Child Sex Traffickers Target Young Asian Girls in the Bay Area
The Bay Area’s underbelly is rife with child sex exploitation, and many of the targets are young Asian girls–not recent immigrants, but children born and raised American. Designated by the FBI as a top ten U.S. hot spot for the illegal trade, the Bay Area has many pockets of illicit sex, perhaps none more notorious than “The Track” along Oakland’s International Boulevard.
Starting at an average age of 12 to 14, the girls are lured into the trade by pimps–often neighbors, “boyfriends” or even family members who may pose as benevolent figures, or threaten them with violence. The most vulnerable girls tend to be Cambodian, Vietnamese or Lao, with parents or grandparents who came to this country as refugees.
“Recruiters target these girls because they know they are struggling with issues of cultural identity,” says Elizabeth Sy
, a Cambodian American who turned to sex work to pay off her medical debt after a cancer diagnosis. The tenth child of parents who were refugees from a traumatic era of genocide, Sy’s childhood was more about survival than open communication and a nurturing American-style upbringing.
Eventually Sy changed her life and helped start Banteay Srei, the only organization in the nation that provides services geared toward Southeast Asian girls who are victims of, or at high risk for, sex exploitation. Banteay Srei, which means “Temple of the Women,” grew out of the Oakland community health clinic, Asian Health Services, which received the Asian Pacific Fund’s largest grant in 2011. Photo credit: Nhuanh Ly, Banteay Srei
Read the New York Times article profiling Asian Health Services and Banteay Srei, and a few of the girls they've helped.
Read about Gov. Jerry Brown’s new legislation aiming “to recast the state's laws relating to human trafficking and child sex slavery to treat the trafficked children as victims, rather than prostitutes.”