Recovery program for teen prostitutes short of money
A pilot program aimed at providing a safe haven to teenage prostitutes is inching closer to reality, but more than $200,000 is still needed in order for the project to launch this spring.
Seattle Times staff reporter
A pilot program aimed at providing a safe haven to teenage prostitutes is inching closer to reality, but more than $200,000 still is needed for it to launch this spring.
The program, which will offer emergency-shelter beds, transitional housing and dedicated social services, would be one of only four in the country to help prostituted youth escape the control of violent pimps and heal from the trauma of sexual exploitation.
The total cost of the two-year program is $1.4 million.
So far, $457,000 has been raised through a combination of public and private dollars for 2010, leaving a shortfall of $243,000 — money that must be in hand by Jan. 31 for the program to launch by the end of March, said Tim Burgess of the Seattle City Council.
An additional $197,000 already has been pledged for the program in 2011, which means $503,000 still is needed to ensure the program can continue for two full years, Burgess said.
The pilot project would help an estimated 20 to 30 girls each year. After the pilot ends, the program would be assessed and, Burgess hopes, continued into the future.
He has fought to secure funding since money earmarked for the project was cut from the county budget this summer.
The pilot is to be run by YouthCare, a Seattle nonprofit established in 1974 to serve runaway and homeless youth. A site already has been chosen to house girls accepted into the program, but the location will remain secret "because these pimps will go after these girls and try to get them back," Burgess said.
A special fund was recently established and is now accepting donations to help fill the gap for 2010 and raise money to continue the program in 2011.
Donations are tax-deductible, and checks should be made out to the City of Seattle Prostituted Children Rescue Fund. Donations should be mailed to the City of Seattle Prostituted Children Rescue Fund, c/o Human Services Department, P.O. Box 34215, Seattle, WA 98124-4215. For additional information, call Burgess' office at 206-684-8806.
YouthCare Executive Director Melinda Giovengo and others who work with juvenile prostitutes say that if a young woman doesn't escape the streets by the time she's 24, it becomes harder and harder to free her from a lifelong cycle of sexual violence, drug addiction, homelessness and incarceration.
"Your image of yourself after you've been subjected to that kind of abuse and sexual humiliation is not an easy thing to overcome, to see yourself as a worthy person," said Gionvengo.
It will take time to earn girls' trust and alleviate their fears, she said, because of the psychological entrenchment that makes them see themselves as someone else's property.
"It's not rocket science — it's what we know about adolescent development," Giovengo said. "Our job is to reprogram that in a healthy, supportive environment so that these young people can become who they were meant to be."
Rescuing teenage prostitutes and holding their abusers accountable — both the pimps who profit off their bodies and the johns who pay to have sex with minors — is the top priority of the Seattle Police Department's vice unit, said Assistant Police Chief Jim Pugel.
"Child prostitution is insidious and it's terrible, the way some of the girls are lured into it and then compelled to stay in it by force," he said.
Prostitution is both dangerous and dehumanizing — but young women, who often end up on the streets after escaping abusive homes, are lured in "by pimps who offer 'love' and 'protection' — which turns out to be hate and abuse," Pugel said. "The earlier we can get to them and help them, the higher our success rates."
There are 300 to 500 juvenile prostitutes — most of them girls, ages 11 to 17 — in King County at any given time, mostly in Seattle and cities to the south, according to a report on juvenile prostitution commissioned by the city last year.
There are only three U.S. cities — Los Angeles, New York City and Atlanta — with residential-recovery programs for prostituted youth.
Sara Jean Green: 206-515-5654 or email@example.com
Sam and Sara Lucchese create handmade pasta out of their kitchen-garage adjacent to their Ballard home. Here, they illustrate the final steps in making pappardelle pasta.