By Rachel Belle
Living in our safe homes, busy with our day-to-day lives, I think a lot of us forget there are young girls walking the streets of Seattle, forced by their pimps to have sex with strangers.
“It’s a growing problem and they’re always out there, every day that we hit the streets,” says King County Sheriff’s Detective Joel Banks. “It seems to be getting worse and their ages seem to be going down.”
Detective Banks patrols Seattle and tries to gain the trust of young prostitutes. He hears their stories and encourages them to come to the Genesis Project.
“The Genesis Project is a drop-in center right off the strip in SeaTac that’s designed to provide immediate resources for girls involved in the sex trade.”
Detective Banks is one of three officers who started the Genesis Project. It opened a year ago, this Thursday, and they were so passionate about helping young girls get off the streets, that they used their own money and begged donations from their churches to get started. About 50 girls have come through so far, and the goal is to give them a safe place to go.
“It’s kind of dim and laid back, sectional lounges and flat screens if they want to watch television. We feed them, we have volunteers who make home cooked meals if they want it, if they just want to go to the drive-thru, we do that too. If they want to wash their clothes, a lot of them want to take a shower and we give them new clothes. We have some jewelry that we to let them go through and pick. Just something to remember us by that will hopefully make them think of their experience.”
They also bring in doctors, dentists, therapists and career counselors who offer their services for free. The first step is giving the girls a safe place to go, but the ultimate goal is to get them off the streets for good.
“We had a girl who we caught in a car, with a guy, and then I told her about the Genesis Project. Unfortunately it was a really busy night and we had to split and leave her in a hotel room and I said, ‘I promise you I’ll come back.’ I came back and knocked on the door, later that night, and there wasn’t an answer and we thought, ‘Oh great. She got sucked back in.’ We just kept knocking and eventually she opened the door. She said, ‘I told you I’d wait.’ She said, ‘I’m ready. Let’s go.’ Within 24 hours we had her on a plane to the Dream Center in LA. Now she has a job and she’s in school and she goes to church and her life is completely normal.”
Detective Banks says most of the girls have the same things in common: no father in their life and no self esteem. The Genesis Project wants to help with the latter.
“They have the dreams, they fill out our dream survey. If they say ‘I want to be a nurse’ we do everything in our power to guide them in that direction. We ask them, ‘When you were a kid, or before this happened to you, what was your dream?’ It’s always a service trade, it’s always, ‘I wanted to be a therapist.’ ‘I want to get involved in the Foster Care system and fix it.’ A lot of them are [into] physical therapy or something that helps people.”
Part of Detective Banks’ motivation is his four daughters.
“I just envision my girls when I come across these young ones. I think ‘Geez, I know where my child is at right now, I know that she’s safe.’ When we started to interview the first few girls that wanted to talk, I guess I was just taken aback by their stories and thought, ‘Somebody’s got to do something about the horrible stories.'”
He says this is the only service of it’s kind in the area, specifically aimed at girls trapped in the sex trafficking industry. He hopes that people will see the human side of the issue, and not judge the girls they see out on the streets.
“Your average citizen drives down the street and they see these girls walking the highway and they say, ‘Oh, that’s disgusting. Why are they out here? Why aren’t they plugged into school or have a job?’ None of these girls get up in the morning and go, ‘I can’t wait to hit the track today.’ Something happened to them where they were either abducted or tricked. They feel like they can’t get out.”