Let's make this clear: There's no such thing as a "child prostitute." Or a "child sex worker."
There's child sex trafficking, in which children are forced to engage in sex -- even for means of survival — in which adults hold all the power, in which children cannot consent, in which they are, routinely, raped.
This is an important distinction that's being missed in the police sex abuse scandal that rocked Oakland and several other East Bay cities in recent weeks.
The woman at the center of it all, who goes by the alias "Celeste Guap" in the media, is now 19. She has been the victim of sex trafficking both within and outside of the Oakland Police Department since she was 12. These officers obtained her private cell phone number without her knowledge and began texting her. They shared confidential information about prostitution sweeps with her. At least one officer first met Guap when she was in middle school. Earlier this year, she provided proof to reporters at the East Bay Express that multiple officers in the department had solicited her for sex and had sexual encounters with her while she was underage. All of them knew of her history as a victim of sexual abuse.
This is how power works.
These were sworn police officers, some of whom earned six-figure salaries when they met and punished the victim while she was in middle school for cutting class. These are officers who obtained her address, sought her out on social media and coerced her into exchanging sex for freedom. Those were not relationships between two consenting adults. It was rape. And what's happening now isn't merely a "sex scandal." It's sex abuse.
And yet, these are the headlines about the scandal:
There was even a recent column in the San Francisco Chronicle in which an attorney anonymously blamed the victim. "They always started out legitimately and in a tone that was not sexual," the attorney said about the victim's communication with officers.
The officers involved could lose their jobs for any of three reasons — having sex with the woman when she was under 18, knowing that she was a sex worker and consorting with her anyway, and — as is suspected in at least one Oakland case — tipping her off about planned prostitution sweeps.
Again, this is not a scandal about "having sex with the woman when she was under 18." Because, again, that's not sex — it's rape.
Richmond Police Chief Allwyn Brown seems to be the only sensible law enforcement official to go on record in this entire saga. Brown told the East Bay Express that he was the first person in the department to refer the victim to social services, and that her history as a victim of child sex trafficking was one that deserved attention — not to be erased. "In this case, you're dealing with someone with repeated early childhood traumas, and who engages in very risky behavior," Brown said.
Apparently, no one in the Oakland Police Department got that memo.