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Join the informed writers of The Times' editorial board in lively discussions at our blog, Opinion Northwest.

Topic: sex trafficking

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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 thelongnightmovie.com.

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.

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Comments | Topics: Google, hangout, king county

December 2, 2014 at 4:49 AM

Replay: Video chat on sex trafficking in Seattle area

On Wednesday, The Seattle Times editorial section hosted a Google+ on-air Hangout with “The Long Night” filmmaker Tim Matsui and experts on the front line of the local battle to end child sex trafficking. For some background on the film, which streams free this week, read my Monday blog post and take a look at my recent column on the topic.

You can view the 43-minute video chat above.

Here’s the list of panelists who joined us: (Note: State Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles did not appear in the hangout due to illness.)

Tim Matsui, a Seattle-based multimedia journalist and director of “The Long Night.” He spent one year between

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Comments | Topics: Google, hangout, king county

December 1, 2014 at 6:03 AM

‘The Long Night’ film sheds real light on sex trafficking in Seattle, King County

How do we fix or prevent a problem if we don’t even understand its scope? That’s one of the questions that motivated me to write my most recent column on child sex trafficking.

In that piece, I mentioned Seattle journalist Tim Matsui’s film, “The Long Night.” Shot between fall 2012 and fall 2013, Matsui takes a journalistic approach to showing us what is happening to our young people on the streets. There is no judgmental narration or public shaming, as other sex trafficking films have done. Matsui does not have to tell viewers what to think or what is right and wrong. After seeing the film twice with different audiences, I can tell you viewers are moved to talk about the problem and do something. 

“I want people to have an emotional connection with the characters and to understand just how far-reaching the [sex trafficking] issue is, and how it comes from these root causes that we don’t generally think about,” he says. “Dysfunctional home life, domestic abuse, lack of education — these root causes create vulnerability that are then exploited.”

Over the next seven days, the  documentary will stream at this link for free. (After next week, streaming video of the film will only be viewable for a fee.)

Here’s a preview:

Prostitution in all forms is often perceived as a victimless crime. But once you associate sex trafficking with real people, especially children, does your perception change? Watch the film then join us here at the Opinion Northwest blog on Wednesday, Dec. 3, at 1 p.m. for a Google+ On-Air Hangout.

Matsui is scheduled to participate. We’re also working on getting other experts to share their knowledge of the commercial sexual exploitation of children in the Seattle area. Why is this happening? How many kids are affected? What can or should be done about it?

Have questions you want us to address? Send me an email at ttan@seattletimes.com. The hangout will be live, but a recording will be embedded on this site afterward. 

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Comments | Topics: Documentary, king county, Seattle

October 22, 2014 at 12:06 PM

Washington Supreme Court should not dismiss Backpage.com case

Just because no case law yet holds Backpage.com responsible for exploiting children, that does not mean the classified ad site should always be immune from liability. The fact is Backpage.com and other sites like it create an environment where pimps can easily post ads every night selling girls (and boys) for commercial sex work.  They do…

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Comments | Topics: backpage, backpage.com, national center for missing and exploited children

October 17, 2014 at 12:02 PM

King County, Washington state must remain at forefront of fight against sex trafficking and Backpage.com

Earlier this week, King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg joined with community groups and seven local law-enforcement agencies to announce a new effort to crack down on the commercial sex industry by focusing on the thousands of  johns who fuel the demand for this illicit trade.

On Wednesday, Seattle Times reporter Sara Jean Green wrote about how recent stings have led to 105 arrests within three months. That same day, a new coalition that includes the Organization of Prostitution Survivors outlined plans to catch more buyers, deter them from committing crimes and help them to understand the harm their actions inflict upon vulnerable women and girls. The editorial board commended the collaborative project as a meaningful step toward saving these victims from a life of enslavement and manipulation by pimps.

A high number of sexual encounters these days are initiated online via seedy adult classifieds ads on sites such as Backpage.com. (King County reports there are at least 100 sites frequented on a daily basis by about 27,000 men countywide.)

As King County and police officers in Seattle, Kent, SeaTac, Federal Way, Bellevue and Des Moines prepare to take a tougher approach toward arresting and prosecuting more buyers, keep an eye out for potential actions from the state Supreme Court.

Next Tuesday, the justices will hear arguments for a case in which three girls are suing Backpage.com for damages after their former pimps posted their photos and advertised them for sex services online. Once they were able to escape the life,

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Comments | Topics: backpage, king county, prostitution

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…

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Comments | Topics: csec, sex trafficking, washington

May 20, 2014 at 6:03 AM

U.S. House should pass anti-sex trafficking bills, crack down on Backpage.com

The U.S. House of Representatives is expected to vote as early as Tuesday on several anti-sex trafficking bills. With broad support from members of both parties, these sweeping measures ought to have no problems getting passed off the floor and sent over to the U.S. Senate.

Take a look at the problem by the numbers:

  • In the U.S., up to 300,000 children are at risk of being sold for sex each year. (Source: U.S. Department of Justice)
  • Pimps and traffickers report making between $5,000 and $32,833 each week. (Source: Urban Institute)
  • In King County, conservative estimates show that between 300 and 500 boys and girls under the age of 18 are victims of commercial sexual exploitation every day. (Source: King County)

If they do indeed pull it off, then Americans should give lawmakers a rare pat on the back for working through their normally toxic relationship. Uniting behind victims of sexual exploitation is a no-brainer. But the legislation before the U.S. House this week creates some substantive changes. (The Seattle Times editorial board published a May 11 editorial in support of three of the proposed laws.) If Congress feels inspired enough to find consensus on this widespread problem, who knows. It could create enough goodwill for members to return to the table to resolve other stalled reform efforts (i.e. immigration).

One of the bills up for consideration, the Stop Advertising Victims of Exploitation (SAVE) Act, has caught some flak from Internet freedom advocates. To address their concerns, Samantha Vardaman, the senior director of policy for Shared Hope International, says the House Judiciary Committee amended the legislation on May 15 to ensure that federal charges and penalties are applied only to those websites that “knowingly” advertise minors.

That wording change raises the burden of proof for prosecutors and means the SAVE Act might not stop the posting of advertisements featuring commercially sexually exploited children. What’s to stop Backpage.com and its copycats from simply saying they didn’t know that photos posted on their sites are underage or victims of trafficking?

The SAVE Act is still a first step toward better, stronger policies in the future.

“It’s a thoughtful approach to introducing liability in a way that doesn’t exist currently,” Vardaman said over the phone.

Below is a list of the bills expected to be fast-tracked on Tuesday, courtesy of House Republican leadership:

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Comments | Topics: backpage, congress, sex trafficking

April 25, 2014 at 6:02 AM

Backpage.com’s adult ads continue to normalize, increase demand for sex trafficking

This Seattle Times editorial posted Thursday encourages the online community to help stop sex trafficking by refusing to sell or buy goods on Backpage.com until it stops posting adult services.

A disclaimer on the site asking users to “report suspected exploitation of minors and/or human trafficking” is disingenuous. Once viewers click “I agree” to the terms, they are exposed to illicit ads that reduce people’s daughters to faceless bodyshots and subject lines consisting of emoji characters, body measurements, ages that could be fake and suggestive pseudonyms.

Here’s a screenshot of just a few of the hundreds of listings Backpage.com allowed to be posted during the lunch hour on Wednesday. Does this look to you like a website that cares about protecting people — or promoting the dirty work of pimps?

Screen Shot 2014-04-24 at 6.22.46 PM

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Comments | Topics: backpage, prostitution, sex trafficking

March 11, 2014 at 10:49 AM

Legislature passes bills to fight sex trafficking

With just two more days left in the legislative session, state lawmakers have found the political will to unanimously pass three bills to help combat sex trafficking. One other foster-care bill is still in play and deserves consideration before Thursday’s adjournment.

As mentioned in previous Opinion Northwest blog posts and Seattle Times editorials, legislative action is necessary because hundreds of children are forced to sell their bodies every night. Some get caught up in the life for years before they are able to find help. Foster kids without a permanent home are especially susceptible to pimps and their false promises of clothing, shelter and love.

Here’s the status of several trafficking-related bills measures as of Tuesday morning: (Note: The status of each bill is subject to change.)

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Comments | Topics: foster care, legislature, sex trafficking

March 6, 2014 at 6:04 AM

Updated: Time running out for state Legislature to pass anti-sex trafficking bills

Updated 3:31 p.m. on March 7:

Bills are moving through the Legislature quickly. I’ve revised information throughout this post, which was originally published Thursday morning. Check back after the weekend for more updates.

Original:

As the Washington Legislature nears its March 13 deadline, now is the time to track and review efforts to end sex trafficking.

Yes, this is a statewide crisis. In the Seattle-King County area alone, the most recent studies suggest hundreds of children as young as 11 years old are being sexually exploited for commercial purposes. Organizations such as the Center for Child & Youth Justice and YouthCare are building new models to identify and treat these sex workers as victims, not criminals.

Below, watch video of StolenYouth’s Jan. 29 forum at Town Hall to understand how advocates are responding to the problem.

This year in Olympia, lawmakers took up several measures to strengthen the state’s laws against trafficking. So far, two bills outlined below have passed both houses. Lawmakers should make sure several other measures get to the governor’s desk before time runs out. They must maintain the state’s position as a leader in combating sex trafficking through strong legislation.

Here’s a rundown of several bills related to sex trafficking and their status as of Wednesday:

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Comments | Topics: legislature, prostitution, sex trafficking

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