Today’s first hour of Forum was devoted to Youth Radio’s investigation into child sex trafficking in Oakland, which aired this week on All Things Considered. Host Scott Shafer talked with Denise Tejada, reporter for Youth Radio, Holly Joshi of the Oakland Police Department, and Nola Brantley, of Motivating, Inspiring, Supporting, and Serving Sexually Exploited Youth (MISSSEY).
The archive of the show is now up for you to listen to.
Today I talked with Denise Tejada, the story’s 22-year-old reporter, about why she decided to do the story and what it was like for her to listen to the women speak about their experiences.
When I met the women, I felt a responsibility to do the story. I’m glad that they trusted us, because they haven’t told their story to a lot of people. One of the woman we interviewed, Darlene, wanted to give other people their childhoods back, because hers was taken from her.
The other woman, Britney, had been kidnapped at age 15 right off the streets of Oakland after cutting school one day. People saw it happen and didn’t call the police. She wanted to bring awareness of that possibility to parents.
When I sat down with them, I wouldn’t call it an interview. It was a conversation, three girls talking about this. One thing that came up was how hard it was for them now to be a girl. It’s hard for them to wear makeup or heels, because it reminds them of the life.
The word “prostitute” has a stigma to it. As a 22-year-old, I had a bad perception of prostitutes. But when I spoke with these women, I realized they were more than just that. Darlene said, “To understand the issue, you have to understand the girls.” What happened to them and why. I didn’t understand them, I just judged them. For me, personally, that’s part of the story.
The women are in college now, working with community organizations. That’s part of the healing process for them.
To listen to the actual report: Part One features teen girls describing their lives as prostitutes.
Part Two focuses on the debate over arresting youth involved in prostitution, and on what local and federal law enforcement are doing to combat sex trafficking.
On Youth Radio’s site: web-exclusive interviews with an underage former sex worker, an online escort, and a hip-hop historian for a discussion on the relationship between pimp culture and rap music. Warning: They are sad and chilling.
Also: Youth Radio has put up a sidebar on the network of services that facilitate sex trafficking.