The idea of children's bodies being sold for sex is not something most people care to think about much less talk about. But every day, in the Bay Area, children are sold, beaten, drugged, hustled, molested and raped -- exploited for someone else's profit.
January is National Human Trafficking Awareness Month and the streets where children are trafficked daily in Oakland will soon be different.
On Thursday, my office, in partnership with Misssey (Motivating, Inspiring, Supporting and Serving Sexually Exploited Youth) and Clear Channel Outdoor, will kick off a campaign in Oakland denouncing human trafficking. Twenty-seven billboards will educate the community that buying a child for sex is human trafficking.
Also, 30 bus shelters will send a strong message to those who are being trafficked that getting out of the situation is possible, others have survived and "U can 2."
To those who are buying or selling children for sex, the message is clear: You will be prosecuted in Alameda County by my office, which leads the nation in human trafficking prosecutions.
Since 2005, my office has prosecuted more than 350 traffickers with high conviction rate. We have seen nearly 400 youths who have been trafficked or are at risk for trafficking and Misssey, a community-based organization that provides comprehensive services in a safe environment to support and serve sexually exploited youth, has worked with hundreds of exploited youths.
Despite our best efforts and significant strides to combat this problem, Oakland continues to be plagued with an underage sex market.
The FBI has identified Oakland as an epicenter of trafficking in the Bay Area counties. The majority of exploited children are 13 to 16 years old, some as young as 11.
Even more shocking, the number of commercially sexually exploited children is increasing, while the average age of those exploited is decreasing, according to Misssey.
Working with the Northern California Regional Intelligence Center, the Oakland Police Department has been a law enforcement leader in addressing human trafficking of children.
It is time to come together and end child sex trafficking. Educating and engaging the community is essential. One way to help is, "If you see something, say something." Keep the human trafficking hotline in your cellphone, 888-373-7888 or text Be Free (233733), and report anything suspicious. Through this hotline, more than 75,000 calls have come in to identify nearly 9,000 survivors.
You can also sign up for the Alameda County District Attorney's Office Human Exploitation and Trafficking Watch mailing list at HEAT-Watch.org to learn more about human trafficking and what you can do to join the fight.
Download a free toolkit so you can build your capacity to hold traffickers accountable and keep victims safe.
Donate your time and money to organizations that are making a difference, such as Misssey, Bay Area Women Against Rape, West Coast Children's Clinic and HEAT Watch.
There are two sides -- supply and demand -- that make sex trafficking of our children possible. Human trafficking exists because there is an endless and disgraceful demand for children for sex and traffickers fill that demand daily.
Speak out: Let policymakers know we need the toughest penalties for traffickers and the predators who buy children for sex and resources for victims of human trafficking. Together, we will we put an end to modern-day slavery.
Nancy O'Malley is the district attorney of Alameda County. She can be reached at Nancy.OMalley@acgov.org.