Last fall, more than 200 residents from the four neighborhoods that comprise the Washington community—Goodyear/Mastic, Tamien, Guadalupe/Washington, and Alma—assembled at the corner of South First/Monterey and Oak to fight back against the increase of prostitution in our community.
Within walking distance from that corner are the Biblioteca Latino Americana, Washington United Youth Center, Washington Elementary School and Santa Maria Urban Ministry. Participants of all ages actively engage with these neighborhood amenities, enjoying the positive and transformative services they offer to the community. Unfortunately, this area is also notorious for the prostitution which occurs at ALL hours.
Sex workers aggressively work our street corners—from Interstate 280 to San Jose Avenue—morning, afternoon and night. Parents and neighbors have observed these sex workers being picked up as early as 7am, when children are being dropped off at neighboring Washington Elementary School. Activity tends to increase during the lunch hour; around the time the Biblioteca computer lab and community room are being utilized. Some parents have reported seeing a john and sex worker “doing business” in broad daylight at 2:30pm, directly in front of the school, at the same time students are being dismissed. It’s not unusual for our mothers and daughters from within our community to be propositioned by a John. Shameful behavior!
The children in our neighborhood should never be exposed to this. What our children witness on a daily basis, especially young children, has a severe impact on their health and well-being. Our community continues to suffer the plight of poverty and other social ills. Our children deserve to be protected from the things we can control.
Last fall, the San Jose Police Department said it did not have the resources to combat prostitution in our community and we were disappointed. However, we were delighted to learn later that it acquired a human trafficking grant from the federal government. These types of collaborations are very important, because they provide SJPD with the resources to implement successful sting operations in neighborhoods that suffer rampant prostitution.
The community commends the SJPD for coordinating a very successful prostitution sting operation down the South First Street/Monterey Corridor as a result of this collaboration and funding. We were more encouraged to learn that SJPD made arrests of both johns and pimps during the operation. Arresting these people is extremely important, because they are the ones who both force these women to be part of the illicit activity, and make sex work a lucrative industry—one that produces profits in the billions of dollars.
Many people were shocked and saddened, however, to learn that a 16-year-old sex worker was one of the detainees in the sting operation. We hope that the sex workers who were arrested this past weekend receive the vital services necessary to empower them to break out of the violent and abusive lifestyle they are often forced to live. This was someone’s daughter who had been forced into the sex trade in our community from a very young age. We have only to look in our own backyard to find the same social injustices robbing our children of their innocence, their youth and potentially their future.
When our community organized to bring awareness to this issue, we were told that it could not be done; that this profession was the “oldest in the book;” that we did not have the “resources” to fight it; and that there would be other road blocks in our path. However, we marched on and our voices were heard loud and clear. The Goodyear/Mastic, Tamien, Guadalupe/Washington and Alma community demonstrated to the greater Bay Area that together it can be done.
Omar Torres continues to reside in the Washington community in the greater downtown San Jose area. He has served on the Santa Clara County Democratic Central Committee since 2007 and was recently re-elected to a fourth term in 2012. He also serves on the executive board of the California Democratic Party, elected by voters of the 27th State Assembly District. Upon graduating from San Jose State University, he was hired to be the executive director of the Santa Maria Urban Ministry. He continues to be involved with the Guadalupe Washington Neighborhood Association.