Dear WestCoast Community:
Today the Oakland Tribune published an op-ed co-authored by WestCoast’s Executive Director, Stacey Katz, and the Director of Alameda County Social Services, Lori Cox.
Guest commentary: With his signature, Gov. Jerry Brown can help abused kids
© 2014 Bay Area News Group
Keisha’s circumstances are all too familiar for children who find themselves trapped in the child sex trafficking trade — poverty, neglect, violence and abuse.
The 12-year-old girl waited two hours for her mom to pick her up after basketball practice. Her mom never came. Instead, a guy named Michael showed up in a nice car and offered her a ride. She didn’t know him, but it was raining, and she needed a ride home. He asked if she was hungry. She hadn’t eaten in hours, so he took her to get a burger.
From there, it was a quick descent: nice dinners, new clothes, and attention she wasn’t getting at home. He presented himself as someone who was interested in her. Keisha began to see Michael as the only person who loved her. But before long he began pressuring her to help pay for food and shelter by selling herself on the street.
There was no indication that this would happen more than once, but soon the nightly quotas, threats and brutality became routine. Michael’s emotional manipulation kept the relationship going. “I love you, and no one else does, or ever will,” he would say to her. At 13 years old, Keisha was arrested for prostitution.
While Keisha’s saga is a combination of typical experiences of youth who are sold for sex, the heartbreaking story line plays out for far too many children.
Nationally, more than 100,000 children each year are subject to the unthinkable: commercial sexual exploitation. California leads the nation, with three of the top 13 highest child trafficking areas. The Bay Area is one of them. The average age that children are first trafficked is 13, and victims as young as age 9 have been reported.
In Oakland, WestCoast Children’s Clinic provides intensive mental health services to more than 125 sexually exploited youth each year. WestCoast has found that 82 percent of trafficked children have been involved with the child welfare system, and 73 percent have been incarcerated.
Why hasn’t something been done?
Commercial sexual exploitation of children is a complex problem. It requires a comprehensive solution.
To date, California has not dedicated a single dollar to its child welfare system — the system designed to protect and serve abused and neglected children — for the prevention of commercial child sexual exploitation or to serve these victims of trauma.
Fortunately, the California Legislature recently took a critical first step in the right direction, voting to invest $20.3 million in their 2014-15 State Budget proposal to prevent exploitation and serve the complex needs of victims of severe trauma.
This proposal was initiated by a diverse coalition of child advocates and county child welfare agencies that want to prevent children from being sold on the streets for sex.
Now it’s up to the governor to determine whether California helps kids like Keisha. The proposed funding would enable county child welfare agencies to provide prevention services such as training for foster youth and parents. The funds will also support intensive intervention efforts to identify victims and meet their immediate needs including clothing and shelter.
These services can make all the difference for vulnerable children. We must fund them in the 2014-15 State Budget. Young Californians like Keisha are counting on it, and they can’t wait any longer.
Stacey Katz is the executive director of WestCoast Children’s Clinic, based in Oakland. Lori Cox is the Director of the Alameda County Social Services Agency.