#sextrafficking | Opinion: Local Agencies Work to Abate Oakland Sex Trafficking Epidemic Through Empowerment | #tinder | #pof | #match | romancescams | #scams

On Xenia St., Charles prays while Anisah Abdullah dances to eradicate the mindset energy of individuals that feel sex trafficking is essential. Photo by Sarah Melek.

Sex trade survivors, frontline service providers, humanitarians, abolitionists, human rights activists, and women’s rights advocates are advocating to end sex trafficking and the sexual exploitation of women, boys and girls in Oakland and Alameda County.

But funding is running low for nonprofit essential workers. Fundraisers can’t happen, galas can’t happen, yet the need for services has increased since COVID-19.

The world has changed.  It has always been life and death on the streets, but since COVID-19, trafficking has become more acute, the streets are now more crowded, more violent and the biggest thing to understand is these are the community’s children and women, that if left out there, they will remain trapped inside of a brutalizing system of rape for sale.

Regina Evans of Regina’s Door/Conjure and Mend; Rashida Chase of Regina’s Door and Liberated Wellness; Nola Brantley, founder of Nola Brantley Speaks and co-founder of MISSSEY; Amara Tabor Smith, co-founder of House Full of Black Women; Amba Johnson, executive director of Dreamcatchers and Sarai Smith-Mazariegos, founder and executive director of S.H.A.D.E are on the front line.

This week Sarai Smith-Mazariegos of S.H.A.D.E. stood shoulder to shoulder with health care providers and advocates Aisha Mays, MD, of Roots Community Health Center; Dr. Lela Bachrach, of UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland and HEAL Trafficking Education and Training Co-Chair Melissa Farley, Ph.D, executive director of Prostitution Research and  Education; and Daryle Allums, founder of Oakland Frontline Healers. They requested that the City of Oakland assure sexually exploited persons are prioritized and included in the county’s response to COVID-19.

The coalition submitted a letter to City of Oakland officials requesting  $250,000 per year for three consecutive years to provide exploited individuals support for those who want to escape the sex trade, including those formerly incarcerated. Funds would focus on women ages 18-26, by providing a safe shelter and an exit strategy.

“We want women to have real choices, not a fake ‘choice’ between hunger and exploitation,”  said Smith-Mazariegos. “Any blueprint for a sustainable fight against an injustice resides within those who have had the misfortune of being seared by that injustice.”

Survivor Healing, Advising and Dedicated to Empowerment (S.H.A.D.E) Movement is a survivor-led, survivor-based advocacy anti-human trafficking organization who believe that it is necessary to provide survivors of trafficking with a safe life space where their voices, ideas, and skills can be nurtured, increased, and fortified in a compassionate manner.

“S.H.A.D.E’s success lies within its ability to place empowerment within the hands of survivors with the notion of both receiving and delivering much-needed healing, training, and resources. This is the very definition of Survivor Leadership. And the very definition of love in full flight,” Smith-Mazariegos said.

“There has to be a multi-prong approach that includes restorative justice initiatives for women and children, programs for men to help heal from their addiction to sex and sexual violence, and a forum, where society deals with the fact that we have raised wounded men who need just as much help as their victims,” said Chase of Liberated Wellness who partners with Regina’s Door.

“We’re doing everything possible to reach these children, but, as usual, there are not enough resources,” Evans said.

Regina’s Door and Conjure and Mend currently utilizes art to reach exploited youth, creating art zones where young creatives can learn viable skills in theater.  Art murals and altars are constructed on The Track, hot spot areas for trafficking, as a reminder, to those being exploited, that healing and beauty still exist.

MISSSEY is trauma-informed, survivor-centered and youth-focused. They recognize the crucial voices of survivors in facilitating healing in victims of commercial sexual exploitation and the value of young people empowering other young people.

They work in partnership with youth, helping them transition from victim to survivor to leader, encouraging their long-term stability and success in whatever path they choose.

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