Last year we wrote about the San Francisco nonprofit Center for Young Women's Development burning -- yes, actually burning -- an unexpected $100,000 check sent to them by Craigslist. The center's executive director, Marlene Sanchez, told us that the center's clients thought the website, which capitalized on the sexual exploitation of girls, was trying to buy them off.
Some readers thought the move was foolish -- what funding is completely pure? But then again, the check burning at least showed the women have conviction.
Volunteers from the center are still making bold moves when it comes to prostitution. For the last three weeks, the girls have been at the Oakland prostitution track talking to sex workers and handing out condoms, lubricant, and feminine wipes.
The call themselves the "Owls" and dress in black T-shirts. They also give out chips, juice, and pamphlets informing the prostitutes about the nonprofit.
The program was the brainchild of program director Venus
Rodriguez, who tells SF Weekly "I just knew we needed to do something." She
recruited donations for some startup cash, and eight
volunteers -- young adults aged 16 to 20, some of whom are former prostitutes
In its first stop, the group went to Capp Street, a longtime foothold of prostitution in the Mission District. But the volunteers go out in the afternoon, and the
prostitutes weren't working yet. So the Owls took their business to Oakland on International Boulevard and San Pablo Avenue, where young prostitutes
and their pimps walk the corners at all hours.
of the prostitutes choose to take the packet, some don't," says
Rodriguez. The message: "If you're outside, we want you to be safe, and
if you want to come inside, here's a place."
Rodriguez says local businesses are grateful for the efforts. "A lot of community
members and store owners are coming out, because most of the time when
they see young women, they're doing sex work, instead of the same type
of young women doing outreach."
Yet the response from the pimps
has been decidedly less encouraging. Some have
been okay with the Owls approaching their prostitutes, while others have been less welcoming.
"We gave chips to one girl and the pimp snatched it and started eating
it," Rodriguez says. They've learned a lot about the Oakland sex trade,
including spotting vans where the pimps lurk nearby, and the lookouts posted
on roofs of nearby buildings to watch for cops.
But nobody has called the center for help yet. However, one
prostitute did call last week for another reason: Rodriguez says she wanted to apply for one of the center's paid job skills internships.
That's a start.
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