainly not “free”. They are in bondage of fear and manipulation. Many of the chains that bind them are psychological. But those chains are as strong as being locked inside a brothel or hotel. In many cases they end up in a locked and guarded situation and are unsafe to leave. They are also in fear that their families are unsafe if they should try to leave. I could go on…

        • Aaron

          I know the stats are Bogus. Sorry to say I have been a John for 45 years and there are very few street prostitutes under 17. There are more girls in High School who will sell their Body to someone they know but they are not considered prostitutes by definition. These groups of people who claim that Girls at at 12 or 14 or whatever do it just to get money

  3. Burt

    Actually, the problem is that there is a contingent of people out there who believe that women cannot consent to sex and that the government (or some quasi-governmental agency like an NGO) needs to regulate who can have intimate relations with whom. The myth that there are thousands or millions of children kidnapped from their homes and sold into sex is a lie, a lie peddled by NGO’s to secure governmental funding and to further their true agenda of a crackdown on adult prostitution globally.

    All you need to look at are the arrests. Almost never was any “victim” “forced” into prostitution. Nearly all are them are there by choice. Because DA’s and police know this, they do not break out the numbers as to who was actually “forced” into it. They always use the legal technicality of “underaged” to describe them as “trafficked” so they can conceal from the public how totally bogus this “sex trafficking epidemic” truly is. They then use this technicality to bring “trafficking” charges against anyone else involved.

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