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Friday, August 5, 2011

San Francisco Girls Are Helping Oakland Prostitutes

Posted By on Fri, Aug 5, 2011 at 4:35 PM

click to enlarge Owls on the move.
  • Owls on the move.

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

themselves.

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.

click to enlarge rsz_1owlsoutreach.jpg


"Some

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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Lauren Smiley

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