Prosecutor: Hundreds of local kids are sex trafficking victims

Feb 28, 2017, 2:46 PM | Updated: 5:08 pm
sex trafficking...
(AP file photo)
(AP file photo)

A second man has been arrested in Seattle’s Jungle homeless encampment, aka the Triangle, for allegedly raping and sex trafficking two young girls.

The girls were 13 and 16 years old.

“There were two girls, at least, that we know of,” said Val Richey, Senior Deputy Prosecuting Attorney for King County. “One from New Jersey. One from Idaho, who ended up coming to Seattle, almost by accident, on a bus. They got off and stumbled into the encampment. That’s when it all began. Unfortunately, they then suffered a series of awful, horrible experiences.”

Richey told KIRO Radio’s Ron and Don that the men have been charged with rape, so far. There is information that a sex trafficking operation was occurring in the camp. An investigation into that allegation is underway.

But it goes beyond Seattle. Prosecutors like Richey believe hundreds of local children are being trafficked online. He has prosecuted cases with victims between the ages of 11 and 14. Richey said businesses and landlords, especially, have a role in reporting suspicious behavior.

10 signs a child may be at risk of sex trafficking

• Chronic truant/runaway/homeless youth
• Excess cash
• Hotel room keys
• Multiple cell phones
• Signs of branding (tattoos, jewelry)
• Having expensive items with no known source of income (especially hair, manicures, cell phone, clothes)
• Lying about age / false identification/inconsistencies in information being reported
• Dramatic personality change; evasive behavior especially around a “new boyfriend.” talk about being “taken care of,” disengagement from school, sports, community
• Lack of knowledge of a given community or whereabouts
• Provocative clothing, sex toys, multiple condoms, lube or other sexual devices

What Are the Guiding Principles for Engaging with a Child Who May Be Exploited?

• Maintain a compassionate and non-judgmental attitude at all times.

• Be consistent: follow through on everything and do not make promises that cannot be kept.

• Trust and relationship-building: this is a slow process and relationship testing is to be expected.

• Cultural Competency: be sensitive to the unique cultural needs and experiences of each person. Be aware of your own beliefs, biases, and cultural worldview.

• Safety: focus on safe housing, harm reduction and creating safety strategies for youth.

• Self-determination and empowerment: youth should have information relevant to their situation and be encouraged to make informed decisions whenever possible.

What Questions Do I Ask?

•What kind of support do you need?

•What happened to you?

•Sometimes people trade sex for money or because they have to survive, has that happened to you?

•I’m concerned about your safety, are there places that are dangerous for you to go? Are there people that are dangerous for you to be around right now?

•I’m concerned you are in the life. I will not judge you or anything you tell me. I’m here to listen if you ever want to talk or want support getting out.

How Do I Identify At-Risk Youth?

• Ask specific questions to screen for risk factors or CSE involvement

• Increase attempts to find youth who chronically run away or are truant

• Learn about specific gang activity from local law enforcement (or from youth if it is safe for them to discuss)

• Ask about STI/STDs, pregnancy, and unexplained injuries

• Observe communication patterns; who talks to whom, who doesn’t talk, who is in control

More information at the Polaris Project.

Also if people want to call in a tip, they can do it at the national human trafficking hotline.

If they want to make a referral to a local service provider, Organization for Prostitution Survivors is a great organization.

If they are a business that want to get some training for their employees, they can talk to the Businesses Ending Slavery & Trafficking.

Sex trafficking in the United States

While child sex trafficking is a serious issue, it is one corner of the problem. Richey notes that there is big business in getting vulnerable women from other countries into the United States.

“There’s millions (of dollars) a week (from sex trafficking),” Richey said. “We know this because we have tracked the money. The people who profit are the ones who are centralized – the bookers, the brokers who arrange to get them over here, the immigration attorneys who help with fake visas. We had a woman who spoke no English at all, from an Asian country, and on her visa it said she was going to a concrete convention in Las Vegas. You got to be kidding me. There’s just no screening of any kind to identify what’s going on here. So we have thousands of women all over the country in this situation.”

Usually, Richey said, the women are told a fake story to get them to travel to the United States. For example, they can make a lot of money working as a masseuse in America. Once in the country, they are farmed out to a sex trafficking operation. Girls are placed in a residence such as an apartment or a house, and are cut off from the outside world. An ad is placed on a website for their services. From there, they are sold to different men each day. The women often don’t speak English. Communication can be done through a translation app on a smartphone. They are told that they will go to jail or worse if they call the police.

Many of the women in this case are between the ages of 18-30, Richey said.

“The entire market is held up by guys buying sex,” Richey said. “The demographic is 40-60 year-old-white men – middle to upper class. Those guys have the money to pay $300 an hour for this stuff. The women keep very little of it. Most of it goes to the house, the brothel operator, the booker.”

“We’ve arrested tech workers, doctors, lawyers, everybody,” he said. “What we have found is a lot of the guys have problems in their life. It’s not just their marriage, it’s depression, or maybe some psychological issue and they’re trying to resolve those issues through buying sex.”


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Prosecutor: Hundreds of local kids are sex trafficking victims