April 21, at 3: August 17, at 4: These exploited children have worked for pimps who quit drug dealing for the more lucrative and less risky trade of selling young girls for sex. During the last decade, police tightened their grip on the crack-cocaine trade and imposed stiffer penalties for possession. This drove dealers to look for an easier way to make money; they turned to vulnerable kids on the street. Oakland, with its hundreds of foster care kids and abused children who have run away from home, became prime recruiting ground.
The Internet, technology and cell phones also made it easier for pimps to prey on children. And social workers say even popular culture plays a role: The glorification of sex and pimping in music and fashion sends a message the lifestyle is OK. Now, the children are younger than ever before and the problem is bigger than anyone imagined. Pimps can earn more for younger, healthier and prettier girls. But by the time the cops caught on to this trend, experts say hundreds of kids were being sold for sex on the streets and on the Internet.
Preying on the vulnerable Firm numbers are hard to come by because agencies have only just started to quantify the problem. In one of the most comprehensive counts to date, the Oakland Police Department identified teens younger than 18 being prostituted by at least pimps over the year-and-a-half period that ended in May Statistics show most of the young girls — and sometimes boys — who are caught in this life are fleeing physical or sexual abuse at home or have fallen between the cracks of the foster care system.
A survey of Oakland youths being assisted by the Sexually Abused and Commercially Exploited Youth Program found 88 percent of the youngsters had run away from home and 53 percent came from foster care group homes.
Three-quarters of them had been raped at some time in their lives, and 48 percent had been physically abused growing up. Oakland has a reputation among pedophiles and pimps who roam here from other hot spots in Las Vegas, Sacramento and San Diego as a place to find young prostitutes, officials say.
Big business, dangerous life Business is booming. Luckily for her, police arrived on the scene and she was spared injury. Officers told her the man was a convicted rapist on parole. The fates of these children only get worse by joining up with the pimps. They live under an iron grip in which they are dependent on their pimps for food, clothing, transportation — even a place to sleep at night.
They hand over all of their money to their pimps. Other girls said they are forced to serve sex up to five men a night. Several other sexually exploited children interviewed said their pimps have threatened them with guns, knives and beatings. In fact, 70 percent of prostituted children in the survey said they had been assaulted while working the streets. But social workers also say many of the young girls turn to the trade in a misplaced desire for affection.
Many of the young girls call their pimps their boyfriends or their daddy and look to them for the love and attention not found in their troubled homes. Both girls were later found and the wannabe pimps were arrested. In the other case, the suspect is charged with pimping, pandering and forced oral copulation. Bock says her caseload is huge. With sexual exploitation of children so widespread, city, county and law enforcement officials are wondering how it festered for years almost unnoticed.
In just one week in July, police from five Bay Area cities, including Oakland, netted arrests in a Bay Area-wide prostitution sting. In Alameda County, law enforcement and social service agencies have formed a network to attack the problem with a common vision: The Sexually Exploited Minors Network jointly works the cases. The agencies in the network approach young prostitutes as victims, rather than criminals. The network is pushing for more funding to expand services.
Recently, the SEM network proposed legislation to decriminalize sexually exploited youths and beef up prosecution of pimps to the fullest extent of the law. A Senate version of the bill is scheduled for a hearing April Network members believe passage of this law could help reverse the devastating trend of youths being prostituted. The safe house is modeled after similar ones in Los Angeles and British Columbia, Canada, to help exploited youth turn their lives around.
The safe house would have a garden where the children can play and have fun — a yard, Thompson said, where these girls might reclaim their childhoods. The secret is now out. A former prostitute, now 15, tells her story. Police, DA seek new ways to combat the problem. Pimps control the commodity — and the pocket money.
Exploring the issue at a town hall meeting. Helping hands offered with faith and compassion.