Please note: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of Liberal America or its staff.
Monday December 26, 2016, started out as an ordinary evening for Uber driver Keith Avila. He noticed something was off when he picked up a 16-year-old girl in a short skirt, who was in the company of two older women.
Destiny Pettway, 25, and Maria Westley, 31 were instructing the girl on how to search for weapons and collect money.
Understanding that he was in the company of traffickers and a sexually exploited minor, Avila made a phone call to the police. Thanks to that phone call the police were able to arrive in time to stop the child from being sexually exploited.
— Elk Grove News (@ElkGroveNews) December 28, 2016
Commendable Yes, But A Hero?
However helpful his actions were, referring to Avila as a hero is simply misguided. In order to be a hero one must put themselves at risk. Avila did do the right thing under those circumstances, but it does not make him a hero.
He did what any adult with a shred of human decency should be expected to do. One might even make the argument that not calling the police would make him an accomplice.
Additionally, referring to the child as having been rescued reflects a shallow understanding of why children run away from home, the trauma often instilled by foster care and social services, and harsh realities that lead children to be vulnerable to sexual exploitation.
As reported by the National Network For Youth,
Everyone likes a story with a happy ending, but this story begs the question: Is returning a child to the home she ran away from a happy ending?
In reality the child that was supposedly “rescued” by an Uber driver may have been removed from one abusive situation to find herself in a situation where few healthy alternatives exist.
#wheniwas16 y/o runaway doing survival sex I jumped from 2nd story window to avoid being "rescued" by police & brought back 2 social workers
— StripperWho? (@poledancedivaz) December 4, 2016
As NBC reported,
“The victim was discovered to be a runaway, and she was sent to stay in an “alternative housing situation” until her parents or guardians could be located…”
Alternative housing is undefined but it might consist of a safe house, foster care, or a residential. For the youth placed in such housing, they might not interpret their situation to be different from that of punitive incarceration.
As one example, Courage House is a safe house that has recently come under fire for further exploiting the sexually exploited children they boast that they save.
Foster care presents its own set of issues. In Colorado, state lawmakers have even referred to foster care as, “a foster care to prostitution pipeline.” And this is not a concept that is unique to Colorado.
As reported by the LA Times,
“Half of sexually trafficked minors in California come from the foster care system. By comparison, fewer than 1% of all children in California are foster children.”
Residentials are another place runaways find themselves in, and they too are far from happy endings. The late anthropologist, Monica Kirsten Petersen, who as a child went to the extremes of escaping her residential by scaling a barbed wire fence barefoot shared her reflections on residential “treatment” centers.
“As teenager, I was a ward of the state who was considered a “high-risk runner.” I was court ordered to a residential facility… which of course did nothing to prevent a bull-headed teen from leaving, and I quickly wound up as a sexually exploited runaway…
My sexual assault and exploitation on the streets was traumatic, but my placement in state custody was more so, and with much longer lasting effects. I was severely psychologically, verbally, and emotionally abused by two counselors, but also by other girls in my treatment facility who were overtly allowed to beat up on me. When I left state custody at 18, I was so distraught and hopeless from the abuse that I nearly killed myself; I couldn’t get out of bed for six months. Thirteen years later, as a professional Human Trafficking researcher, I had to seek out a highly qualified trauma therapist and extensive EMDR to finally address what I had been through — to cope with being exploited on the street and by the state system that was supposed to protect me.
Still, my awful experience between the state and the streets is not only un-unique, it is in all actuality a good case scenario! Other girls in the same facility I was at were in sexual relationships with staff and others were sexually assaulted during their placements. These type of reports exist across the nation for state care facilities and juvenile detention centers.”
Hopefully, the child in this case has a healthy home to return to.
Because as healthy alternatives for children who are sexually exploited are lacking, it’s important to look critically at a story claiming a victim was “rescued.” The public needs to begin to ask, What does rescue look like?
Finally, as far as the driver, staying on location to broadcast the plight of a 16-year-old runaway on social media is questionable. This is not the appropriate circumstance for such attention seeking behaviors.
featured Image: Screenshot Via YouTube Video.