Oakland, California is recognized as the West Coast hub of human trafficking, including sexual exploitation. But what could be an effective tool to save more children in Oakland from exploitation is on hold for lack of funds.
Vanessa Scott — a survivor of abuse and the head of Love Never Fails, a nonprofit aimed at ending sex trafficking of children — hopes to reach kids before an abusive childhood leads to exploitation. With the Love Don’t Hurt program, Scott aims to teach all 2,360 seventh graders in the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) how to recognize and cope with abuse and make them less vulnerable to exploitative relationships.
The school district needs around $40,000 to bring the program to all Oakland Unified schools. In a state notorious for its budget crises and in a chronically underfunded city, the district has raised about $10,000 through private donations, but has been unable to identify a government grant that would cover the full cost of the program.
Even when well under the legal age of sexual consent, victims of commercial sexual exploitation were often treated and charged as adults, and their exploitative situations were often ignored. Victims of commercial sexual exploitation are regarded not as victims but as perpetrators. Shifting this awareness is crucial to solving the problem of forced childhood prostitution. Victims are usually sent back through the legal system, sometimes to jail, before they can start rehabilitation.
“It’s hard,” a sex trafficking survivor said. “Harder than working a 9-to-5 job … Every day you go out there, you don’t know what’s going to happen. It amazes me that I’m alive.” She now often volunteers, sharing her experience with young women in hopes that they’ll avoid the terror and desperation in her recent past. Is it hard to talk about her past?“It’s not difficult for me anymore,” she said. “My life is so different than it was before. It’s just kind of like a nightmare that I had, that I woke up from.”