safe house for trafficked girls

Oakland Diocese to open safe house for trafficked girls

Bishop Michael Barber,  S.J., announced Dec. 8 that the Oakland Diocese’s observance of the Year of Mercy will include outreach to girls who are victims of sex trafficking. The first initiative, he said, is to open a safe house where sexually exploited girls, ages 11-17, can heal and “rediscover their humanity.”

Catholic Charities of the East Bay is partnering with the Alameda County District Attorney to establish and operate the house, which will be funded through grants and private donations.  It will be located outside of Oakland, possibly in a vacant convent. The annual operating cost will be about $750,000, according to Catholic Charities’ officials.

The district attorney’s office reported that in the past five years 542 youth in the county have been identified as at risk or already involved in commercial sexual exploitation. Ninety-eight percent of them are girls. Of these, 61 percent are African-American.

During a press conference announcing the initiative, County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley said that previously girls in the sex trade were arrested and placed in juvenile detention. But, she emphasized, they are victims, not criminals. They need “a home where they can heal from trauma and thrive.”

Many are runaways whose families were extremely abusive. Returning them to these situations is not a positive option. “They feel safer being trafficked than being in their homes,” she said. On any given night, up to 100 young women are being exploited on local streets, she added.