Police sweeps get teen prostitutes off the street
Annual law-enforcement sweeps rescue teenage prostitutes. A residential facility in Seattle offers a safe haven where young victims can recover and reclaim their lives.
How to help
Contribute to the City of Seattle Prostitute Children Rescue Fund: www.seattle.gov/humanservices/domesticviolence/prostitutedyouth/rescuefund.htm
A NATIONAL effort to save children forced into the sex trade is once again helping vulnerable girls leave prostitution.
The FBI and local law enforcement recently staged a three-day "Operation Cross Country V," leading to the rescue of 69 teen prostitutes in 40 cities across the country.
Credit a shift in law enforcement's approach. Young prostitutes are treated as child-abuse victims — and their pimps as human traffickers facing charges and possibly decades in prison.
Juveniles engaged in prostitution are victims, not criminals. A changing mindset is helped at the state level by Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles and Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson, who pushed the Legislature two years ago to amend prostitution laws. Now, young victims are not arrested and sent to juvenile detention, but taken into protective custody and provided shelter and assistance.
This focus is key and ought to be sustained.
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children estimates that 100,000 children are trapped in the organized sex trade in the U.S. In King County, 300 to 500 juvenile prostitutes — most of them girls ages 11 to 17 — are on the streets at any given time.
The Seattle-Tacoma area again this year had the highest number of kids rescued. But disproportional numbers are not reflective of a bigger problem in Puget Sound, but rather a more intensive focus. Local law-enforcement agencies have long focused on human trafficking and sex-trade problems because they are common to international port cities.
Part of the focus rightly turns to why some youths are on the streets or repeatedly return to the streets. For some, home is not a safe haven but a place where they suffer abuse and neglect. Others are involved in gangs.
Authorities recognize a need for alternative placements for those kids who cannot go home, underscoring the promise of a new residential facility touted by Seattle City Councilman Tim Burgess as a place young victims can go to heal and reclaim their lives.
The facility is part of a three-year Seattle pilot offering emergency shelter and key social services such as counseling and education. Funding is uncertain amid Seattle and King County government budget cuts.
But the public has a role to play in this public-private partnership. Readers may help by donating to the City of Seattle Prostituted Children Rescue Fund (details below).
When vice president of Sub Pop Records Megan Jasper isn't running things at the office, she's working in her garden at her West Seattle home where she and her husband Brian spend time relaxing.