Concord police Detective Amy Hendricks has become an expert on prostitution. Her two-year tour on the Special Victims Unit opened her eyes to a sad reality of which not many people are aware.
"When you talk to the average person about prostitution, they think about a brothel or a 'ho stroll,' women out on the street," she said. "Since the creation of the Internet and cellphones, there is so much more activity that goes unnoticed. There are people out there willing to pay for sex with minors."
And there are pimps willing to force young girls to provide it. The crime is known as human trafficking, and Hendricks says it's almost impossible to quantify because it so often goes unreported.
"The average age of a girl who gets involved is 12 to 14," she said. "We refer to them as high-risk youth because they tend to already be troubled. They could be from a group home. They may have a broken family. Many times, there was physical or sexual abuse earlier in their lives -- something that made them susceptible to victimization."
One thing's for certain: Almost none of them set out to live this life.
Hendricks said pimps groom girls for the trade in one of two ways. A "Romeo pimp" wins her affection, promising a relationship. Once he's earned her trust, he persuades her there's easy money to be made from turning tricks. The "guerrilla pimp" is less subtle. Violence is his training tool.
Hendricks choked up last week as she talked about the victims she knew at the annual Community Violence Solutions Champions Luncheon, where she was honored along with Richmond Detective Rebekah Ireland-Clark and Contra Costa Deputy District Attorney Alison Chandler for their efforts in fighting sexual violence.
Hendricks, who was attracted to police work because she was once a victim herself -- "I really don't like bullies," she said -- first encountered human trafficking as a patrol officer. It was natural transition into the Special Victims Unit.
"I've always found myself drawn like a mama bear to calls that involve children, victims who didn't have the ability to stand up for themselves. I was in the trenches with a lot of these girls, seeing them walk the track. I just wanted to up the ante in my involvement."
She now is regarded as an expert in the field and often called to testify for the prosecution. She was involved in the arrest and prosecution of Bay Area rapper Joel Williams, recently convicted of human trafficking, pimping, pandering and drug furnishing and transportation."
The victim in that case was different -- older, in her 30s and from out of state -- but the repercussions were sadly familiar.
"This girl suffered so much trauma in her life that she has remained a child socially and emotionally," Hendricks said. "The only people she knew were people in this life. She requires a great amount of care."
Exposure to the seamy side of society takes a toll even on officers. Hendricks, a mother to three, ages 4 to 11, said the hardest part of the job is trying to not bring it home. That challenge will end soon. She rotates out of Special Victims in another week.
"But I'll still stay attached to my cases," she said, "and the DA's office has promised it will continue to use me for other court cases."
There always are more bullies to put away.
Contact Tom Barnidge at firstname.lastname@example.org.