Oakland officials will meet with the lawmaker after alleged sex workers were regularly seen outside St. Anthony’s Catholic School.
OAKLAND, CA (KGO) — The city and state legislator agreed to meet to discuss possible legislative changes that would address issues with young sex workers and human trafficking operations across the street from a K-8 elementary school following an I-Team investigation.
On Thursday, St. Anthony Catholic School held a parent-teacher meeting to discuss new ways to strengthen security protocols. It comes after videos showed young women, who appeared to be sex workers, being harassed in front of the school gates.
“Young kids look at everything,” said Ricardo Vindiola, owner of a local tire shop across the street from the school.
“At night you see 20 ladies there.”
RELATED: Video showing alleged sex workers being harassed outside a school in East Oakland sparks a call to action
Vindiola told the I-Team that more police patrols have arrived on the air since the first story aired last week, but says it won’t be enough.
“It’s sad for the community because all we can do is just close our eyes,” he said. “You can’t say anything, you call the police, they come … and the pimps are watching everything.”
Vindiola has been living and working in the neighborhood for 30 years. He says that organized crime, with pimps and gangs that traffic in young women, has increased significantly over the past year. The point is not only that the problem is clearly closer to home, but also in the danger that is associated with it.
“Last year I saw a lot of young women die, young men die, and nobody does anything,” he said.
Several law enforcement sources told I-Team that there has been a notable increase in gun violence in the East 15th Street area — the shootings are believed to be linked to human trafficking operations. A fear that resonates with Rosa Vargas, who drives her 5-year-old daughter to school every day.
“We need the city to take action,” Vargas told I-Team last week.
Since then, the Oakland Police Department and the FBI have stepped up patrols and installed new surveillance cameras in the area. The mayor of the city also promised to take additional measures.
“I’m shocked, it really worries me as a mom,” Mayor Sheng Tao said during an ABC7 live broadcast on Wednesday. “We are going to put in detours, street signs and other such measures so that cars cannot enter and stay on the street…exploiters cannot just sit in the middle of the street.”
VIDEO: Oakland Police and FBI take action to assess human trafficking issues near school following I-Team report
But the community knows it will take more than street signs and increased patrols to see change in the area.
Last year, the Oakland police investigated 43 operations related to human trafficking and prostitution, according to data obtained by the I-Team. Ninety-five percent of these operations took place along E. 15th Street or were directly related to the area. Eight minors were rescued in 2022. This year, at least two minors have been rescued in the area in the last two weeks alone.
Deputy Chief James Beer led these investigations. He saw with his own eyes how the problem worsened.
“We saw it here tonight,” he said, referring to several young women pleading outside St. Anthony’s Church before a vigil was held Tuesday night to raise awareness of sex trafficking.
“One of the girls came back, heading towards the church, exposing her genitals, and as I got closer, I suspected she was underage,” Beer said. “She was 15 years old.”
Police say the girl was rescued, not arrested.
“We’re not going to arrest our way out of this problem,” Beer said.
RELATED: San Francisco Residents Say This Street Has Become ‘The Las Vegas Strip’ With Alleged Sex Workers – EXCLUSIVE
Police made 169 prostitution-related arrests last year, but only five were prosecuted. The OPD expects that number to be much lower this year due to a new law that went into effect in January that forbids officers from approaching loitering people, even if they are scantily clad, walking in front of a school.
Vargas still sees it every day.
On Thursday morning, she took another photo of a young girl without pants walking through the school gate as she gave her five-year-old child a lift to school. Again he tells his daughter to look away.
“I don’t want to see this anymore,” she told us over the phone. “There was a police officer present, but what can they do? Should the law be changed?
“We are ready to meet with him to discuss this,” Auckland City Council member Noel Gallo said.
“Could you meet with law enforcement to discuss this?” ABC7’s Stephanie Sierra asked state senator Scott Wiener, who introduced legislation to help protect transgender women, who he found were being unfairly targeted by police.
“Yes, of course, my door is always open,” said Senator Viner.
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