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May 23, 2014 at 12:03 PM

Washington needs better data to save sexually exploited kids

How do we protect kids from being sold for sex when we don’t even understand the problem’s true scope?

Media reports, law enforcement and advocates often report that between 300 and 500 kids are sexually exploited for commercial purposes every night in Washington state. Unfortunately, that’s a conservative estimate based on a 2008 study done by Dr. Debra Boyer for the Seattle Human Services Department. A more accurate measure is necessary so that resources could be directed to services and programs that will be most effective in helping victims escape the sex trade.

The work of the Commercially Sexually Exploited Children (CSEC) Statewide Coordinating Committee, a coalition of leading thinkers on anti-sex trafficking efforts in Washington, is encouraging. The group held a public meeting Thursday at state Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s Seattle office to discuss new trends and the state’s unprecedented effort to identify sex-trafficking victims.

To identify, engage and help sexually exploited youth, the state is using the Washington State Model Protocol, a response program developed by the Center for Children & Youth Justice. It identifies specific risk factors and warning signs that a child is involved in the sex trade. In 2013, human service and law enforcement workers at five sites around the state were trained to use the protocol.

Such information has never been collected in any systematic way. The Washington State Center for Court Research is analyzing that data and coming up with ways to improve information gathering. Some of the early findings are too preliminary to develop conclusive policy recommendations. But as time goes on and more people are trained to see and report the signs of commercially sexually exploited children, better data will help to determine the effectiveness of current interventions and identify where resources are needed most. First, the Legislature — and private funders — should commit to paying for this critical research.

Advocates from around the state also presented emerging trends and challenges at five different CSEC task force sites (Tri-Cities, Yakima County, Inland Northwest, Whatcom County and King County).

I tweeted some of their observations below:

Comments | Topics: csec, sex trafficking, washington

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