The kidnapping of 300 schoolgirls in Nigeria in April shocked the world and galvanized the world community. Within days of this heartbreaking act, we protested and petitioned, generated websites, Facebook pages, videos. Our collective outrage was expressed in one simple message: "Bring Back Our Girls."
I remain moved and impressed by our global embrace of these girls -- "our girls" -- and their families, who claim their human rights to education, equality and freedom. Gender-based violence is at the heart of Boko Haram's acts, and it will spread if unchecked by the rule of law.
Yet, even as we voice solidarity with the Nigerian schoolgirls, is it not also time to pay attention to the sexual exploitation of our girls here in the Bay Area? Many hear the term "human trafficking" and mistakenly think of it as a distant threat. Facts tell us otherwise. Human trafficking is the sale -- and servitude -- of men, women and children for commercial profit. This harm is both global and local. Estimates of American-born children sold for sex each year in the U.S. range from 100,000 to 300,000. As Californians, we live in one of the top four destinations in the U.S. for trafficking. The greatest areas in the state for the trafficking of girls are the Bay Area and LA County. If you want to see kidnapped girls, drive the streets of San Francisco, San Jose, Oakland.
Let's be clear about what this means. Our girls are lured and then forced into submission and hidden beyond law's reach. They are denied liberty. The kidnappers' cause is not political extremism, but greed. Selling girls is seen as more lucrative than drug-dealing. One source noted, "A stable of girls can yield 600,000 tax-free dollars a year. And unlike drugs -- a finite source -- girls are reusable."
Can we bring back our girls? The answer must be yes. Find and support local coalitions that combat trafficking. Whether in Chibok, Nigeria or on International Boulevard in Oakland, this crisis on the ground deserves our highest attention.