Just across the Estuary, the Oakland Police Department is trying to stem a rising tide of underage underage prostitution. This is the third in our series on the problem; watch for more stories this week. You can read the first article here and the second one here.
Bay City News — Statistics about the commercial sexual exploitation of youth remain elusive, thanks to the underground nature of the crime and a lack of official data collection protocols. Experts agree, however, that Atlanta and Oakland are two of the biggest trouble spots in the country.
Neither the California Department of Justice nor the FBI collects data on human trafficking arrests, so it's up to local agencies and non-governmental organizations to determine and document the scope of domestic trafficking of minors.
This means there's no consistent system used to organize the information.
The FBI's National Incident Based Reporting System is being modified to collect trafficking arrest data in the future, but the state DOJ dropped its anti-trafficking efforts in 2008 when budget issues forced the closure of its Crime and Violence Prevention Center.
On average, 200 kids are referred each year to Alameda County's Sexually Exploited Minor Network, according to Barbara Loza-Muriera, the network's facilitator. Another 120 exploited youth are case-managed from previous years.
"The referrals come from schools, teen clinics, probation, law enforcement, district attorneys, public defenders, social services, schools," Loza-Muriera said.
About 60 percent of referrals in Alameda County come from law enforcement, according to one survey. The Oakland Police Department targets young-looking girls working on the street or being sold over the Internet, and sometimes girls arrested on theft or truancy charges also turn out to be working as prostitutes.
Other referrals come from health clinics and community organizations, and a few girls have even referred themselves, which used to be unheard of, Loza-Muriera said. The numbers only represent confirmed cases, though, and countless more are suspected each year.
State and local arrest data also provide some insight into relative rates of commercial sexual exploitation of children.
In 2009, the most recent year for which data is available, 76 underage girls were arrested on suspicion of prostitution in Oakland out of a total of 549 prostitution arrests, according to the FBI.
That means Oakland alone accounted for about 8.5 percent of the country's 893 juvenile prostitution arrests in 2009 (excluding New York, which doesn't report them to the FBI). California was responsible for 426 of those arrests.
Los Angeles, which has a population of about 3.8 million compared to Oakland's 390,000, logged 69 of the arrests. Oakland appears to have many more exploited youth per capita, but is hard to make many concrete conclusions about the scope of the problem from those numbers since cities vary in their enforcement efforts.
Oakland also receives grant money in ebbs and flows to combat trafficking, so arrest statistics depend in part on department resources, said Sgt. Holly Joshi, a spokeswoman for the Oakland Police Department who spent three years with the department's vice and child exploitation unit.
In 2005, Oakland was awarded a U.S. Department of Justice grant that allowed it to focus on human trafficking starting in 2006, according to Lt. Kevin Wiley, who started the department's vice and child exploitation unit.
As a result, he said, underage prostitution arrests jumped from six in 2006 to 41 in 2007. In 2008, juveniles comprised almost 20 percent of the Oakland Police Department's prostitution arrests, or 50 out of 255.
"Nearly 100 percent of our cases are initiated as a result of proactive vice operations," Wiley said. "If we stop doing proactive enforcement and rescues, the numbers will decrease, but the problem will remain and only get worse."
This is the third in a series on underage prostitution in Oakland that is appearing on Alameda Patch this week. Read the first article here and the second one here. Next: how the Oakland Police department and other Alameda County agencies are working to combat the problem.
Copyright © 2011 by Bay City News, Inc. Republication, Rebroadcast or any other Reuse without the express written consent of Bay City News, Inc. is prohibited.