In an ironic twist, Broadsheet has discovered that this weekend's Girl Fest -- the Bay Area anti-sex-trafficking festival written about here Friday -- is being held in a building owned by the family of a convicted sex trafficker. The family in question is infamous in the area and, not too surprisingly, word has spread and protests of the event have been planned.
Festival co-organizer Annie Fukushima said that when she booked the venue, she was unaware of its connection to Lakireddy Bali Reddy, a Berkeley real estate magnate and restaurant owner, who pleaded guilty in March 2001 to transporting minors from India for illegal sexual activity and was sentenced to more than eight years in prison. He was first arrested in 2000 in connection with the carbon monoxide poisoning death of 17-year-old Chanti Prattipati, who worked at Reddy's restaurant (which also borders the venue where Girl Fest is being held). The Reddy family does not own the club where the event is taking place, but owns the building it's in and rents the space out to the club's owner.
Fukushima, who recently moved to the Bay Area, said that she only became aware of Reddy's connection to the venue when she received an anonymous tip three weeks ago. She said that organizing such a comprehensive event is complex and that changing venues, even three weeks beforehand, would be far too difficult. Ultimately, Fukushima said, Girl Fest's boycotting of the venue was out of the question: "It would seem like we were running away from it."
Protesters like Marsha Poole say that the organizers' attempt to spin their venue choice as "going into the heart of darkness" -- a reclaiming of a vile space -- is offensive and disrespectful. Dr. Diana Russell, co-founder of Women Against Sexual Slavery, organized the protest and said that she spoke with the event's organizers, hoping that they would consider a last-minute change of venue. "One would have hoped that they had been shocked and distressed to find out, and try to rectify it -- there was still time then," Russell said.
Protesters say that they're in solidarity with Girl Fest's stated aim, but are confounded by what they see as a huge hypocrisy. "I'm going to do the protest not with a spirit of animosity toward Girl Fest or the people there. I'm just trying to be informative," Poole said. "This is the biggest sex-slave problem that came out of California and they're having it in the very building that the girl who died worked in."
When interviewed Friday, Russell planned to hand out anti-sexual-slavery leaflets outside the event Friday night, hoping to turn people away from it; she said that it was possible that the protest would continue through the rest of the weekend-long event. Fukushima feels that the protest is unnecessary: "This group is bringing a negative vibe instead of a positive vibe. Let's do something about this and make sure that [similar cases don't] happen again."