December 1st, 2010
11:59 PM ET

Reporter's Notebook: On Oakland thoroughfare, sexual slavery a lucrative business

Dan Simon

Oakland (CNN) - I have lived in the San Francisco Bay area for nearly 5 years. As a reporter, I’d like to think I’m pretty well informed about what is happening in my community. But I had no idea what was happening on International Boulevard in Oakland, California.

It’s a major thoroughfare, but locals know it as the “track.” As we discovered while working with police and prosecutors, it is ground zero for child prostitution.

Go to the “track” at any time of the day or night and you will find numerous girls working the streets. And these girls are noticeably underage. According to police, many of them are recruited as young as 12 years old.

Undercover officers conduct weekly prostitution stings to get as many of them off the streets as possible. A couple weeks ago, we were invited to come along to watch how it happens.

Over the course of two nights, we saw the girls get detained and brought to a holding facility behind a mall where they are not treated as criminals, but as victims.

“To look at them as prostitutes is a complete misnomer because they’re sexually exploited children. They’re victims of child abuse and it’s slavery,” said Sharmin Bock, who heads up the human exploitation and trafficking unit for the Alameda District Attorney’s office.

As we learned, it’s clear there is one thing driving this whole enterprise: money. A pimp with 4 girls who each bring in $500 a day is taking in more than $600,000 a year. That’s all cash, tax free. Human trafficking has become so profitable that drug dealers are increasingly turning to pimping.

Experts say the girls aren’t allowed to keep any of the money.

“I have to say traffickers are by far the most manipulative of all the people I have prosecuted in my 21 years,” said Bock.

Most of the girls are runaways, with nowhere to turn and little self esteem. It’s likened to Stockholm syndrome, where victims bond with their captors. For all their labor, Bock says, they may wind up with a meal from a fast food restaurant.

The “track” basically has a whole infrastructure set up for prostitution. Cheap motels dot the boulevard and there are lots of side streets for johns to sit in their cars and wait for the right girl to come along.

Officers try to target the youngest girls. (Getting the exact age of a girl can be tricky because many of them lie once they’re detained and they often don’t carry identification.)

For me, the most surprising thing about our ride along was the realization that this is actually happening in America. You often think of this kind of activity happening in some foreign land.

As Sharmin Bock told me, “This is something that occurs in America with American men exploiting American children and other Americans facilitating what it in essence is modern day slavery today.”

Filed under: 360° Radar • Dan Simon
soundoff (80 Responses)
  1. DjangoFranco

    Slavery, mental plaque, whatever we call it. If mankind succeeds in eradicating it, good for us!

    December 2, 2010 at 9:48 am |
  2. Tom

    There is a place for caning in our society. This is one of them. And there is a place for public execution. And this is one of them. Those that exploit the young should die now, not after appeal after appeal. Our society is to blame for this destructive behavior. We are ALL guilty because our legal system coddles the evil we live with on a daily basis!

    December 2, 2010 at 9:44 am |
  3. michael

    arrest any man who either stops, talk to, or even slows down his car showing interest in these girls

    December 2, 2010 at 8:08 am |
  4. diane

    I don't see an answer to this problem. It is scary. These poor little girls have no one to turn to except a pimp. What has happened to our country.

    December 2, 2010 at 8:05 am |
  5. Leo

    Police should target the people paying for these girls...they are the problem and these people should be jailed along with the pimps!!

    December 2, 2010 at 8:05 am |
  6. anna

    why don't they take put the pimps in jail, put the girls in a home and also lock up the guys that pick them up?

    December 2, 2010 at 7:51 am |
  7. Sandra

    Easy way to stop it. Arrest the customers.

    December 2, 2010 at 7:15 am |
  8. Nancy

    I applaud your efforts to shed light on a crime that has been going on for far too long. Over 28,000,000 people, a large number of whom are underage, are being forced into slavery throughout the world, and a huge percentage of that number are forced into prostitution. It is happening in every major city in the United States, right before our eyes. Until awareness is raised and tougher penalties are imposed on the pimps and their "customers," we are fighting an uphill battle.

    December 2, 2010 at 7:13 am |
  9. Jeff

    This is a truly sad story. Being a father of two beautiful and wonderful daughters I am sick to read how life has turned for these poor girls.

    December 2, 2010 at 6:57 am |
  10. ramirez

    It is amazing to me how things like this still happen in this country.

    December 2, 2010 at 6:57 am |
  11. Olivia Grey Pritchard

    A relevant and timely article, but it is important to mention the women that play a huge role in facilitating child prostitution as well as the young boys who are sexually exploited. Women often lure the girls into prostitution, and boys are just as popular targets for the depraved individuals who seek out sexual activity with minors. It is not only men who do the trafficking, and not only girls who pay the price.

    December 2, 2010 at 6:40 am |
  12. Adrienne

    According to "New Legislation: Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000" from the Civil Rights Division of the US Department of Justice,the Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000 expanded anti-slavery laws by criminalizing forced labor and non-violent coercion of unpaid labor, and it increased the prison terms for slavery violations to twenty years.

    December 2, 2010 at 6:39 am |
  13. Dirk

    And yet our concept of "justice" is too progressive to do any more to the animals engaging in his horrible practice than to fine them and maybe put them in prison for a short stint. How about making pimping or visiting a clearly underage prostitute a capital offense? A few high-profile executions would certainly up the ante. The men who do such things have already proven that there is no place for them in a civilized society.

    December 2, 2010 at 6:00 am |
  14. Anne

    What happens to the girls after they are arrested? Do they have the services available to help them get out of this life style?

    December 2, 2010 at 5:59 am |
  15. Matt Ralphs

    I know for a fact that this happens in an organized fashion in Atlantic City, NJ as well, and at least a few other bigger cities in the USA. It's even worse for the illegal immigrants coming across the border - many are captured and held for ransom while tortured, raped, and some are eventually murdered even if the ransom is paid. Truth is there are plenty of sick people out there, even in the USA. If I could start life all over again I would have sought out a career as a Detective just to lock some of these sick creeps up. If you want to help check and see if you can volunteer through your school to work with the National Institute of Health's CSEC (Commercially sexually exploited children) program that helps steer children and teens from becoming victims.

    December 2, 2010 at 5:24 am |
  16. yd

    It will never end tho it needs to...this has been going on since recorded history. Its something you cant stop. They need to lay off the adult prostitutes and go after these perverts, who are not so much pimps but more of child molestors and child predators.

    Not all of these girls are victims either...A lot of them are the same girls you see on Maury Povich (Im 13 and have had sex with 500 men)...people need to take better care of their daughters and be in their lives more.

    December 2, 2010 at 4:52 am |
  17. Scott B.

    While consensual sex between two adults for money may be a gray line morally, any man who willing and knowingly pays to have sex with an underage child is reprehensible to say the least. They should be charged, tried, and convicted under the fullest extent of the law. While there are many moral arguments against legalizing prostitution, one thing it would do is help to prevent such blatant abuse of such young and vulnerable girls. With legalized and regulated prostitution it would be more akin to the Netherlands where it was women who willingly chose that profession. Not some underage girl who was forced into what basically amounts to slavery. What people need to realize is prostitution is not going away, the only thing we can control is how we regulate it.

    December 2, 2010 at 4:24 am |
  18. Brian, Detroit, MI

    As I have always said, these pimps should be charged with slavery and given more than a 6 month stay in prison or a suspended sentence which they will run from and start again elsewhere. They should get the same punishment that child-predators should get. Give them a six-month sentance but instead of just sticking them in a prison, chain them over a barrel, strip them naked and let them be used for the other prisoner's entertainment. I will keep all the other prisoners from getting all high-strung and sexually pent-up. Then those pimps will know what it means to be treated like trash and to have absolutely no say in their own treatment. If the get caught a second time doing the same thing, then it is time for amputation of the family jewels and to be thrown in prison for life.

    December 2, 2010 at 4:13 am |
  19. Jewels

    Is there nothing we here at home in America can do for these women? I am ready and willing......God willing.

    I want no one to feel this way.

    December 2, 2010 at 4:10 am |
  20. Betsy

    Whoa, right after the "coffee addiction" story, I spotted this. This happens in Oakland? How horrifying!

    December 2, 2010 at 4:01 am |
  21. BOB

    like are goverment you said you can't belive it is happing there are many things in america that the meda and goverment don't know about allways tied up in there own political world this is what america is trying to tell you people get your head out of your butt and get into the real world and remember when people are breaking the law of course they are going to lie da

    December 2, 2010 at 3:51 am |
  22. Greg Clapton

    These are NOT American "MEN" they are criminals who exploit children. Close all the hotels under the guise of "urban" renewal and place expensive parking meters along every stretch of road with signs stating no parking, stopping, or waiting $1,000 fine per offense. The signs give the police the right to search, arrest, and document all these perps. Publish their names in the local news papers. Expose the johns for what they are: CRIMINALS

    December 2, 2010 at 3:38 am |
  23. LP

    Men are disgusting, vile creatures. That has never changed and it likely never will.

    December 2, 2010 at 3:32 am |
  24. arthur uzo

    why not go after those old dirty johns who shameless go after underage girls. No demand equals no supply. Then make those of willing adult girls legal, properly regulated to control pimping. No need pretending that the problem of adults sex worker will go away. For the underage, their should be a zero tolerance. The punishment is to be 20 years for adult engaging in sex with underage.

    December 2, 2010 at 3:24 am |
  25. harrison ford

    More to the point acts of sex with children under the age of 21, because of the special act of unable to consent, which should be the same age as drinking in this case, do to the nature of the crime and threat of violence of usual acts and threars of violence aginst the children and familt members.Death peanlty for the pimp and the john's 20 years in jail.
    If a girl over 18 IS a street walker of her own accord, she is fone to do so within the limits of the law of whatever you get in your district for servicing the community sex trade. 90 days or 2 years, this is different the of age person made their own choice,

    December 2, 2010 at 3:22 am |
  26. harrison ford

    Anyone not paid is forced servitude, hence is considered a act of forced slavery, which is the same level at RAPE AND MURDER, and should include death penalty. period, and people involved in forced servitude should be 20 years in jail, involving the act with a minor.

    December 2, 2010 at 3:15 am |
  27. esmerelda fox

    I live in Oakland, which is in severe need of services and attention. Oakland needs real jobs and opportunities! We have a port, we have tons of flat land, we have industrial facilities, we have a population that lives in poverty and desperately needs jobs....Green jobs, where are you??

    There are so many beautiful parts to Oakland, wonderful people, and great amenities....but there is a seriously violent ghetto with almost daily murders and assaults. It does not surprise me at all that child prostitution is a serious problem here. Oakland schools are HORRIBLE. Jobs are scarce. Parents are in jail or on drugs. what are these kids supposed to do? California is slashing money from everything that should help these kids, while Oakland's property owners pay huge amounts of taxes for almost zero return. For the most part, I like living in the East Bay, but Oakland is ready to boil over. My neighbors are scared and are alarmed by the huge uptick in crime. There are serious predators on our streets. Federal Stimulus fairies...are you listening? we need help out here!

    We have an amazing climate for urban farms, we have tons of land for redevelopment, we have a close proximity to a port for manufacturing, we will have a new mayor-elect who will not fall asleep at the wheel like our current mayor has....we are RIPE for change! We could be a model city, with great public transportation, a thriving downtown, and a diverse and educated population....but Oakland is only a fraction of what it could be. Who is ready to help?

    December 2, 2010 at 2:52 am |
  28. Jason

    More money for schools and social services might help.

    December 2, 2010 at 2:47 am |
  29. Jason

    Look, this is easy. If they do't have I.D., they can be detained indefinitely until they produce it. If they're minors, they can be kept as wards of the state, in secure lockdown facilities. Honestly, the state doesn't have the money to do this, so nothing is going to be done. The girls won't turn in thier pimps, the state can't hold them, end of story. You want to save these girls, put more money into social services and schools to keep them from running away in the first place. Don't have it? Deal with the consequences.

    December 2, 2010 at 2:45 am |
  30. jesse

    This is no great surprise. What's surpriseing, is that this isn't bigger than it is... and let's face it. It's a big problem. You can see this kind of stuff even in the smaller towns in America. All you have to do is look. The one golden rule that has taken over almost every facet of american buisness is, "don't get caught." This can be seen by the obvious cases of lies and decite in the banking market, houseing market, and even retail.

    December 2, 2010 at 2:45 am |
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