Two years ago, the city of Seattle got the results of a harrowing study: it estimated as many as 500 children in King County are involved in prostitution.
More recently, FBI sweeps have found more girls victimized here than anywhere else in the country. Seattle is identified by the FBI as one of the top ten human trafficking centers in the country - due in part, perhaps, to more effective law enforcement.
"Some of these girls are as young as 12-years of age. It is not a side of our city that anyone of us like to acknowledge or talk about," says Seattle city council member Tim Burgess, who has become one of the local champions of the issue.
He says most of these girls are victims of sexual abuse themselves. Some have runaway from home. Many are in the state's foster care system. All are emotionally vulnerable.
"They are targeted by individual recruiters who go out and persuade them that they love them and that they have things for them that will make them happy. And they quickly get them into a pattern of activities that leads to horrific violence and abuse. And they're trapped and they don't know where to turn."
The city has responded by creating The Bridge Program - one of only 4 residential recovery centers for child prostitutes in the U. S. It opened last spring as a pilot project and, as Sara Jean Green reported in the Seattle Times, has survived county budget cuts only because dozens of private donors have stepped up to keep it going.
Authorities list a few reasons why Seattle's sex trafficking problem may be worse than in other parts of the country:
- Seattle's status as a port city, where sailors often seek out prostitutes.
- proximity to the border with Canada, where prostitution is legal and sex trafficking thrives.
- a decades' long historical pattern of sex trafficking to California and Nevada
All of this and more will be part of a panel discussion Thursday night at Town Hall Seattle. LeAnne Moss is executive director of the Women's Funding Alliance, which is co-sponsoring the event with the city. She says too many people still think of child prostitution as something that doesn't happen near them.
"People tend to think, you know, the guys who solicit 12-year-old girls, 13-year-old girls are these purvey guys, living far away from me. And it's also: it could be your next door neighbor."
In fact, according to court testimony by young pimps, described in another article by the Seattle Times' Sara Jean Green, many child prostitutes work on busy Seattle streets such as Aurora Avenue or Pacific Highway, while their pimps drive around or hang out at the mall.