Of the many existential questions that can send humans spiralling into disarray, the question of when childhood ends is particularly troublesome. All too often, childhood is something stolen, taken away through violence, abuse, and struggle. According to the International Labour Organization, there are more than 40.3 million victims of human trafficking, with over 25 percent of them being children. This is as much a local problem as it is a global one; the FBI has identified the Bay Area as one of the top hubs for human trafficking in the nation. Jennifer Lyle, Executive Director of the Mentoring, Inspiring, Supporting, & Serving Sexually Exploited Youth (MISSSEY) Organization in Oakland, said that in this community, “sex trafficking and sexual exploitation of girls, particularly African American girls, is rampant.”
MISSSEY provides case-management, a drop-in center, career readiness support, life coaching, trainings, and many other services to youth ages 12 through 24, according to Lyle.
MISSSEY was launched in 2007 by Nola Brantley, Adela Hernandez Rodarte, Sarai T. Smith-Mazariegos, and Emily Hamman, who had all been employees of the George P. Scotlan Youth & Family Center, where they witnessed firsthand the calamitous impact of the local human trafficking trade. Together, the four women designed MISSSEY to be “survivor-led and survivor-informed.”
MISSSEY developed unique and unprecedented practices in the field of Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (CSEC) prevention and intervention and has also assisted counties, communities, and organizations in establishing CSEC programs or incorporating victim support into pre-existing programs and services.
Cela Parker, co-president of Berkeley High School Stop Harassing, explained how she feels that society also plays a role in this exploitation. “Women are viewed as being weaker than men, and girls are taught from a young age that they’re the ones who need to learn how to avoid harassment or rape or abuse, when in reality, many men, often being influenced by the expectations our culture has ingrained in them, need to learn respect for women,” said Parker.
MISSSEY has made a space where youth affected by CSEC can find security, and are “supported in both their healing and in the development of their aspirational selves,” said Lyle. MISSSEY makes sure that their youth recognize that while the past may inform their futures, it does not define them, and works to assist them in breaking cycles of abuse through nurturing and love.