Holding signs that reflected their frustration over a surge of prostitution in San Jose’s Washington neighborhood area, about 100 residents marched along South First Street, chanting, “No more prostitution in our community.”The rally and march on Thursday, September 27, was organized by Omar Torres, director of Santa Maria Urban Ministry, to call attention to the presence of sex workers near Washington Elementary School and hear the concerns of parents about what their children were seeing.
Children and their parents held signs that read, “No solicitation in the Washington Community,” “Bring Our City Services Back” and “Stop Prostitution.”
“You have all shown that the community standing up can have an impact,” Councilman Sam Liccardo said to about 100 residents, community members and City Hall leaders gathered in front of the Bibliotheca.
The growth of prostitution on South First Street and Monterey Road has been blamed, in part, on the economy. Police enforcement has been cutback as well as counseling resources that helped women out of the lifestyle.Once a dusk to dawn enterprise, prostitutes are now seen more in daylight hours, trying to solicit men who are walking their children to school and even teenage boys going to the nearby youth center, according to resident complaints. Prostitutes have been picked up and dropped off near the school.
“The kids can see the ladies,” said Washington school volunteer Maria Marcelo.
“You’re saying enough is enough,” said Kathleen Flynn, a community activist who addressed the group.
Many at the gathering were not targeting the women who they say are often coerced into prostitution through poverty or forced into it through human trafficking.
“We have to get rid of the pimps and we have to get rid of the johns,” said Jessica Boyles, who is coordinating a YWCA program to combat human trafficking.That approach was supported by Erika Sutton, a member of the Washington Guadalupe Neighborhood Association, who encouraged residents to call in license plates of johns or pimps they see in the area.
“The larger problem is the men who are picking up the prostitutes and the pimps who are controlling them,” she said. “Our goal is to eradicate the cause, not just the symptoms.”
Jeannie Dan knows what the women are going through. She was a prostitute for 10 years and now walks the streets to counsel sex workers to find a better way to live through Victory Outreach’s Twilight Treasures program.
“We just give them hope,” she said.
Last month, Councilmember Liccardo, who marched with the residents, helped the city obtain an injunction against Hotel Elan, a motel just a few blocks from Thursday night’s gathering.As of August 15, the hotel owners must follow rules that include having an onsite property manager 24/7, security cameras, fence surrounding the motel, limits on daily visitors for guests, background checks on guests registered for more than 30 days and immediate termination of room rental to anyone engaging in prostitution.
The court action is part of a larger strategy to combat the prostitution, sexual exploitation of minors, and related illegal activity surrounding South First Street south of 280, North 13th Street, The Alameda, and North First Street near the Airport, Liccardo said.
But he said the problem was a moving target. A crackdown on Hotel Elan resulted in prostitution rings moving farther south.
Santa Maria Urban Ministry’s Torres would like to form a task force of residents, community organizations, business owners and elected officials to improve the Washington area.
“We want to leverage those resources,” he said.