For The Madera Tribune
A house suspected by Madera police of being a brothel.
By the time Madera Police Sgt. Josiah Arnold and the officers of the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) rolled in on the suspected brothel at 1025 Nebraska Ave. on Madera’s east side, they had already put in two months of detective work in June and July of 2016 in their probe of the house.
“During the investigation, we saw a man who would go into the back gate, and into the back door of the house, and stay there for no more than 15 minutes,” Arnold said. “And we would see dozens of guys a day.”
In the course of their investigation, SIU had spotted women being taken to and from the Fresno bus station. They also found business cards for the brothel.
“The business cards were various, innocent-looking business-type things,” Arnold said. “But when we called the number, we would ask the guy: ‘Hey, we’re interested in a woman,’ or ‘having sex with a woman,’ the guy would tell us ‘okay, come to the red house on Nebraska Avenue and Cleveland Avenue, and for $40 you can have 15 minutes.’”
Finally, in July, a search warrant was issued, and the officers made their entrance into the red house.
Inside, they found two young women who were involved in prostitution, one of them hiding in a closet from the police.
They also found a client who had solicited services from the women, along with Jesus Raimundo, 43, their suspected pimp. Police placed Raimundo in cuffs and escorted him out of the house in sweltering summer heat. As for the two prostitutes, they were placed in a victim advocacy home after their rescue. Their nightmare was over.
This brothel, however, was just one case of many in the human trafficking problem that has plagued the country, and has found its way into the Fresno-Madera area.
“In Madera alone, you will find at least 20 to 40 prostitutes walking the streets,” said Madera Police Sgt. Daniel Foss. “If you go inside the bars, you’re going to find quite a bit more. If you go online, for the Fresno-Madera area, it’s hundreds, if not thousands, every single day (that) are posted.”
According to Foss, Madera, which sits between between the major trafficking and prostitution hubs of Los Angeles and San Francisco, has become a significant spot for prostitution due in part to a lack of resources designed to combat the issue.
“It’s just (seen as) a good home base. We don’t have a whole lot of programs, a whole lot of vice units, or programs like that,” said Foss. “so it’s a good area where you’re going to make okay money, but you’re not going to have the heat on you really bad.”
The primary users of prostitution in Madera are seasonal workers in the fields, but Foss says the clients can come from all walks of life.
“We’ve seen all manner, including college professors, business owners … Doctors, I’ve seen a medical doctor engaging in prostitution,” Foss said, “so we’ve seen everything.”
According to the Child Rescue Network, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preventing and combating child sexual abuse, human trafficking can generate approximately $150 billion in illegal gains per year nationwide. One in six runaways will later become sex trafficking victims, with the average age of a girl entering into prostitution being 13. The life expectancy for a victim is placed at roughly seven years, despite the saying that prostitution is a “victimless crime.”
“Right now, it’s the most dangerous job in America,” Foss said. “More prostitutes die than in any other profession, so they need help, they need support.”
Foss, a veteran with the Madera Police Department, also runs Overcoming Limitations through Intervention, Values, and Empowerment (O.L.I.V.E.), an organization dedicated to helping victims of prostitution and human trafficking leave that life. His organization, which officially became a nonprofit last March, has already seen some success, and Foss said several victims have been rehabilitated, while seeds were planted in others.
And while there may be hope for those aided by Foss’s organization, and for those girls rescued in the Nebraska Avenue brothel, there are still more women and girls held captive — forced to sell their bodies in a modern form of slavery.
It includes enslavement not only of young girls from other countries who are brought here, said Fresno Police Sgt. Curt Chastain, a member of the department’s vice unit. “It’s also children who were raised here, that you and I went to school with.”