Starting Your Dreams Later In Life and Embracing the Detour

Jenee Darden speaking at Creative Mornings I know it's been a while since I've posted anything but that's because of my job. I'm working as a reporter covering Oakland and I host an arts segment on the radio where I get to interview amazing artists from around the Bay Area. Plus I'm publicizing my book  and building my speaking career!  You know what's funny? I thought this would all happen by the time I was 27-30.  Nope. That wasn't God's plan for me. I'm finally beginning to do the things I've wanted to do and I'm almost 40 years old. Some people reading this who are 40 will say 40 is still young. But some younger people reading may think 40 is nearly ancient. But I'm writing this post for those who like me, thought their career and personal dreams would come true much early in life. I'm here to tell you not to give up.  You know, death inspires life. A number of my relatives and friends have passed away, ranging in

Saving Our Girls from Oakland's Streets

Nola Brantley Explains How Pimps Recruit Girls

Nola Brantley speaks to concerned
public at Allen Temple Church
Photo Credit: Jenee Darden

“When you been molested your whole life, sometimes these girls be hoes. They do it to cover up the pain of what happened to them. “ --Former prostituted teen

Nola Brantley wants you to keep one word in mind when talking about the girls traded on Oakland’s streets, “children.”

“We don’t realize they’re children because of the word ‘prostitution'” said Brantley, executive director of MISSSEY (Motivating, Inspiring, Supporting, and Serving Sexually Exploited Youth). The non-profit helps victims of sexual exploitation transition to stable lives. More than 70 people from the community packed the meeting room at Allen Temple Baptist Church in Oakland on Saturday morning for a summit on human trafficking. Brantley, 35, can personally relate to the girls she helps because she is a survivor of child trafficking.
“My exploiter was a police officer and so my exploitation experience is unique,” Brantley told me after her presentation.

According to Brantley the children being pimped are between the ages of 11 and 17. Guess the average age a girl starts prostitution in the U.S.A. Give up? The average age a GIRL enters prostitution is 12 YEARS OLD. Most of the girls sexually enslaved are poor, prior victims of sexual abuse and black or Latino. Brantley told us that there are girls of all races out there but nearly 100 percent of her clients are African American. Half of all the girls they help are in foster care. Brantley thinks the boom began in Oakland seven years ago.

“The influx of child trafficking in Oakland probably dates back to 2004,” she told me. “We can look at lots of factors in society. What I attribute to it closest are two things. One is 9/11. All of our national resources targeted towards homeland security and away from social services and mental health. Number two is the increased penalty and sentencing around crack cocaine. That made it too risky and less profitable to sell crack and less risky and more profitable to sell little girls.”

I gained so much from Brantley’s fiery and moving presentation. One component of her talk that especially struck me was the process of how pimps recruit and brainwash the girls. It starts off with the girls thinking they’re in a romantic relationship with the pimp. Brantley broke it down in 5 stages that I HIGHLY recommend for parents and guardians to read:

The girl is in need of safety and everyday things we take for granted (i.e. clothes, money, love) are targets. They get into a relationship with the pimp. He’s her boyfriend, so she thinks. The girl gets compliments and promises to be taken care of by her “boyfriend” who is really a pimp. Often a girl will recruit another girl into the streets. She shares with the girl how “good” her “boyfriend” “cares” for her and she should work for him.

“Boyfriend” buys the child drugs, takes her shopping and to the salon. He let’s her ride in the front seat. Brantley noted that you know these girls on the corners are children if they fall for the guy because he lets her ride shotgun and buys her sneakers. Those are things valuable to kids.

I took this as the stage when “boyfriend” slows down on the romance. He doesn’t want the girl around her family or friends. Nola added he acts like she is his property and starts checking her phone. He prefers she solely interacts with him or his other girls. “The same tactics and techniques used to control victims of domestic violence are used to control these victims of trafficking,” Brantley told the crowd.

He convinces her why she should sell her body. Brantley said the pimp has sex with the girl and tells her the sex is so mind blowing that she could make a lot of money. He gets them to “put their self worth into their sexuality abilities,” Brantley noted. “Boyfriend” promises to build a family with her and get a home. He promises her she doesn’t have to do it for long. If she’s uncomfortable being out on the street, she can pull Johns through the internet. Remember, this is what the pimp is saying to an 11, 12, 13- year- old CHILD.

Brantley said pimps use violence when coercion fails and/or to keep the girls working. In other words, it's how he keeps his "workers" in check. Pimps don’t care if the girl is sick, she has to make that money. “I have sat with girls who have had cast iron skillets burned into their stomachs, cut from end to the other, been in comas, ran over by a vehicle, chemicals poured in to their ears and their vaginas…,”Brantley shared.

I know it’s a tough thing to read, especially because we’re talking about children. No one, whether 11 or 111 should endure this. I usually don’t do this after an interview, but I hugged Nola Brantley. She, and other women like her, are heroes. She is a soldier for women and children. She is a survivor and people like her give me so much hope. We have to save our girls. We MUST save our girls.

***Special thank you to MISSSEY volunteer and Cocoa Fly reader Merika Reagan for suggesting this post.***


  1. Jenee, thank you so much for sharing this with me. I never knew this was going on. I want to work with you on ways we can raise awareness about this. No wonder grown men feel like it's open season on young girls--because it is.

  2. Thanks Christelyn. Spread the word. I'm not sure if a lot of people outside of Oakland know what's going on here. And you know it's out of control because I've seen these children out in broad daylight looking for johns. The pimps have no shame. Those girls are working around the clock.

  3. I recently saw this post from several months ago. The reality that 11-year-olds are selling their bodies for money is both chilling and eye-opening, and hits way, way too close to home. These girls are not expendable, and this problem can't be ignored. Hopefully someday, we will have comprehensive mental health facilities for children suffering from abuse and neglect, so this kind of life isn't their only economic option.


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