OAKLAND (KPIX 5) – The Justice Department says the average age of a girl who’s recruited as a sex slave is just 12-years-old. And the Bay Area is one of the nation’s main hubs for sex trafficking. But this week’s Jefferson Award winners are helping free the victims.
Vanessa Scott and Misty Felton offer freedom, one step at a time. They comb the streets late at night to rescue girls as young as 11 years old, forced to sell their bodies for sex.
To fight sex trafficking, Scott founded Love Never Fails two years ago after her teenage dance student was assaulted, enslaved, and finally, freed.
“I was shocked to see how many underage girls in the Bay Area were being sold in the area where I was searching for my student,” Scott remembered.
Scott, the nonprofit’s executive director, recruited Felton, a rape crisis counselor, to help survivors rebuild their lives.
“It broke my heart,” Felton said. “That’s not supposed to happen in our country. We’re supposed to be founded on freedom, not exploiting children.”
When the pair leads volunteer teams through Bay Area hot spots like Oakland’s International Boulevard, they usually talk to and pray with about 50 victims a night.
“Oftentimes, if a girl doesn’t talk to us, it’s because she’s afraid because her exploiter is nearby,” Felton explained.
Scott says for every exploited person they encounter on their walks, they’ll give them a bracelet to keep. Each says,
“You Are Loved” – something the women say they want central to their message.
Through nighttime walks, and some daytime marches, the faith-based nonprofit offers the exploited a better life. Volunteers help secure housing and health care. And the group hosts job training classes at San Leandro’s Faith Fellowship and other churches.
“We’re offering them a chance to have a normal career,” said Felton.
Nineteen-year-old Brianna broke free after six years on the streets. Now, she has a high school diploma, a job, and a mentor, thanks to Scott and Felton.
“The most important thing is having somebody there who actually cares, and who doesn’t just SAY they care, but does care,” Brianna said.
In the schools, Love Never Fails teaches teenagers how not to fall prey to pimps. They learn the most common risk factors. So far, the group has freed 15 women and children from sexual abuse.
For Scott and Felton, saving lives is their life mission.
“They’re just valuable, they’re precious, and they’re loved,” Felton confirmed.
“We want them to know how much we care about them,” Scott added.
So, for their fight against human trafficking, this week’s Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Misty Felton and Vanessa Scott.
(Copyright 2013 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)