Calif. Church Members Roam Oakland's Infamous Sex Trade Strip to Get Prostitutes Off Street Corners

Victory Outreach International, a ministry organization with churches worldwide, is committed to community outreach programs throughout several cities including Oakland, Calif. where sex workers have made parts of the city a prostitution hub.

Each week, members of the ministry's church in Oakland take to the streets to talk women into leaving the sex industry as they pray for them and offer shelter. Their focus is International Boulevard, an area known as Oakland's sex strip where oftentimes outreach members are careful not to interfere with the prostitute's pimps.

"There are very few groups who are willing to do what Victory Outreach does, approach the young girls and the pimps and the johns without a badge,"  said Oakland council member Noel Gallo, according to the Santa Cruz Sentinel.

A few months ago, the church partnered up with several faith-based organizations and embarked on a mission dubbed 'Operation Code Red,' a risky effort to shut down Oakland's sex strip for 24 hours by encouraging the women to take up an alternative lifestyle.

According to police, up to 100 women can be seen on the strip seeking their next opportunity on any given night. Since June, authorities have been able to arrest over 200 prostitutes in the city and while most become sex workers on their own free will, officials consider them victims and they are oftentimes placed within organizations that help them recover from sex trafficking.

During outreach nights, church members say they witness danger as they roam the streets as they recently did when they watched a man physically abuse a prostitute from their car.  

"That is what drives me to go out there," said Rene Cortez, a Victory Outreach member. "I don't like seeing women getting hit, women being forced to do stuff they don't want to do."

Although Victory Outreach ministers to individuals with other addiction problems, the church has a special focus on International Boulevard because they realize prostitution is a major issue that even law enforcement officials cannot diminish on their own.

"It's hard to stop because no matter how many johns we arrest, they keep coming," said Oakland Police Captain Steven Tull. "It's supply and demand. Even if we ran 24-hour operations, the best we could do is drive it underground."

However, with the help of church members, who have a calling and passion for helping the vulnerable, over a dozen women have been saved from Oakland's streets since the beginning of the year.  

The church also partners with secular organizations whose volunteers also take to the streets to speak with the women and offer them help.

"We all have the same purpose," said Sylvia Vigila, the wife of Victory Outreach's pastor. "Our goal is to reach these girls; get them off the street, into a safe environment and back on their feet."

Victory Outreach, where individual churches are often referred to as the 'drug addict church' because of its members having overcome addictions, was founded by a former drug addict in 1967. The ministry has other chapters that engage in outreach on sex strips, similar to Oakland's, in cities throughout the world including Tijuana, Mexico and Amsterdam.  

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