Natalie's story: life as a child prostitute
Natalie is a pseudonym for a now 16-year-old girl whose child-prostitution case was investigated by Seattle police and resulted in a lengthy prison sentence for her pimp, a Seattle man in his 30s.
Seattle Times staff reporter
The calls started pouring in the moment Natalie's ad was posted on the online classified-advertising site, backpage.com.
The ad was posted by an older girl who Natalie had met the first time she ran away from home in March 2010. Natalie returned to her parents after nine days, but ran away again that June.
She quickly reconnected with the older girl, who introduced Natalie to her pimp. The pimp took photos of Natalie in a bathing suit, and the older girl posted them online under backpage.com's escort ads.
"The second they posted me, the phone would not stop vibrating. At least 40 guys called in the first 15 to 20 minutes," Natalie recalled.
Natalie is a pseudonym for a now 16-year-old girl whose case was investigated by Seattle police and resulted in a lengthy prison sentence for her pimp, a Seattle man in his 30s. The Seattle Times agreed not to publish information that would identify Natalie or her whereabouts, including the name of the pimp.
Natalie's story puts a human face on the issue of prostituted children, which recently became the focus of a public battle between Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn and Village Voice Media Holdings, owner of the Seattle Weekly and 12 other weekly newspapers that post the ads online.
McGinn has ordered the city to stop advertising in the Seattle Weekly because some advertisements placed in the newspaper and on its website have been linked to juvenile prostitutes such as Natalie.
In a meeting July 15 with Village Voice representatives, McGinn also demanded the company begin checking IDs of anyone pictured in ads on backpage.com to confirm they are adults, something the company said it would seriously consider.
Natalie is no longer prostituting. She and her parents and older sister are in counseling, and Natalie says she's coping with anger and depression.
"It was traumatizing what I went through and what other girls went through," she said. "... I'll never get 100 percent over it, but I can recover from it. It's there but not forgotten. It's part of my life, so why not grow from it?"
She's been forced to grow up a lot in the past 16 months.
She says she ran away because of pressures at home and at school. She lost her virginity to an Everett pimp who raped her soon after she left home the first time. She never knew his name.
She escaped from him, but ended up with another pimp, an 18-year-old who cut Natalie's hair and put her into skimpy clothes. When he accidentally left a garage door open, Natalie was able to flee. She flagged down a cop, who called her mom to come get her.
When Natalie ran away from home a second time in June 2010, she reconnected with the older girl she'd met her first time on the run. But soon after the girl posted Natalie on backpage.com, the two had a violent falling out.
Natalie called another pimp — introduced to her by the older girl — to come pick her up at a cheap motel.
She stayed with him for 4 1/2 months, and says she made $3,000 to $6,000 a week, all from men who responded to ads posted on backpage.com.
"Everything he ever did was on the Internet. It was all backpage. I think he was scared to have me walk the 'track,' " Natalie said. "His big thing was, you can't get in trouble if you say they're paying you for your time."
While the site advertises escorts and prohibits users from offering sexual favors in exchange for money, most people know how to get around the posting rules, Natalie said. Girls lie about their age and often create multiple identities, she said.
The ads are often written by pimps or "bottom girls" — typically a pimp's top earner who helps manage his other prostitutes — and they're usually careful not to explicitly describe the services they're offering.
She admits she fell hard for her pimp.
"He said I wouldn't have to do this forever and that he hits me because he loves me," Natalie recalled. "I believed it. I bought into all of it. My brain shut off. I didn't care about having to do prostitution for him. I felt devoted to him and wanted to do everything to be with him."
The men who paid Natalie for sex "were mostly white and Mexican guys, with some Asians. They were college students, to guys in their 70s," she said. Most had girlfriends or wives. She said she had sex with one man in his car while his infant son was asleep in the back seat.
Natalie remembers getting her last phone call from a man looking for a "date."
"He sounded perfectly fine. He didn't sound sketched out at all," Natalie said of the man who turned out to be an undercover Seattle police detective.
Natalie was taken into custody, and her pimp was arrested when they showed up at a local hotel for Natalie's prearranged date.
She recalls initially being very angry with the bust "because I was in love" with the pimp, she said.
During the months she had been gone from home, Natalie's father spent hours searching for her on the streets of Everett, Seattle and Tacoma. He even turned to Internet ads, but still found no sign of his daughter.
"I searched Craigslist till they shut it down, then I searched backpage," he said. "There were just so many girls on there, you couldn't even go through them all. It was so frustrating to search and see all these kids, these young, beautiful girls."
Natalie, who never showed her face in nearly 20 different ads posted on backpage.com, was eventually sent home.
But "she was a different kid" than the one who had run away, her father said.
"Her attitude, her language, the way she walked, the disrespect. Everything was different."
The family is slowly putting the pieces of their lives back together, but it's been a struggle, Natalie's mom said. Natalie hopes to return to high school in the fall.
"They say prostitution is a victimless crime, but our entire family has been victimized. It's been traumatizing," she said.
Sara Jean Green: 206-515-5654 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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