By Kathy Chouteau
East Richmond Heights author and agent of social change Dr. Betty Burrus-Wright, PhD, MFT is set to release her book, “Searchers: Brave a Thousand Deaths,” Wed., Feb 1st. The book, which she calls a “creative nonfiction” and examines the role of incest in the world of prostitution, will be available for purchase for $23.99 through Winn Publications.
In writing “Searchers: Brave a Thousand Deaths,” Dr. Burrus-Wright—a former Human Rights and Human Relations commissioner for the City of Richmond—said she worked four years to bring awareness and discussion to issues that seem taboo in our society: That “incest is a driving factor to prostitution.” Her work tells of the day-to-day survival story of five Oakland prostitutes who fled their incestuous homes at ages 10, 11 and 12 to work on the streets under a pimp—and eventually, as adults, some “got out of prostitution alive,” while others are still working in that world, per the author.
The prostitutes in Dr. Burrus-Wright’s book originally hailed from places like East Oakland, Berkeley, San Francisco and Arkansas to work in Oakland under a pimp who said “they have to do or die.” Already escaping dire circumstance as children, their lives on the street only brings added misery in the form of home insecurity, occupational dangers, multiple illnesses, and in some cases, the fear of deportation. Not to mention the reverberating trauma of the incest they originally escaped, some as young as 6 years old.
Dr. Burrus-Wright said that, when considering prostitutes, it’s “essential to become aware that these children may not be there of their own free will. What is the cause?” Often times, in the case of prostitutes, Dr. Burrus-Wright found that the answer is incest and called it “one of the most horrific, long-term, non-curable illnesses for our children.”
The author should know: “I experienced it,” she said. As a 16 yr. old girl, she was working at her brother’s Brown Derby Café in North Richmond when a “cute musician” came on to her and she was ready to go away with him. Her father found out and intercepted the plan; looking back on the experience, she believes she escaped the clutches of a possible pimp. Other girls are not so lucky. Dr. Burrus-Wright said that sophistication of pimps is such that they know how to entrap a child—whose brain isn’t fully developed—with promises of love, gifts, etc.
The author’s long-term goal is to see a PhD student examine how our society can offer “wrap around services” that go beyond just putting the perp in jail and dismantling the family. She’d like to see a way for the family to stay in touch while the perp gets help. It’s a Catch 22 situation, said Dr. Burrus-Wright, since many victims don’t report incest because their father is the only one working and they fear things like deportation or homelessness. Incest is a “PhD question” to answer, she said.
These days, Dr. Burrus-Wright works part-time as a cognitive behavioral modification therapist, swims at the Richmond Swim Center three times per week and just started another book that she said is lighter in topic.
Amid her other interests, Dr. Burrus-Wright’s passionate advocacy persists. “One third of the world’s population are children,” she said. “They are going to make decisions about our lives. If they are wounded, what kind of decisions can they make? We have to start developing a conversation about how we can come together and save our children from incest.”