A Seattle group passed out electronic candles to attendees at Westlake Park Saturday evening in an attempt to shine a light on a growing problem on the streets and online: child sex trafficking.
Stolen Youth, a non-profit that aims to raise awareness and money to help survivors and stop trafficking, held a vigil to honor sex trafficking victims.
“I was 18 when I got into the life. I thought I would do it for two weeks, as a means of survival,” Marin Stewart, a survivor who is from Seattle and whose journey of sexual exploitation started in a strip club. “My intention was to do it for two weeks just to pick myself up, and it turned into 22 years.”
During that time, Stewart was trafficked in Taiwan, Japan, Hawaii and here in the Pacific Northwest before she felt she could leave at age 41.
“It takes a minimum of seven times of attempting to get out before you are finally able to get out,” Steward said, mentioning issues of addiction but mostly shame. “I got out simply and only because of Jesus Christ.”
Stolen Youth executive director Nicole DeCario fears more youth trying to survive on the street could be exploited, especially given the area’s youth homeless problems.
“If you imagine these case of a homeless youth: They're doing what they can to survive, and in some cases, they need to sell themselves,” DeCario said.
DeCario says about 500 Seattle youths are trafficked for sex every year; the youngest person trafficked the nonprofit has heard of was 11 years old.
Many of these numbers are from 2008 when the last statistics on sex trafficking in the local area were collected. The numbers in the last nine years could be going up due to the rise of online buying and selling.
“It used to be a track someone would walk, on Aurora, or Pacific Highway South, but it's overwhelmingly happening online. It's easier, it's faster. [Sex traffickers] are able to maximize their product, which is a child, online. And that's definitely changed in the past decade,” DeCario said.
In Washington state, there is an ongoing lawsuit against classifieds site Backpage.com. Attorneys filing suit say the site has profited in the tens of millions by allowing traffickers to post ads selling children for sex.
The case goes to trial in October.