Neighborhood Groups Come Together to Combat Prostitution

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.

Omar Torres lives in the Washington community in the greater downtown San Jose area. He works as executive director of the Santa Maria Urban Ministry.

6 Comments

  1. Great job Omar! You are a perfect example of what needs to take place in our neighborhoods all over San Jose. We need to work with the community and the SJPD to take our neighborhoods back!

    I was honored and privileged to march with your group, and with Pastors Linda, and Sonny Lara from Star of David Ministries, several months before you had your march.

    The Lara’s led over 200 people up and down First Street handing out literature, and speaking to young prostitutes on the street. They offered them help and hope, and that is what is really needed. Marching alone isn’t enough. They need a way out to empower themselves.

    I’d love to see your group collaborate with the Lara’s. You’re both AWESOME!!!

    Thank you for your dedication and commitment to our City, and our youth!

    • Is this really an example we want to continue?  Why should Mr. Torres and his neighbors have to waste so much of their time convincing the city council to take care of the problem?  If this example is to become the norm, our city council would be allocating scarce police resources based on the squeakiest wheel.  Our city council needs to put aside their pet projects and start working on a solution to provide adequate police protection for all neighborhoods.

      • SteveO,

        “Why should Mr. Torres and his neighbors have to waste so much of their time convincing the city council to take care of the problem?”

        Answer: Because it is our City, where we live and raise our families.

        To support law enforcement and to bring attention to our overworked, and understaffed PD.

        To send a message to those doing unlawful things in our neighborhoods that we aren’t going to stand for it.

        “If this example is to become the norm, our city council would be allocating scarce police resources based on the squeakiest wheel.”

        These squeaky wheels help bring in grants, and money to assist law enforcement. The City would be wise to collaborate with non profits to bring in more services and money.

        “Our city council needs to put aside their pet projects and start working on a solution to provide adequate police protection for all neighborhoods.”

        Pet projects? Start working toward solutions? What do you think they are doing by working with these groups? Groups like Omar’s and the Lara’s are working hard in the community along with the City to do just that!

        You might want to attend these protests before you make statements like these. These groups have gotten their communities to report crime AND to work with law enforcement to reduce crime.

        I’m very proud of them for taking ownership of their community and for doing it with the assistance and guidance of law enforcement.

        And BTW- They ALWAYS thank and honor our SJPD at everyone of their events, and continually fight to get more Police Officers hired. Without their hard work and pressure on our elected officials, nothing would change for the better, and criminals would run even more rampant in our community.

  2. Omar:  San Jose PD received a mandate from 70% of voters (According to Rufus and the Mercury News) in the form of Measures V, W and B.  It was heard loud and clear.  The City Council and Mayor are making sure that the voters get what they want, rest assured.  Overcompensated and overstaffed City workers took it to heart and are leaving in droves.

    It’s far from over my friend… things will “improve” a lot more!  Stay classy San Jose.

    “Every society gets the kind of criminal it deserves. What is equally true is that every community gets the kind of law enforcement it insists on.” -Robert F. Kennedy

    • Omar:  Before Chuck decided to abandon our police department we used to have a specialized unit called “Street Crimes” that dealt with prostitution and quality of live crimes in the downtown core including the area you are talking about.  The unit targeted this issue on a regular basis.  The unit would run decoys and arrested so many “Johns” that operations had to be shut down due to so many arrests.  In addition, they targeted prostitutes and would make arrests on a daily basis along the Alameda, Monterey Hwy and many local motels.

      Today chucks says “We’ve turned the corner, we’ve changed directions,” “we’re no longer shrinking, and now it’s a question of how long it will take”. (Wed MN)

      Well let me tell you, BS, over 400 officers have left SJ, many more are lined up and interviewing with other Departments.  Many more will retire soon.  We have not turned any corner, but we are going down the tubes.  Article stated 108 recent hires.  This to is false.  One new recruit academy in years and it only has about 60.  I hope Chuck is not including civilian hires at the PD.

      Sad but your problem along with gangs and Graffiti will not get any better so a long time.

  3. At least there is one nice thing about being a Police Officer or Firefighter in San Jose.  We know the truth, because we live it.  It is amazing how much mis-information and know-it-alls there are here.  Simply Amazing…