Johns targeted through billboards in Oakland

August 4, 2011 4:39:18 PM PDT
Residents along Oakland's International Boulevard are fed up with the prostitution problem in their neighborhood.

Those residents are starting to take matters into their own hands with a march that's set for Thursday evening. Their target: Johns and prostitutes that stand on the corner and walk down the street during the morning, afternoon and all night.

The prostitutes work their turf along Oakland's International Boulevard and so many of them look so young. The families who live here are fed up, especially with the men who cruise their streets looking to buy sex.

"They're so young. They're babies out here, and they have mothers," said resident Theresa Miller.

The men who pimp out prostitutes are the target of two billboards that went up this week in the neighborhood, and it's the mothers who are sending the message asking, "What if she was your daughter?"

Neomi Saravia feels as strongly about it in real life as she does on the billboard.

"As a community, I don't think people are helping us and giving us 100 percent support," Saravia said through a translator.

Residents say Oakland's elected leaders and police need to do more. The city has sued to shut down three hotels known for prostitution, including one where police say a 13-year-old girl was founding having sex with a man in exchange for $100.

"I've personally seen girls that I know have got to be 15, at the most, getting in pickup trucks with men who are 50, and that's not an uncommon sight," said community organizer Andy Nelson.

It's a sight Miller sees every day from the church where she works. Now she also looks out her window and sees the billboard.

"Of course, it's gonna take a lot more than just billboards," Miller said. "It's gonna take people, as myself, to just reach out to them."

Residents are also working with city hall to develop a program where they can report a john's license plate number to the police. The police would then mail the suspected john a warning letter.

For now, the community has the billboard and Thursday's march, which starts at 6pm at 17th and International in Oakland.


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