Nola Brantley is the executive director and co-founder of Oakland-based MISSSEY. (Photo by Bonnie Chan)
By Bonnie Chan
“We envision a world where children are protected and free from sexual exploitation.”
That is the vision statement of Oakland-based MISSSEY - a nonprofit working to end the commercial sexual exploitation of children.
It's a vision that few would dispute. And although child sex trafficking and modern-day slavery have become celebrity-backed causes, particularly as of late - Ricky Martin, Emma Thompson and Jada Pinkett Smith are among the celebrities doing visible advocacy work on the issue - funding streams don't match the urgency of the movement's work, not even here in Oakland, where International Boulevard is a well-known hub for youth trafficking.
That's what an upcoming fundraiser on Saturday, Feb. 9, hopes to begin addressing.
“A Night of Music and Art to Benefit MISSSEY,” hosted by Oakland's Swarm Gallery, will feature live music, wine, hors d'oeuvres and a fleet of local small-business sponsors, all joining forces to raise necessary funds for MISSSEY's anti-trafficking work. Every cent of the event's proceeds will benefit the organization to help resurrect its crucial volunteer program, dubbed the “MISSSEY Community Collective” or “MCC,” which was recently discontinued due to lack of resources.
Lindsay Hegg, a volunteer mentor at MISSSEY, is the organizing powerhouse behind the benefit. Hegg was inspired to volunteer with MISSSEY half a year ago after hearing MISSSEY's program coordinator Tashina Manyak speak about the organization at an anti-trafficking panel. From soliciting sponsors to managing publicity, Hegg is organizing the benefit entirely as a volunteer, which is representative of the passion that MISSSEY's work tends to inspire.
“MISSSEY is totally grassroots and they do a really hard, really good thing that our community needs,” Hegg said. “Oakland is a hub for domestic sex trafficking; it's become a widely-accepted and widely-ignored epidemic. MISSSEY is fighting in this tiny way that shouldn't be alone and shouldn't be tiny.”
MISSSEY's mission is written right into its name: MISSSEY stands for Motivating, Inspiring, Supporting and Serving Sexually Exploited Youth. MISSSEY provides equal parts direct services and education, no small feat for a staff of 10 people. Direct services include court advocacy, a foster care program, juvenile justice case management and a drop-in recovery center where girls can get food and a warm bed.
Nola Brantley, the executive director and co-founder of MISSSEY, estimates that the organization has served about 1,000 girls in Alameda County through its direct services since opening their doors in 2007. In addition, MISSSEY has trained about 10,000 professionals in the field – such as judges, social workers and doctors – and the general public about how to better serve victims of commercial sexual exploitation.
Part of MISSSEY's success story is in its staff: MISSSEY is a “survivor-infused” organization whose dynamic staff is made up of trafficking survivors – survivors who have gone on to work within the program that helped them to recover.
While MISSSEY advocates for the end of all sexual exploitation of children, its focus is on commercially sexually exploited children (CSEC), who are trafficked into sex for the profit of a third party.
According to Brantley, one of MISSSEY's foundational goals is the recognition of commercially sexually exploited children as victims rather than criminals.
“Children are routinely arrested as prostitutes even though they're not old enough to consent to sex in the state of California,” Brantley said, because arresting girls for prostitution is often the only available means by which law enforcement can get girls safely off of the streets.
“At the time we created MISSSEY, we were literally seeing packs of children between the ages of 11 and 17 up and down International Boulevard, under the control of pimps and traffickers, and everyone was just driving by, not knowing what to do,” Brantley said. “So we created MISSSEY to say, 'We want to have a response to the CSEC, to educate people, to change policies, to change the community, to provide these victims and survivors with the services that they deserve in a way that is humane and allows them to keep their dignity.'
"MISSSEY was created in response to a community problem.”
If You Go
A Night of Music and Art to Benefit MISSSEY
When: 7 to 10 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 9
Where: Swarm Gallery, 560 Second St., Oakland
Cost: $20 at door, beverages and light fare included
More info: Online HERE