Fiona and Sharmin Bock, far left and far right, speak to middle school students about helping victims of trafficking
Somewhere north of here in a house surrounded by redwood trees and staffed by counselors, 15 adolescent girls are recovering from traumas that include kidnapping, torture and years of being forced to work "the track" selling sex to strangers.
From Oakland, Sacramento, Los Angeles and elsewhere, the girls are among the most abused victims of human trafficking in California - so traumatized that their rescuers decided they needed to be taken away from their usual surroundings to heal. One was pimped by her mother. Another was kidnapped at gunpoint twice by a neighborhood pimp.
On Sunday, another group of adolescent girls who describe themselves as peers of the victims, just much luckier in life, will head out to a track of a different kind, a running track, in a run-a-thon they organized to raise money for the home that is helping the victims to heal.
"We're using a track because that's what the girls were sold onto, to work 'the track.' The idea is to change the meaning of the track," said 14-year-old Fiona Bock, the organizer of the Girls On Track 5K run to take place at Lake Merced in San Francisco Sunday morning.
"Being the same age, even though we don't have the same lives, we can imagine being in their shoes. We know about what it is like to be a 14-year-old girl in America," says co-organizer and classmate Andrea Kramer.
What’s that like?
"Feeling the pressures of society and what you're supposed to be like," Fiona explains. "They go through the same things we go through except they have more added unto that," being trafficking victims.
She is the daughter of Alameda County Assistant District Attorney Sharmin Bock who has been prosecuting human traffickers for a decade and who formed the DA's Human Exploitation and Trafficking unit at Oakland's Rene C. Davidson Courthouse.
That relationship explains, of course, why these eighth grade classmates would know about the sad, seamy underworld of child sex trafficking.
"It really started from listening to my mom telling the stories of all the girls she helps," Fiona said. "My mom has been talking about this for her entire life."
"We are running in solidarity with them," Fiona said of the girls she hears about. Each runner aims to raise $500, the amount that trafficking victims are typically required to earn in a night before their pimps allow them to stop.
The proceeds will be donated to New Day for Children, a nonprofit started by Oakland residents to open a residential treatment shelter for young victims of sex trafficking. The home is in a remote location in Northern California undisclosed to the public or the media.
Sue, one of Oakland founders of New Day who asked that her full name not be published because she does not want pimps to follow her to get to the house residents, said the girls needed to be removed from where they live because of the level of trauma they experienced and because their predators keep coming after them.
"One girl was abducted at gunpoint and put out on the streets. Police found her and returned her to her mom and then she was abducted again by the same pimp," Sue said of one of the residents.
"Some of these girls have been tortured," she said. "We have a girl who was trafficked by her mother starting at the age of 5. We got her at age 11." They plan for that child to stay at New Day until she turns 18.
New Day opened three years ago with two residents and this year had 15 girls residing there. It hopes to open a second cottage to be able to rescue more girls. According to Oakland Police Department estimates, about 100 youth are trafficked in Oakland alone most nights.
Despite the talk of solidarity, the organizers' world couldn't be more different from that of the victims. The eighth graders are all classmates in a private middle school in one of San Francisco's most beautiful neighborhoods. They live with parents who take care of them. They play soccer on a team that adults organized for the kids’ benefit. In short, their lives seem a world away from International Boulevard in Oakland, aka “the track,” and similar streets known for prostitution in San Francisco and Sacramento where pimps drag girls against their will to entangle with strange men who flock there.
Fiona said the girls decided to organize a big fundraiser for the victims after the class followed DA Bock to the California State House in Sacramento to listen to her testify before the state Assembly's Public Safety Committee on the need for legislation to toughen punishment against pimps and traffickers.
"There were so many people there in that room and I thought if this many people really cared about the problem why don’t we do something," Fiona said of the hearing.
The Girls on Track is being supported by Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-CA), Oakland Police Chief Howard Jordan, San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr, the San Francisco Police Officers’ Association, California Against Slavery, the Women’s Police Officer’s Association, The Run Project and Not For Sale.
If You Go
What: Girls on Track run-a-thon to support victims of human trafficking and the New Day for Children residential treatment home.
When: 9 a.m. Sunday, June 10; Registration starts at 8 a.m. and new registrants are welcome
Where: Lake Merced in San Francisco.
Registration and Race start at corner of Sunset Blvd and Lake Merced Blvd.