Content notice: forced sex work
I can't believe that I am writing about a teenage girl pimping out other teenage girls, but here we are.
Jelinajane Bedrijo Almario, charged and convicted of pimping out 14- and 15-year-old girls, was sentenced to 13 years in prison on Monday — two days after her 18th birthday. She was a minor herself while apparently selling out girls she found via social media or other friends.
I'd ask how this even happens, but I think we know the answer. A culture obsessed with sex, money, and power, and a girl who wanted all of those things at whatever cost.
I live in a small California town of about 56K people. Our mall is half empty, defunct in the face of a shitty economy. We have two movie theaters and one super Walmart. There are three high schools, but only in the last few years — for most of my life we had one. We are mostly known for our dairy industry and the pistachios we provide to most of the world (plus 99% of America's artichokes, 97% of the nutrition-packed kiwis you enjoy, 95% of garlic, 69% of carrots.)
And now, teenaged female pimps.
Yes. The relatively small town I live in, the one that JUST reached a population high enough to warrant a Costco and the In-n-Out Burger we lobbied for relentlessly for 5 years, is the very place this young woman is from. There are a lot of good reasons to make international news — being happy being fat, for example — but this is not one of them. This is not the way any of the people who live in this friendly place — the place that still has a merry-go-round in the center of town, the place where I can't go out my door without running into someone I know — would want Hanford to be known.
I've lived here most of my life; aside from the years I spent at college (and a couple after), I've been a Central Valley girl since 1974. When I was in junior high, in 1987, one of the 8th grade girls got pregnant. That was the absolute most extreme thing any of us could imagine. Thirteen and pregnant. Years later, I'd be an RN taking care of these young girls having babies, still shocking, still heart breaking. Even still, I certainly never would have imagined this was happening under my unaware nose.
The FBI estimates that 100,000 girls in America, ages 9 - 19, are involved in sex trafficking.
The average age of these girls is 11. Eleven. These girls aren't runaways. They are groomed, recruited, abused into sex work. Little girls.
When I was 11, I had seven Cabbage Patch dolls and a "boyfriend" named Chris who I was betrothed to via a note with a yes/no checkbox — a boy I never even touched (I still run into him at the grocery store). It's not any more or less terrible that it happened here rather than LA or New York, or a city with a million people, or a foreign country, but my kids go to school with these girls. These are the girls sitting next to them in class, eating lunch with them on the quad, playing in the marching band, and, when school is out, being coerced into sex. My heart breaks thinking of them, so young, so scared.
The town is never too small for tragedy.
To learn more about how you can help prevent and stop sex trafficking, here you go.