Whore Next Door: Jasmine in Bloom

(Photograph by Isabel Dresler/Isabeldresler.com)

This summer, Bay Area law enforcement has been embroiled in a sex scandal that perfectly illustrates why police cannot be trusted when interfacing with sex workers, especially those who have been exploited.

The Richmond teenager formerly known as Celeste Guap has come forward about her ongoing sexual relationships with as many as 50 Bay Area officers, some of which occurred when she was as young as 16.

Guap, who has now asked to be referred to by her given name, Jasmine, says she initially made contact with Oakland police officer Brendan O’Brien when trying to flee from her pimp. She turned to the officers for help, but instead of services, she was passed around for sex.

For years, Jasmine continued doing sex work on the streets of the Bay Area and maintaining sexual relationships with police officers in exchange for tips on how to avoid prostitution stings in the area. She says only three of the 30 cops she slept with paid her in money; the rest simply offered her in information and privileges.

But last year, Officer O’Brien committed suicide, just as his wife had a year earlier — not creepy or suspicious at all, right? Allegedly prompted by Jasmine’s threat to reveal details of their sexual relationship to O’Brien’s superior officer, his suicide note named several other officers who had been involved in what is now being called a “sex trafficking ring.”

Internal investigations have resulted in the termination and resignation of several officers, and now seven of them also face criminal charges. Jasmine’s lawyers are afraid her safety may be at risk as the case proceeds, as rumors have been circulating that some want her dead.

Late last month, shortly after the Alameda County District Attorney announced the charges, Richmond police arranged for Jasmine to be sent to a rehab facility 3,000 miles away in Florida. Jasmine told local news that she was told to think of it as a “paid vacation,” but she had suspicions it was part of a plan to silence her. And she went to the rehab facility voluntarily, but quickly found that she could not leave.

In a press conference last week, her lawyers painted a terrifying picture of Jasmine being detained, denied access to a phone to call her father, physically attacked and injected with an unknown substance, and slapped with felony charges for biting the security guard who attacked her. Jasmine spent 17 days in a Florida jail before her lawyers were able to negotiate a plea deal.

Richmond mayor Tom Butt backs his police department’s decision to bankroll Jasmine’s cross-country rehab trip with funds from the California Victim Compensation Program — which sex workers were excluded from until just a few years ago — insisting that getting her out of her old neighborhood was a crucial step to her recovery, rather than an attempt to delay the criminal proceedings, obstruct justice, or tamper with the key witness in a case that could dismantle the credibility of Bay Area law enforcement.

Pamela Price, the Bay Area Civil Rights attorney who flew east to assist with Jasmine’s release, said that while the people of Florida were accommodating, they admitted that their jurisdiction was no place to come seeking justice, saying that many who visit “come on vacation, but leave on probation.”

Thankfully, Jasmine was able to avoid that fate. Safely back home in the Bay, the Alameda County District Attorney has filed $66 million in civil charges on her behalf against the police officers involved, as well as against the city of Oakland.

Having survived her nightmare excursion to Florida and back, Jasmine is undergoing drug treatment and psychiatric care through Stanford. A fundraising campaign has been set up to assist with her legal costs, and her attorney is publicly calling for Gov. Jerry Brown to issue an Executive Order directing Attorney General Kamala Harris to take control over the investigations. Relying on local jurisdictions to handle an investigation about their own corruption does seem to defy common sense, after all.

Her legal council is quick to paint young Jasmine primarily as a victim, and though she has clearly been victimized in several ways, I move that we also take great pains to think of her as a hero.

Jasmine’s story is a perfect example of how the criminalization of the sex industry invites police abuse of vulnerable citizens, including trafficked minors. It takes immense courage to shoulder the responsibility of holding several police forces accountable for criminal behavior.

While major funding is going to police departments to help them address sex trafficking, it seems that in the Bay Area, law enforcement officials are at the center of perpetuating the very problem they are tasked with addressing.

Even once Jasmine was no longer a minor, the criminalization of her profession allowed police officers to extort her for sex in exchange for amnesty from arrest.

If sex work were not a crime, Jasmine’s story might be very different.

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