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Linda Thomas
980 prostitution LT
Child sex trafficking has become a $42 billion a year illegal industry. Local police estimate up to 500 teens are working as sex slaves every day in King County. This sign on a boarded up motel along Aurora Avenue urges those involved with prostitution to seek help. (Linda Thomas photo)

Child sex trafficking - as easy in Seattle as ordering a pizza

In our society people should not be able to order a girl for sex the same way they can order a pizza and have it delivered to their home.

That's what a mom says about child sex trafficking, which she knew nothing about until her daughter was sold as a sex slave between Everett and Burien for 108 days.

"You warn them about the boogeyman and you warn them about the dangers of crossing the street without holding an adult's hand when they're younger, and you talk about the dangers of texting while driving. These are the things that you are worried about when your children are growing up," says Nacole, who didn't want me to use her last name.

"I don't think the thought ever crossed my mind that I'd have to warn my daughter about being a child sex slave."

Police estimate up to 500 teens, some children as young as 12 years old, are working as sex slaves every day in King County.

The growing numbers have prompted new legislation in Washington, along with concerted effort between the F.B.I. and local police agencies to arrest traffickers who are often involved with gangs and organized crime.

Those efforts might help the next 15-year-old girl who suddenly writes a note and leaves home like Nacole's daughter did a few years ago.

"She said that she loved her family. There's nothing we did wrong, but she she needed to go find herself," Nacole says. "I'm thinking, ‘What, what do you mean go find yourself? You're 15, you've got your whole lifetime to find yourself.'"

Her daughter, a star soccer player at a local high school and a violinist, came from what Nacole says was a typical suburban home.

She had an older brother who went to an Ivy League college in New York, a sister who was involved in sports at school and two parents who told her often that they loved her.

When she disappeared, Nacole's husband drove the streets of Seattle looking for their little girl. Almost two weeks later, Seattle Police called the parents saying they'd found the runaway daughter.

"She looked completely different than she had 10 days before. Her hair was cut. It was colored. Her fingernails had been done. She had completely different clothes," she says. "On the way home she started telling us that she had been held captive in Everett, and that she had been raped and that she had been made to work the streets."

If you're a parent, pause for a few seconds and imagine how you'd feel after hearing your child say she - or he, sex trafficking happens to boys too - had just been forced into prostitution.

"As parent you just, you," Nacole says with her voice trailing off. "In hindsight, I think my entire family was in shock. We just said, ‘okay, you're more than the sum of these 10 days we're going to get through this as a family.'"

Nacole thought the ordeal was over. It happened again.

"She was lured out of the house by somebody she had met on the streets the first time. Within 36 hours she had been posted on the website Backpage.com by a 26-year-old man who said she was 18. He continued to post her repeatedly for the next 108 days," says Nacole.

The teen had developed what child sex trafficking social workers call a "trauma bond" with her pimps.

"They're asking her questions, they're taking an inventory on who she is, where she comes from, who are her friends, their families, what are her goals or objectives in life," says Phil Martin. "What the girl doesn't know is that he's just taking an inventory on her life and at some point he's going to turn that around and use it as a threat to keep her involved in prostitution and make money for him."

Martin, national director of Compassion 2 One, based in Issaquah, says he didn't know anything about child sex trafficking until about six years ago.

"I was just one of those people who thought girls did this by choice," he says. "Once I found out this was organized crime, or gangs, or just every day guys who were buying these girls. I found out how sophisticated it was, how premeditated it was."

His organization works to educate and rescue children - locally, nationally and internationally - from what has become a $42 billion a year illegal industry.

"If a guy has a hotel room, he's got three to four girls working between 10 o'clock at night until 5 o'clock in the morning and he's charging anywhere from $200 to $250 per sex act," Martin says. "The girl is going to service six to seven guys a night, do that for 30 days and the guy is a millionaire because you know she's not keeping any of the money."

Two anti-trafficking bills unanimously passed both the State House of Representatives and the Senate this year, and are waiting for Governor Jay Inslee's signature.

Under Senate Bill 5563, teachers in Washington would be trained to recognize sexual exploitation by traffickers and would be required to report suspected victims.

Bill 5488 would impose an additional fine of $5,000 above existing penalties where an Internet advertisement led to sexual abuse of a minor.

These bills are on top of a dozen bills signed last year dealing with child sex trafficking.

Minors forced into the trade can now have their records cleared, due to a law created in 2012.

Nacole's daughter won't have a criminal record.

Although the now 18-year-old is still dealing with emotional issues, she's doing better after the family moved to a smaller town in a nearby state.

"This hasn't been easy. This wasn't anything I ever imagined for her," Nacole says. "I thought I was so in tune with my children and did everything I could to keep them safe. If this can happen to me, it can happen to you. It can happen to anyone."

By LINDA THOMAS

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About Linda
Linda is the morning news anchor and features reporter for KIRO Radio. This is her local news blog, with an emphasis on social media, technology, Northwest companies, education, parenting, and anything else that grabs her attention.

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