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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Reentry Working Group Addresses Health Disparities

Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Bronx Community Solutions have partnered to form a Bronx Reentry Working Group that will address the health and competing needs of those returning to the Bronx from prisons and jails. There are 128,313 former inmates live in the community and as many as 12 per 1,000 residents are newly released each year. 

Residents of the Bronx face serious health challenges. The Bronx has the highest unemployment rate in the state, (14.1%) with  31% of residents living below the poverty level. 29,709 residents are living with AIDS. The Bronx is ranked as the unhealthiest county of New York’s 62 counties. 
This working group will address the health disparities of released inmates returning to the Bronx; health cuts in the New York State budget for medical and health services; and the move to close Rikers Island and open the South Bronx Jail. Our working group will document the health and competing needs of our reentry population to better understand and serve these individuals. This assessment will inform policy makers and work closely with different stakeholders to develop creative strategies for a healthier Bronx. The Working Group, under the leadership of Dr. Pamela Valera of Albert Einstein College of Medicine was awarded the National Cancer Institute’s K01 Health and Unmet Needs grant. 

If you would like to join our Reentry Working Group or have resources that you would like included in the Directory of Reentry Resources for the Bronx, please contact Mandy Restivo, Deputy Project Director of Bronx Community Solutions

Mission Statement 
The Bronx Reentry Working Group is a Bronx-based coalition of academic-community partners, corrections, reentry, policy- makers, and residents committed to addressing the social and health disparities of individuals with histories of criminal justice involvement Our objectives include:

1. To improve health outcomes of individuals with histories of criminal justice involvement by providing appropriate service referrals.

2. To increase skills and knowledge of individuals with histories of criminal justice involvement through programming, education and advocacy strategies.

3. To develop a body of literature of what works in helping individuals with histories of criminal justice involvement to successfully transition back into the Bronx. 

4. To increase information sharing and exchange, community engagement and to foster relationships within and between coalition members. 

Current Projects and Activities 
Letter to editor response to Bronx hate crimes (submission date Nov. 15, 2010)
Bronx-based Reentry Symposium Spring 2011
Bronx based Reentry Service Directory/ Webpage (underway/in development)
Bronx Reentry Task Force 
Healthy Eating Workshop for Bronx defendants 

Research Projects 
Health-seeking behavior study for men (ongoing)
Smoking cessation project for women (ongoing)

Friday, December 10, 2010

Part Two of NPR Youth Radio Story

Arresting Youth In Sex Trafficking Raises Debate

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December 7, 2010
Part 2 of 2
Oakland, Calif., is known as a center for sex trafficking, with a specialty in children. In 2003, the FBI dubbed the city, part of the San Francisco Bay Area, a "high-intensity child-prostitution area." Police say Oakland youth are often trafficked from their hometown out to other sex hubs like Portland, Ore.; Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Atlanta.
Youth Radio is an independent producer. For more than six months, the organization has been investigating child sex trafficking in Oakland, Calif. In this two-part report, it pieces together what life is like for girls who are forced into prostitution — and how law enforcement continues to criminalize girls the state legally defines as sexually exploited victims.
Law enforcement officials and youth advocates say they're frustrated by California law, which makes it difficult to prosecute pimps and johns and easy to go after the children. Monday, in the first of a two-part Youth Radio report, two survivors of sex trafficking shared their stories. Today, Youth Radio explores what Oakland police and the FBI are doing to combat sex trafficking.
At Oakland police headquarters on a recent afternoon, Lt. Kevin Wiley is briefing a group of FBI agents and police officers who are about to go out on a sweep.
"Remember, priority No. 1 is safety, right? Undercover officers, make sure you're aware of your 360 the entire time. No surprises out there, please."
Until four years ago, Wiley's Vice and Child Exploitation Unit prioritized arresting johns. But those operations and the funding that made them possible have been cut. Instead, the Oakland Police Department now targets the children who've been trafficked, in an effort to get them off the streets — and to get them to give up the names of their pimps.
"We're out there looking for pimps, anyone involved in human trafficking," Wiley says. "If we can pick up some of the girls, that's great. We're targeting children, but we do want to get the big fish, that is, the pimps out there."
'It's Busy Around Here'
Undercover cops in beat-up used cars drive out to East Oakland's International Boulevard, the center of Oakland's red-light district, known as "The Track."
A police officer processes a young woman arrested on prostitution charges.
EnlargeBrett Myers/Youth Radio
Oakland police used to put a priority on arresting johns. But with cuts in funding, the police now target the girls who've been trafficked for sex.
A plainclothes officer watches from across the street as a young woman in a short skirt stands on the corner outside an empty storefront. A squad car pulls up. For these sweeps, police use a county probation rule that prohibits girls with previous prostitution arrests from going near International Boulevard. Police say they don't have to see a girl making arrangements to get paid for sex to arrest her.
Two officers from the squad car approach the woman, handcuff her, and drive her to a command center consisting of a police van parked behind a nearby supermarket.
"It's busy around here," Wiley says. "We've only been here 45 minutes, and we already have five girls that we've detained, arrested. One is a juvenile, so they're going to do an interview with her."
The 15-year-old is separated from the adult prostitutes and placed in the back of a police car. She's wearing short shorts and sandals with shiny silver straps crisscrossing up to her mid-calves.
Police question the girl; a victims' advocate contracted by the county stands nearby and will remain in close contact with her throughout the booking process.
The police officer uses the victim's cell phone to call her parents, who live about 200 miles away, in Fresno, Calif. An officer explains that she's under arrest for soliciting prostitution. To release her, police have to put her in the custody of her parents or a legal guardian.
"All right, so what's going to happen now is she's going to go down to the police department in the juvenile hall section," the officer tells her parents. "And more than likely, you're going to have to come get her sometime tonight, OK?"
Police later said the girl's parents never picked her up. She was sent to juvenile hall — and she never divulged the name of her pimp.
By the end of this sweep, police had arrested seven adult women, three girls, one pimp and no johns. It's a small victory. Police estimate 100 minors work as prostitutes on The Track every night.
'The Easiest Person To Arrest Is The Child'
Though they arrest few pimps and prosecute even fewer, Oakland police say that arresting the girls is a necessary first step toward shutting down sex trafficking. But many children's advocates disagree.
Nola Brantley, who was trafficked as a teenager, now runs MISSSEY, a program that helps girls get out of the sex trade.
Every act of what's called ... 'prostitution' with these children is actually a form of child sexual abuse — and to take it further, child rape. So I don't think children who are raped should be criminalized, no I don't.
"The reason why we arrest them is because they are the easiest person to arrest," Brantley says. "It's hard to arrest the johns, and they represent many different facets of society and life. It's hard to arrest the exploiters because of the amount of evidence necessary. So, the easiest person to arrest is the child."
Brantley says these children are not really prostitutes.
"Every act of what's called ... 'prostitution' with these children is actually a form of child sexual abuse — and to take it further, child rape," she says. "So I don't think children who are raped should be criminalized, no I don't."
Alameda County Assistant District Attorney Sharmin Bock counters that arresting the girls is actually a way to save them — it gives the county a way to introduce victimized girls to social services. "Having a court involved with a case hanging over your head provides that added incentive to stay in a program, at the end of which a great likelihood exists that you will in fact recognize that you were in fact exploited," she says.
And, Bock says, the logistics of going after the men are daunting.
"It's very hard to get a hold of those johns. Because by the time you hear about it, they're just a number. It's the child telling you, 'I had sex with 15 different men yesterday.' They're long gone."
A Booming Industry Online
And there's another factor making it easier for johns to buy sex and for pimps to make money — the Internet.
Two police officers arrest a woman
EnlargeBrett Myers/Youth Radio
In a recent sting, Oakland police arrested seven adult women, three girls, one pimp and no johns. It's a small victory — police estimate that 100 minors work as prostitutes in Oakland's red-light district every night.
Brittney and Darlene, two teenagers who escaped the sex trade, told Youth Radio they were trafficked on both the Oakland streets and online.
"He had me on Craigslist, Red Book, and there was another one. I think it was like Eros something — Eros Guide or something like that," Brittney says.
Craigslist has removed the "adult services" section that was used for the sex trade, but there are many other sites that fill the void. With help from the Internet, what used to be a local prostitution business is now global.
Marty Parker, who works on human trafficking cases for the FBI's Oakland office, says pimps aren't invisible to law enforcement.
"Even though these guys think they're not leaving any track online, they are. Just a pimp posting an ad for these girls on — that gives us their interstate nexus right there, and we can then bring federal charges against him," Parker says.
But Parker says that doesn't mean they'll be prosecuted anytime soon.
"We could do it every day if we had the manpower to do it," Parker says. "Unfortunately, there are too few people working in the FBI who work these cases."

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

NPR Youth Radio Uncovers Experiences of Trafficked Teen Girls

The following two-part story from NPR, published on December 6, 2010 highlights particular issues faced by teens that are trafficked in the US. The challenges these girls face are the same challenges that the women who are part of Bronx Community Solutions alternatives to prostitution program face: sexual violence, intimate partner violence, poverty and lack of education. In fact, they could be the same girls, a few years later being prosecuted as adults. 

At Bronx Community Solutions, through a grant from the Office of Domestic Violence, we screen women arrested for prostitution related offenses for current and past histories of sexual and intimate partner violence. We provide in-house conseling services in partnership with Sanctuaries for Families to address the trauma symptoms these women experience. We also work with local nonprofit organizations, such as the Girls Education and Mentoring Services (GEMS) that provide services such as emergency temporary housing.

The sexual exploitation of women is a pervasive problem in the Bronx. We at Bronx Community Solutions are working in partnership with law enforcement and local community organizations to address this issue. 

Trafficked Teen Girls Describe Life In 'The Game'

December 6, 2010
Part 1 of 2

Youth Radio is an independent producer. For more than six months, the organization has been investigating child sex trafficking in Oakland, Calif. In this two-part report, it pieces together what life is like for girls who are forced into prostitution — and how law enforcement continues to criminalize girls the state legally defines as sexually exploited victims.
Last month, the FBI announced the results of Operation Cross Country V, a 40-city investigation that led to the rescue of 69 children who were being victimized through prostitution. More than 800 people, including 99 pimps, were arrested.

According to the FBI, more than 100,000 children are sold for sex in the U.S. each year. In a two-part series, Youth Radio takes a look at the problem of child prostitution in the U.S. Today, two young women who recently escaped what's called "the game" share their stories.
"I'd wake up at 5; I'd be outside by 5:30," says Brittney, 19. "I would just wait and see what happened, whether it'd be in the streets or whether I'd be on the Internet. And then I won't be able to come back inside until like 2 o'clock in the morning, so I'd get only, like, three hours of rest."
Brittney, a former sex worker, agreed to share her story under the condition that her real name not be used. She's a native of Oakland, Calif., and only recently out of what's called "the game." Less than a year ago, Brittney was being forced to work as a prostitute on the Internet and on the streets of Oakland.
"I got kidnapped when I was 15," says Brittney. "I decided to cut school one day. I was in Oakland, on Havenscourt and Foothill, and all I heard was, 'Man, go get that girl!' And one of them came out and dragged me by my hair, and he pulled me into the car."
Child Prostitution In The U.S., By The Numbers

100,000-300,000: The number of children sold for sex in the U.S. each year

12-14: The average age at which girls first become victims of prostitution

11-13: The average age at which boys and transgendered youth enter into prostitution

55 percent: The proportion of girls living on the streets in the U.S. engaged in formal prostitution

30 percent: The proportion of youth living in shelters who are sexually exploited
75 percent: The proportion of girls engaged in prostitution who are working for a pimp
One-fifth: The fraction of exploited children who are trafficked nationally

$150,000-$200,000: The amount a pimp can make each year, per child

76 percent: The proportion of transactions for sex with underage girls conducted via the Internet Sources: Justice Department, National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, Demi & Ashton Foundation

Brittney was the victim of a so-called guerrilla pimp — a person, usually a man, who uses force and fear to traffic women, many of whom are underage. Oakland police estimate that a third of teenage girls working in prostitution were abducted and forced onto the streets the way Brittney was.

She says that after she was kidnapped, at least six men gang-raped her. She was then driven to Sacramento, where her 32-year-old pimp put her out on the street as a prostitute. He took her phone, told her not to talk to anyone but "johns," and had his sister watch her so she wouldn't run. She was shuttled back and forth to work Oakland's red-light district.

A 'Romeo Pimp'

Darlene, whose name has been changed as well, came into "the game" a different way.

She entered her teens around the same time her native Oakland, as part of the San Francisco Bay Area, was named by the FBI as one of the 13 national hot spots for child prostitution.

Classmates talked about their boyfriends who had lots of money, and — like most kids in the Bay Area — she listened to music by Oakland rappers, whose lyrics about pimping glamorized "the game."

"A lot of it is glorified," says Darlene. "Oh, you're from Oakland. Everybody has dreads; everybody goes dumb; we pop pills, smoke a lot of weed; parties, sideshows and hos."
If you're not part of the scene, it's hard to believe that prostitution has become normal for so many in Oakland and other cities. But many see it as an alternative to desperate home lives, friends getting shot, no food on the table and absent parents. And pimps take advantage of that.

Darlene became a prostitute at the hands of what Oakland police call a "Romeo pimp." Now 18, she moved in with her boyfriend when she was 14, after she was kicked out of the house.

"On my 15th birthday, he was like, 'Well, you know, since you'll be staying with me, we need more food. We need to find a way to get some money'," says Darlene. "He's the one that, like, introduced me to prostitution, and I didn't see anything wrong with it."

Darlene says she later found out her then-18-year-old boyfriend had pimped other girls before. When he became her pimp, Darlene says, he told her what to do to make money. " 'This is how you look at the guys; this is what you tell them; these are what cars to stay away from; this is how much you charge.' "

On 'The Track'

International Boulevard, one of Oakland's busiest streets, is what pimps call "The Track." In a 50-block span on one recent day, there were some 20 girls. Some of them were posted on street corners; others were hanging by bus stops, or just walking the same blocks over and over.

National Hot Spots

In 2003, the FBI's Crimes Against Children Unit identified these 13 U.S. cities as having a high incidence rate of child prostitution.

The guys who work at one of the many taco trucks on International Boulevard say that every day, pimps use their parking lot to drop off girls and hang out. They say it's common to see pimps beating girls.

While most Oakland residents drive by and don't think twice about what's going on here, the people in this neighborhood do.

"They're always there," says Frank Pardo, whose mother owns Yoyi's Bridal shop. "You always see them, and some of them are quite beautiful, looking like straight models."

Just down the street, a teenage girl in a short red dress is crying on a bench. She has blood coming from her mouth. A business owner who runs a clothing store says he saw the whole thing: The man who punched the girl appeared to be her pimp, and stole her purse.

The witness would not identify himself by name, for fear of retribution from sex traffickers. That's the same reason he gave for not calling the police.

Brittney and Darlene each survived the many months they spent turning tricks on International Boulevard and meeting johns through the Internet. Brittney says her pimp got her hooked on drugs to keep her working around the clock and eating only one meal a day, usually a burger from McDonald's.

"It's not the best deal to have sex with 15 different guys in one day and only get a cheeseburger at the end of it," says Alameda County Assistant District Attorney Sharmin Bock. Bock compares the girls' situation to being brainwashed by a cult.

"Remember Guyana and Jim Jones, where everybody's drinking that Kool-Aid drink? Well, that's exactly what these girls have had. Let's call it pimp juice. They've all had it, and they can't see past either their affection for their trafficker, or their fear of him," says Bock.

A History Of Violence

According to a recent survey of social service providers in Oakland and the rest of the county, 61 percent of the teen prostitutes they see say they were raped as children.

That's what happened to Brittney. She says she was raped by her stepfather and years later by her trafficker. Brittney tries to understand how she kept going back to her pimp.

"I knew what he was capable of," she says. "He'd beat me and he'd rape me, he'd beat me and he'd rape me, and I just kept going back until I ended up being pregnant by him. And he beat me so bad that I ended up having a miscarriage."

"I got shot at quite a few times," says Darlene, who had been arrested for prostitution and robbery in the year after she ran away from her father's house. She wanted to go home.

"I used to fantasize about boys that are gangstas. 'Oh, they get hecka money and they're just gangsta and cute, and it's cool,' " says Darlene. "That's OK when you're in high school. After that, what are you gonna do with your life? You're gonna be in jail or you're gonna be dead, and I don't want part of either one of those."

A New Life

After her last arrest, Darlene joined a program that transitions girls off the streets. Brittney got out, too, shortly after she had the miscarriage.

"Six days later — it was a Sunday — and he put me on East 14th. I told him that I didn't want to be out on Sundays because I had a bad feeling about Sundays. And I saw my aunt. And my aunt ended up snatching me up and putting me in the car. And then she took me to my mom's house," says Brittney.
That warrant put Brittney back in jail for prostitution and, like Darlene, she enrolled in a community program.

It's been less than a year since Brittney and Darlene turned their lives around. Now they are both working with community organizations to help other girls escape sex trafficking. Darlene and Brittney consider themselves survivors, navigating a new life.

"I got back in school and I graduated high school with, like, 20 extra credits," says Darlene, who has two jobs and is planning to attend college. "When I was 15, I didn't see myself alive at the age of 18. And now I am 18, and I can look back and say, 'You know, I've been through all that, and I've come out of it.' It feels wonderful."

Tomorrow on All Things Considered, Youth Radio explores what local police and the FBI are doing to combat sex trafficking.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Bronx Community Solutions Empowers Clients to ACT AWARE

The theme of this year’s World AIDS Day was “ACT AWARE.” We at Bronx Community Solutions empower our clients to act aware every day by providing HIV/AIDS education through our social service classes, on-site testing at our Better Health Decisions class and Spanish Speaking Orientation class, and through referrals for testing and treatment for HIV. These services would not be possible without the cooperation of two local community based organizations, VIP Services  and Care for the Homeless who provide educational classes and free on-site testing.  Over the last five years, hundreds of our clients have been tested do to the hard work and dedication of these organizations.

As one of the facilitators of an HIV/AIDS prevention class, I am always pleased when clients state "I thought this would be a waste of time, but I am glad I came" or "I am going to make sure I get tested" and my favorite  "Can I have my girlfriend/boyfriend/wife/family member come listen to this information?"

New York City has one of the highest HIV rates in the United States, and the Bronx has been hit especially hard. The Bronx accounts for 16% of the City’s 8.5 million residents, yet the Borough represents 25% of the City’s new HIV cases. The Borough’s death rate from AIDS is nearly 10 times the national average, with 25% of residents only learning they are infected with HIV after they have progressed to full-blown AIDS. In 2007, the Bronx lost more residents to AIDS than any other Borough. The unique characteristics of the HIV epidemic in the Bronx have been attributed to Bronx residents being poorer, less educated, and having less access to medical services. 
To address HIV in the community The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene launched a Borough wide initiative called “Bronx Knows” in 2007. Bronx Knows is a large-scale public health initiative to increase voluntary HIV testing so that every Bronx resident learns his or her HIV status and has access to quality care and prevention.
Through this initiative, the Bronx has been very successful in increasing HIV testing rates with 40% of residents tested last year, compared to 28% of Manhattan residents, 24% of Queens residents, 29% of Brooklyn residents, and 17% of Staten Island residents. In order to reach the goal of every Bronx resident being tested, 500,000 more Bronx residents, or 500 people a day for the next three years, still need to be tested.

We at Bronx Community Solutions are proud to be part of the education, testing and referral initiative in the Bronx and will continue to empower our clients to “ACT AWARE”