Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Saving Our Girls from Oakland's Streets

OPD Officer Says City's Sex Trafficking Crisis Tougher than Duty in Iraq

Officer Jim Saleda
Photo Credit: Jenee Darden
“I spent 14 months in Iraq. That was easier than doing this job on the streets of Oakland, ” Officer Jim Saleda said at community forum on child sex trafficking in Oakland. Allen Temple Baptist Church hosted the event. That’s how dire this problem has become. Serving in war is easier than battling pimps on Oakland’s streets. Officer Saleda has been with the Vice and Child Exploitation Unit for 10 years. The weariness lives on his face. The night before the summit,  he was up until 1am arresting Johns. It doesn’t help that Oakland’s police force is severely understaffed because of budget cuts. There are only five cops in his unit.

Officer Saleda said when he started in the youth services division 10 years ago, officers encountered about 100 girls in trafficking. Now the numbers are approaching thousands. THOUSANDS.  Remember I told you about guerilla pimping, or forcing a girl into prostitution? Here’s one tactic the policeman shared with us:

“These guys were chasing girls down the street with pit bulls, cornering them, terrorizing them with the dogs and beating them into submission. Prostitution is not a victimless crime.”

Why isn’t the situation under control? One reason are the weak laws. Officer Saleda says getting caught with a prostitute is only a misdemeanor. Cops are “stacking” charges against perps. So johns may be charged with buying sex, and lewd act with a minor, and other violations.

A major problem with the law is that these girls are being criminalized when they’re in fact victims. “I hate sending them there but that’s the only place I know they’ll be safe for a little while,” Officer Saleda said. According to him the pimps tell their girls in group homes and juvenile hall “they better” bring another girl into the fold. Even after separation from the pimps, some get back into the trade. Officer Saleda identified Stockholm Syndrome as one factor for returning to their pimps.

But this story about a young woman he tried to save really got to all of us.
She was a missing person at risk. We brought her back to YSD [Youth Services Division]. We called her mom. She said, ‘It’s too far to drive to come get her.’ We couldn’t take her to the [juvenile] hall so we took her to the assessment center. Two weeks later this girl was brutally, horribly murdered and left displayed in Mosswood Park. I’m going to carry that with me for the rest of my life.
This is what is happening to OUR girls. Our daughters, our nieces, our sisters, our cousins, our neighbors, our sisters, our fellow American women. On a good note, something is getting done. Officer Saleda’s testimony in a recent case helped land a slave owner pimp a 25-to-life sentence.

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