Seattle's Child

Your guide to a kid-friendly city

Child sex trafficking in King County

Photo by Serghei Turcanu

Get involved: Child Sex Trafficking Prevention Day

Stolen Youth luncheon to raise awareness about escalating abuse in WA

You’ve heard about it in the news. You may have worried about it when traveling with your kids or when they are away from you—especially your teens. Mayor Bruce Harrell will recognize parents’ worry and the brutal reality of young victims when he declares May 7 Child Sex Trafficking Prevention Day. StolenYouth, a Seattle-based non-profit, will hold its annual fundraising luncheon that day to bolster its efforts to end child sex trafficking in Washington state.

It’s happening where we live

Despite what we read or watch in news reports, it’s hard to believe that child sex trafficking is happening in neighborhoods across the region. According to the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office (KCPAO), the FBI and other watch organizations:

Child sex trafficking data

Graphic from King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office (KCPAO)

Patty Fleischmann, co-founder of StolenYouth, says Seattle carries much of the pain: “At least 500 children and youth under age 24 are trafficked each year in Seattle alone, and many more are at risk of exploitation online every day.

“We are grateful to the mayor’s office for answering our call to declare May 7 as ‘Child Sex Trafficking Prevention Day’ to help raise awareness of this epidemic and one of the human rights issues of our time,” Fleischmann added in an announcement.

Committed to ending child sex trafficking in Washington

Stolen Youth was founded in 2012. The organization is dedicated to preventing child sex trafficking before it happens, connecting victims to resources, support and services, and empowering survivors to move forward with their lives in positive and productive ways. The organization has raised over $11 million to fight the sexual exploitation of children and youth and its annual fundraising luncheon on May 7, 2024 will continue those efforts. This event is geared toward educating the community about child sex trafficking locally and galvanizing King Country residents to take on the organization’s battle cry: “Not on our watch, and not in our state.”

“Sexual exploitation of youth is at an all-time high in this post-pandemic, digital era, and the problem is only growing; but, so is our fortitude in the fight against child sex trafficking,” Renee Wallace, a StolenYouth board member, said. “No child should be bought or sold for sex, and every victim of exploitation deserves compassion, access to services, and a way out when they wish to leave ‘the life.’”

Child sex trafficking

King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office (KCPAO)

An issue worth talking about

What are the issues surrounding the commercial sexual exploitation of children?

Click on the image below to listen to the King County CSEC Task Force Podcast. In this episode, experts take a deep dive into this important issue:

Child sex trafficking in King County

CLICK THE IMAGE TO LISTEN

One of Stolen Youth’s goals is to bust the myths associated with child sex trafficking. For example, the myth is that teens involved in prostitution are delinquent criminals. The truth, according to Stolen Youth’s myths and facts webpage is the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) considers “any child under the age of 18 who is used for the purpose of exploitation through sexual servitude (prostitution), regardless of the absence of economic leverage, manipulation, fraud, coercion, threats, force or violence” to be a victim of a severe form of human trafficking.

The organization stressed: “Every minor who is involved in prostitution is a victim of child abuse.’

Know the signs of grooming

How does a predator groom a child sex exploitation?  Knowing the signs may help protect your child. According to the Trafficking in America Task Force, groomers may be male or female and many children and youth don’t understand that they have been groomed. Here are the stages of grooming most commonly used by traffickers or online predators:

  • Stage 1: Targeting the Victim
    The offender targets a victim by sizing up the child’s vulnerability — emotional neediness, isolation, and lower self-confidence. Children with less parental oversight are more desirable prey.
  • Stage 2: Gaining the Victim’s Trust
    The sex offender gains trust by watching and gathering information about the child, getting to know his needs and how to fill them. In this regard, sex offenders often mix effortlessly with responsible caretakers because they generate warm and calibrated attention.
  • Stage 3: Filling a Need
    Once the sex offender begins to fill the child’s needs, that adult may assume noticeably more importance in the child’s life and may become idealized. Gifts, extra attention, and affection from a non-parent adult should raise concern and greater vigilance.
  • Stage 4: Isolating the Child
    The grooming sex offender uses the developing special relationship with the child to create situations in which they are alone together. This isolation further reinforces a special connection. Babysitting, tutoring, coaching, and special trips all enable this isolation. A special relationship can be even more reinforced when an offender cultivates a sense in the child that he is loved or appreciated in a way that others, not even parents, provide. Parents may unwittingly feed into this through their own appreciation for the unique relationship.
  • Stage 5: Sexualizing the Relationship
    At a stage of sufficient emotional dependence and trust, the offender progressively sexualizes the relationship. Desensitization occurs through talking, pictures, even creating situations (like going swimming) in which both offender and victim are naked. At that point, the adult exploits a child’s natural curiosity, using feelings of stimulation to advance the sexuality of the relationship. When teaching a child, the grooming sex offender has the opportunity to shape the child’s sexual preferences and can manipulate what a child finds exciting and extend the relationship in this way. The child comes to see himself as a more sexual being and to define the relationship with the offender in more sexual and special terms.
  • Stage 6: Maintaining Control
    Once the sexual abuse occurs, offenders commonly use secrecy and blame to maintain the child’s continued participation and silence — particularly because the sexual activity may cause the child to withdraw from the relationship.

Steps toward prevention

Parents can help reduce the chances of a child falling victim to sexual abuse or trafficking online by taking these steps suggested by the national non-profit Rainin and the Trafficking in America Task Force:

  • Educate yourself about child sex abuse, its dangers, and the legal implications surrounding it. Keep the computer in a high-traffic area of your home.
  • Limit the online sites children may visit.
  • Enable parental controls on devices used by children to restrict access to inappropriate content.Make sure to monitor cell phones, gaming devices, and laptops.
  • Surf the Internet with kids and ask them to show you what they like to do online.
  • Know who is connecting with your children online and set rules for social networking, instant messaging, e-mailing, online gaming, and using webcams.
  • Have an ongoing dialogue with your children.
  • Share the stages of grooming with adolescents and teens
  • Educate yourself about CSAM, its dangers, and the legal implications surrounding it.
  • Ensure that your devices, including computers, smartphones, and tablets, have up-to-date security software and firewalls installed.
  • Use strong and unique passwords for your accounts, including email and social media platforms.
  • Regularly update your software and applications to protect against vulnerabilities.
  • Be cautious when clicking on links or downloading files from unknown sources.
  • Familiarize yourself with privacy settings and use them to control who can access your personal information and content. Enable parental controls on devices used by children to restrict access to inappropriate content.
  • Teach children about safe online practices, such as not sharing personal information or images with strangers online. Encourage open communication with children, so they feel comfortable discussing any concerns or incidents they come across.
  • You can report suspected abuse to the CyberTipline online or by calling 1-800-843-5678. Your report will be forwarded to a law enforcement agency for investigation. To speak with a trained support specialist, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4673) or chat online. Call the National Child Abuse Hotline at 800.4.A.CHILD (422-4453).

Attend Stolen Youth’s ‘Not on Our Watch’ Luncheon

When:  Tuesday, May 7, 2024

Where: Seattle Convention Center- Summit | 900 Pine St., Seattle, WA, 98101

Details:  Check-in: 1130 am

                  Luncheon: 12:00-1:00 pm

To register:  Go to stolenyouth.org/events/noow-luncheon-2024.

Stick around after lunch for an informational gathering outside the ballroom at the Seattle Convention Center to connect with organizations working to end child sex trafficking and learn more about the community effort to combat child sex trafficking and support survivors.

Read more:

Kids online safety: tips from an expert

Seattle Police Give Tips to Keep Your Kids Internet Healthy

Baby science: Enroll in UW infant research

About the Author

Cheryl Murfin

Cheryl Murfin is managing editor at Seattle's Child. She is also a certified doula, lactation educator for NestingInstinctsSeattle.com and a certified AWA writing workshop facilitator at Compasswriters.com.