California State University East Bay

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California State University East Bay

The Pioneer

California State University East Bay

The Pioneer

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MODERN SLAVERY – The Bay Area’s Shameful Secret

A motel on International Boulevard in Oakland has vacancies. Three hotels on the street have been sued by officials for allowing prostitution.

Walking down Oakland’s International Boulevard, it might seem like a typical urban neighborhood. Convenience stores, youth centers and homes line the thoroughfare.

However, there is a darker side of “The Track,” as it is known by some—one that links the East Bay to the growing epidemic of modern slavery and human trafficking.

Last month, Oakland City Attorney John Russo announced that the he would be filing a lawsuit against three of the city’s motels that are most actively associated with prostitution. The Economy Inn on East 12th St., Sage Motel on MacArthur Blvd., and the National Lodge on International Blvd. are located on or near “The Track,” and according to the lawsuit, have provided a safe haven for the local sex industry.

“Certain hotels in this city have allowed and profited from this criminal industry—an industry in which horrific crimes against women and girls are routine,” said Russo at a press conference held on Dec. 22, 2010.

“Under California law, hotel owners are responsible for preventing prostitution on their properties. If owners can’t take even rudimentary steps to prevent their businesses from becoming a danger to the community, we will shut them down.”

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Hiral Patel, who manages the National Lodge with his wife, has vehemently denied that he has provided a safe haven for prostitution, stating, “We want to stop it. It is just me and my wife; it is hard for us, I live here so I don’t want that kind of stuff here.”

Despite Patel’s assertion, Russo believes he is in direct violation of California’s Red Light Abatement Act. The lawsuit, which was filed through the Alameda County Superior Court, is calling for the businesses to either be shut down or given a fine of up to $25,000. It also claims that a woman from San Diego had been recently kidnapped and brought to the Economy Inn, where she was “severely beaten with fists and a whip.”

There are many terrible incidents like this that are taking place not just in California, but around the country. They shed light on how the criminal activity on “The Track” goes beyond prostitution, which many men and women engage in willingly, and can be even characterized as slavery. Cases have shown that human beings who are placed under a considerable amount of physical and physiological torment can be held captive, even when surrounded by a population of millions.

“It is something that occurs in America with American men exploiting American children and other Americans facilitating what is in essence American slavery,” said Alameda County Deputy District Attorney Sharming Bock, who is working in conjunction with the Human Exploitation and Trafficking Unit to remove exploited women from the streets.

This process has been extremely challenging, as many of the women are underage and have come from foster care or some type of social care. Such people are extremely vulnerable to predatory pimps, who threaten them with violence and often death if they try to leave or go to the authorities.

Those who think that women caught in such a situation can simply walk away if they want to may need to reexamine the issue.

Police are constantly out patrolling “The Track” for prostitutes, targeting specifically the youngest looking ones who may need help the most. Although police give those arrested the option of pursuing treatment from Alameda County’s social services, most refuse. After several hours to days in county jail, they will most assuredly be back on the street.

Prostitution has become a lucrative business, because unlike drugs, humans can be sold over and over again for sex. Even though these women can make hundreds and even thousands of dollars a day, authorities believe that all of the profit goes to the pimp—an economic system of captivity and exploitation that is a textbook example of slavery.

December’s lawsuit marks just the most recent stage of the fight against the sex trade. Although Oakland’s Vice and Exploitation Unit can arrest dozens of prostitutes in one night, they try to use them to get to their pimps. This can be an extremely difficult task. The women are often so broken down and brainwashed that they fear retribution from their captors, even when out of their control.

According to the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office, over 100 pimps were arrested last year. With the passing of two laws in 2005, Assembly Bill 22 and Senate Bill 180, the state of California can now charge these men with specific felonies targeted at perpetrators of human trafficking.

Oakland officials are also touting the success of new initiatives such as HEAT, or the Human Exploitation and Trafficking Unit, which is charged with combating commercial sexual exploitation of minors in Oakland and the rest of Alameda County.

“Many Oakland businesses have joined the district attorney’s HEAT Watch Program,” said Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley, “which engages businesses to be the eyes and ears in combating this modern form of human slavery.”

However, young women still walk International Boulevard with heavy hearts and sunken eyes. Even though has recently shut down its “Adult Services” section in the U.S., there are countless other internet social networks which connect prospective customers with exploited women.

Though it may be the world’s oldest profession, the victims of the sex industry are often no older then children, being held captive for profit. The internet is providing new mediums for this evil to exist and thrive in our very own communities.

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California State University East Bay
MODERN SLAVERY – The Bay Area’s Shameful Secret