19 FEBRUARY 2003

She's 13 and pushing drugs.

Underage female drug dealers

With Fubu on her back and Jordans on her feet, Marie owned her stretch of Mission Street near 24th, bringing in about $1,000 a day in drug sales.

It was the 13-year-old's turf, and, of the five dealers working the area, the dope fiends usually chose her.

Marie is just one of the growing number of underage female drug dealers in The City. Like other dealers, Marie was put on the street by an older man. For her it was a 20-year-old boyfriend who convinced her she had to sell drugs because the street was "too hot" and rife with undercover narcotics officers for him to risk his own back by dealing.

And while Marie, who has since turned her life around, remembers the "rush" she got -- and the money that let her afford "bling bling" clothes and goods -- experts say the girls are being exploited as much as if they were turning tricks.

"Girls are considered the drug dealer of choice for addicts," said Julie Posadas, Girl Services director in the Victim Services division at the District Attorney's Office, which runs programs for girl offenders in conjunction with the Youth Guidance Center. "Addicts think they are less likely to be robbed by girls because they come across as innocent," she said. "It's easier for a girl to hold drugs in her body cavities and also to hold the money which they give to their man. There is a pimping dynamic in drug sales."

Dealing girls are now the largest population 16 percent of all girls detained at the San Francisco Youth Guidance Center. Girls detained for prostitution or loitering make up 11 percent, according to a YGC study conducted in March 2002.

Most girl dealers are sexually exploited by the men who supply them with drugs, according to Dr. Ernest Brown of the Youth Educational Court, a division of the San Francisco Superior Court. A Youth Educational Court study last year found that 2.5 percent of detained boys had venereal disease, while 14 percent of girls did. To social workers this meant one thing: Girls are having sex with older men, or, as it is legally defined, being subjected to statutory rape.

"These girls still need to learn the personal boundaries and self-esteem that feminism was trying to teach, but there is a kind of personal power they are trying to achieve," Brown said. "They tend to get beat up more. A girl will get beat up quicker (than a boy dealer) especially if she tries to be independent."

It happened to Marie, who said a rival dealer held a knife to her neck and robbed her. "He came up and started touching me here," she said, motioning to her breasts. "And he was working his way down to my private parts, looking for money and drugs, but I gave it to him so he wouldn't touch me."

Marie was busted four times. The fourth time, when she was 14 years old, landed her in a Youth Educational Court day school. "They were giving me so many chances I had three dope cases and I never did any time for them," Marie said.

She finished her 10-month day-school stint and then stayed on for two years. Now 16 years old, she's a paid mentor and wants to go to law school and work with kids who remind her of herself at 13.

In the meantime, Posadas is reaching out to neighboring communities since many of The City's girl dealers are coming in by BART. Even so, treating a girl used to street dealing isn't easy, social workers say. "There's a lot of adrenaline associated with dealing, and we have to create opportunities and experiences so they can get that high," said Margo Gibney, administrative director of the Youth Educational Court. "We have to get them excited about people listening to them and taking notice of them, because they are intelligent and have promise."

Despite several programs aimed at helping girl drug dealers find a new life, girls younger than 14 can't access them and the system catches them only when they are entrenched in the culture, Brown said. "The community has to educate itself about this problem. The solution has to be bigger than, 'Let's put a little money aside for a girls' program,' " she said.

And freethinking San Francisco needs to take a good, hard look at itself, according to Posadas.

"San Francisco is open-minded and liberal, but how does someone's need to have open-minded access to drugs impact a 12-year-old girl's vulnerability to being exploited to sell drugs?"

By Alison Soltau


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