Reports about teen prostitution locally have been exagerrated

A number of stories in the media this week suggesting that teen prostitution was on the rise at Berkeley High School has prompted both the Berkeley Police Department and Berkeley High to hit back with evidence to the contrary. Principal Pasquale Scuderi also expressed his disappointment with some of the coverage and its potential impact on the school’s reputation.

A December 8th piece on KTVU Channel 2, headlined “Reports of teenage hookers rock Berkeley High” spoke of “high school girls pacing the blocks of San Pablo Avenue for sex” and said the Berkeley police were receiving one to two referrals a month from Berkeley High officials about suspected student prostitution.

BUSD spokesperson Mark Coplan told Berkeleyside there have been “zero” referrals from BHS about juvenile prostitution. And, in a release put out on Thursday, BUSD Superintendent Bill Huyett said: “We have reviewed the two years referred to, and have confirmed that there have been no referrals for prostitution of any kind from Berkeley High School in 2010 or 2011.”

Also Thursday, BPD issued figures on arrests and referrals for teen prostitution for the city as a whole and for those relating to BHS. The overall number of juvenile prostitution cases investigated by BPD was seven in 2010 and four so far in 2011. Of the seven last year, three involved BHS students, and two cases involved BHS students this year. None of the investigations involved prostitution on the school campus.

The BPD Special Victims unit receives approximately one or two reports a month regarding possible youth prostitution activity in Berkeley, according to BPD. These usually come in the form of a call from a member of the community who sees a young woman they suspect may be engaged in prostitution. (Read full details in the release.)

Other local media to pick up the story include Patch and SFWeekly, which wrote that the community was “freaking out” over reports of high school students “apparently working as prostitutes when they should be working on their math homework”.

In an email to the BHS community Thursday evening, Principal Scuderi singled out the KTVU report in particular for what he called its “salacious, tabloid-style headline”. He said the piece did a massive disservice to the BHS community.

Addressing how the school tackles the issue, Scuderi wrote: “Teen prostitution, or any sexual exploitation of minors is obviously a grim matter, and in my estimation, one of the most contemptible and degrading forms of child abuse. Berkeley High School administrators and counselors will, if and when cases like this come to our attention, always follow-up on any and all reports with an aggressive package of actions and interventions.”

Exposure of the prostitution issue was triggered by a forum held in October by Berkeley’s Commission on the Status of Women, and a subsequent one on Tuesday this week, that raised issues about the sexual exploitation of minors within the city and looked at whether they were connected to Berkeley High School.

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Tracey Taylor is co-founder of Berkeleyside and co-founder and editorial director of Cityside, the nonprofit parent to Berkeleyside and The Oaklandside. Before launching Berkeleyside, Tracey wrote for...