Sex trafficking: Group aims to help women in Kern County

Sex trafficking: Group aims to help women in Kern County
BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) --- Before they head into the streets to meet with prostitutes, a group of men and women first gather in prayer and ask for divine guidance.

"Our ultimate goal is to get them off the street," said Pastor Doug Bennett, founder of Magdalene Hope.

According to the state Attorney General Office, California continues to be a magnet for all forms of human trafficking. The sex trade is a major player. And women who get ensnared can be working in Bakersfield one day and be sent elsewhere the next day by their handlers, said Bennett.

Magdalene Hope is a faith based group that reaches out to those who work in the sex trade. For the past three years, members hit the streets twice a month and try to befriend prostitutes no matter where they may come from.

Besides praying for their safety, Bennett says members take the women to court, lunch, doctor appointments and other places as needed. If a woman calls to say she wants out of the sex trade, members set up a place to meet with her.

"It's an ugly life," said 39 year-old Maggie who has worked as a prostitute for ten years. She started on Union Avenue but now works for herself at the truck stops.

"I've got to make my money to pay my rent," she said.

The group travels in teams in two separate vehicles. Each team approaches women working the street and from the front passenger seat, a team member offers a bag filled small gifts, including a pocket bible and a card with emergency phone numbers, including where to reach Magdalene Hope.

One of the team vehicles pulls into a local motel on Union Avenue. Scantily clad women stand in front of their rooms with the door open, signaling they are available.

""What's up, girl?" says Pastor Doug to one of the women as he recognizes her from a previous encounter.

"Sandra" says she is doing fine, but does ask that the group pray for her safety.

At the corner of Brundage and Union, the group spots a very young looking girl, and something about this young woman provokes a reaction from Pastor Doug. He gives the girl some unsolicited advice.

"You're young, aren't you? You haven't been out here long, have you?
Listen to me, go home!" he tells her as the girl looks a bit shaken and walks away.

Some of the women at the motels are from the Bay area. When asked how long they will remain in Bakersfield, they say they don't know when they will be taken away to another place.

At times, the work appears to be overwhelming with women being shuffled from place to place, along with a steady stream of clients.
But Magdalene Hope appears undeterred.

"I'm going to do this until God tells me to stop," said Pastor Bennett.