Reports of teenage prostitution in Berkeley prompt action, say members of the City of Berkeley's Commission on the Status of Women.
The commission and begin organizing efforts to tackle the problem of teenagers engaging in prostitution in Berkeley. A community forum in October on combating the sexual exploitation of minors explored anecdotal evidence and police reports that Berkeley teenagers — some connected to Berkeley High School — were prostituting themselves and possibly others.
Berkeley Police PIO Sgt. Mary Kusmiss said that the department's Special Victim's Unit Youth Services Detail receives one to two referrals for investigation each month regarding possible youth prostitution activity. Some of these juveniles have been linked to Berkeley High School, Kusmiss said.
However, Kusmiss added that "context is critical regarding such a serious and sensitive matter" and that "in any large urban high school, it is statistically consistent that there will be a small percentage of students involved in risky behavior of a variety of sorts."
In 2011, police investigated and confirmed one case of child prostitution involving a girl who was younger than high school age.
It is unclear how prolific the problem is and how Berkeley High School and the Berkeley Unified School District is dealing with the issue. Berkeley Patch attempted to contact administrators and counselors at Berkeley High early Tuesday evening and was not able to get a response.
"I think there’s a disconnect," said Commission Chair Yelda Mesbah Bartlett, speaking of community and school efforts to deal with the problem. "We’re looking at the shortcomings and loop holes where [minors involved in prostitution] are falling through the gaps."
The commission aims to collaborate with the Berkeley Unified School District to initiate programs and educate the community on how to identify victims and provide them with services.
Under California law, teachers, teacher's aides, administrators, and classified employees of any public or private school are required to report sexual abuse and exploitation to child protective services.
"Prostitution is kind of a misnomer," said Bartlett. "It’s really child rape."
The commission will be seeking input from the community on how to curb teen prostitution, provide support and deal with the underlying problems.
"We’ve only barely scratched the surface," said Bartlett. "It’s a big issue."
Have you heard reports of teenage prostitution in Berkeley? What do you think needs to be done about it? Let us know in the comments.
Clarification: this article has been updated to reflect information provided by the Berkeley Police Department. If you spot a mistake on Berkeley Patch or can provide more detailed information, please email Berkeley@patch.com.