Catholic Charities’ plan to open Oakland center for sex trafficking survivors meets resistance

San Francisco Chronicle

April 30, 2019

By Gwendolyn Wu

The social services arm of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Oakland is seeking to open a home for teenage victims of sexual trafficking, but the church’s plan to help girls who have been abused is facing opposition on multiple fronts.

Claire’s House, named after the mother of Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley, plans to house up to 12 teenage sex trafficking victims at a location in Sequoyah, a forested neighborhood of the eastern Oakland hills, said Mary Kuhn, a spokeswoman for the Catholic Charities of the East Bay, which will oversee the home.

O’Malley has focused on fighting human trafficking, and when she approached the diocese and other East Bay leaders about a new initiative, the nonprofit offered to convert a former rectory into a shelter.

“If we don’t have housing or some safe place for people to be, what do we expect to happen?” said O’Malley, whose late mother had a reputation for taking in her children’s friends if they needed a place to sleep.

But the proposal has met resistance from some advocates for survivors of sex trafficking, who say the church’s stance on abortion and contraception could harm victims. Meanwhile, neighbors of the home worry that traffickers will bring crime, drugs and guns to their community.

Short-term residential therapeutic programs are usually designed for foster youth and licensed by the California Department of Social Services. Claire’s House, which is still awaiting certification from the state, would differ slightly in that it would provide a bridge to intense support for young sex trafficking victims.

Clients will be able to stay up to 18 months at the facility while accessing mental health services and schooling, Kuhn said. The program will bill Medi-Cal for therapeutic services.

But the shelter will take a strict approach in facilitating access to contraception and abortions.

Catholic Charities of the East Bay will not make appointments for clients at clinics that provide contraception or abortion services, nor will it provide transportation, Kuhn said. Instead, Claire’s House will post a sign in a common area that explains the teens’ medical options.

Beyond that, Kuhn said, they will need to rely on their guardians to arrange for such services.

Ingrid Persson, a former grant manager at Catholic Charities of the East Bay, said she fears the nonprofit will run afoul of regulations that allow minors access to birth control or abortions, which the Oakland Diocese’s top official denied.

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