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December 4, 2014 at 11:30 AM

Recap: 8 things to know about Seattle, King County’s sex trafficking crisis

In case you missed Wednesday’s Google+ Hangout On Air about sex trafficking in Seattle, watch the full 43-minute video below. (To see the same video with links to related articles and resources, go to this link.)

I hosted the discussion featuring Tim Matsui, director of  “The Long Night,” King County senior deputy prosecutor Val Richey, Organization for Prostitution Survivors co-founder Noel Gomez, Seattle Against Slavery executive director Robert Beiser, and Businesses Ending Slavery and Trafficking executive director Mar Brettman.

The panel offered their insight on several key issues, including: the lack of data available to identify how many children are being commercially exploited, a disturbing rise in demand fueled by the Internet, the potential legalization of prostitution and ways the community can take action.

Watch “The Long Night” for free through the end of the week at

Below are excerpted quotes and takeaway points from the video chat that illustrate the complex nature of sex trafficking and potential solutions to prevent other kids from becoming victims of exploitation.

Prostitution is not a victimless crime.

The reason for that is the world of prostitution and sex trafficking is not pretty. One of the important things this film does is dispel the misleading notion that prostitution is really just a victimless crime between two consenting adults. When you watch the worlds of Natalie and Lisa, you come to realize how grim this existence can be and how important it is that we have comprehensive, meaningful services for people trying to get out of the life.

— Val Richey, King County senior deputy prosecutor

Once in, a life in prostitution is difficult to leave behind.

I don’t think people understand what a struggle it is to get out of that life once you’re so deeply entrenched in it. That’s the struggle that hundreds and hundreds of women and girls are having in the streets of Seattle. Every night, every day. Doesn’t stop on holidays. All the time… It is NOT a choice… These girls grow into adults, nothing is ever dealt with and they end up back out on the streets.

— Noel Gomez, Organization for Prostitution Survivors

Demand changes depending on the medium used to solicit sex. White, educated and wealthier men tend to buy sex online, but buyers generally come from all socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds.

“It’s important to set aside any perceptions we have for who we think the sex buyer is and start to look at the data for who they actually are.”

— Val Richey

Some fessed up to what they were doing. Some didn’t think that much about it, and some were confrontational. It’s proven — it’s the guy next door. It’s everybody. Demand is across the board. It’s kind of crazy in that respect, I think.

— Tim Matsui, director of “The Long Night”

“In our society for men, we sort of accept this practice going on, even knowing how violent it is and how traumatic it can be and the things it leads to — people coping through drug use and alcohol use just to deal with that experience, and yet you don’t hear a big public outcry about the need for men to not buy sex, even from men who aren’t engaging in it themselves.”

— Robert Beiser, Seattle Against Slavery

Legalization of prostitution is not the only answer. The Nordic model is widely considered the most effective model for curbing demand.

The problem is that legalization has consistently been shown not to work. What happens in a legalization system is that more men buy sex. And when more men buy sex, that increases sex trafficking. That increases child prostitution. That results in more exploitation. So in systems like the Netherlands or in Germany where they have tried legalization, or in Nevada where they’ve tried legalization, the result has actually been an increase in all those things we’re trying not to have more of, like harm against women and children.

A much more effective model has been shown to be the Nordic model in Sweden and has now been adopted in Norway, Iceland and a similar model in Canada. That model is to focus on offering services and not prosecuting the people who are in prostitution, those who are being prostituted. To not prosecute them, to not criminalize them. T0 not stigmatize them by putting them in jail and giving them a conviction. On the other hand, that system or that model also focuses on prosecuting and holding the buyers accountable for the demand for sex that they create. That system has been shown to dramatically reduce the sex trafficking in countries where it’s been used. And it’s probably the most effective model that’s been designed for dealing with this issue.

— Val Richey

Demand reduction leads to crime reduction. Businesses can help.

If we can reduce demand, then we can reduce the crime. One way that we want to start working with businesses in the future is to start educating them around the risks that sex buyers employed by their company actually pose to their company, so we’d love to get businesses involved in demand reduction efforts.

Another thing is businesses often unknowingly facilitate the crime. So the perfect example is the one that you brought up earlier, which is motels and hotels. And so we started with the Washington Lodging Association a few years ago, and members from their association were very supportive of bringing training to members throughout the state. So we worked with Val and Noel and others to create best practices for hotels and then we did training in King County to start. And we thought, hopefully we’ll get 80 people, and we ended up with over 100. This says to us the hoteliers in our community are incredibly compassionate people. We kept hearing things like, “I have a 14-year old daughter. I’d never want this to happen on my watch in my hotel. ”

They’ve been on the front lines of fighting it, working with law enforcement. We’ve now trained over 500 throughout the state in about six counties [to help identify trafficked individuals and refer them to services].

— Mar Brettman, Businesses Ending Slavery and Trafficking (BEST)

Nonprofits can’t fix the problem alone. They need state funding and community engagement.

I think if we were doing more on the state level so that nonprofits didn’t have to be educating all the businesses and all the cities—that would be a huge thing that we could do that would prevent this issue. No one wants lots of trafficking victims and then lots of services to serve them. I think everyone wants people to not have to go through this in the first place. And I’d say for everyone tuned in, when Mar talks about engaging business — this isn’t waiting for some big corporation somewhere to take this on. If you work someplace, this is something where you can get involved.

— Robert Beiser

Ending sex trafficking requires understanding the root causes.

I think that trafficking for labor or for sex is really just a symptom of underlying issues. Sometimes it’s demand for sex or cheap labor or inexpensive food. And that creates a market… and if we then don’t look at things like heath care and education and sexual violence at home and because of lack of economic opportunity — those things create vulnerability and feeds the demand that we have for those cheap products.

If you’re moved by the stories about trafficking, then look at your level of influence within your sphere and see how it relates to a root cause that might cause vulnerability.

— Tim Matsui

Long-term advocacy and mentorship is key to help girls and women leave the life.

“These women and girls need a consistent person in their life, whether they’re in the life or trying to get out. no matter where they’re at…

At some point, they’re going to be ready and they’re going to leave. And if we’re not there consistently for them over the years, then where do they go? There was no help for me when I was getting out. And that’s why we started [Organization for Prostitution Survivors]. There’s so much need.

— Noel Gomez, prostitution survivor


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