“Innocence Lost” Sex Trafficking Task Force Rescues 3 Girls in SeaTac
by Greg Wright
SeaTac Police Captain Annette Louie confirmed this morning that SeaTac Sgt. Rich McMartin and his team participated in the joint police raid over the weekend that rescued three 15-year-old girls working as prostitutes in SeaTac. As is often the case with underage sex workers, the three had been coerced into the trade by unscrupulous adults–an offense that puts convicts in a Federal penitentiary for at least 15 years, Louie points out.
The FBI’s Innocence Lost Task Force, which is “aimed at addressing the growing problem of domestic sex trafficking of children in the United States,” acted as the main coordinator of weekend stings in the greater Seattle area, including specific locations in Shoreline and SeaTac, according to Louie. Local law enforcement agencies cooperate with FBI agents to execute raids planned by Innocence Lost. In the weekend operation in Seatac, officers from the Tukwila and Seattle police departments were also involved. On the SeaTac side, Louie said the department’s Street Crimes Unit–which includes McMartin and three detectives–”helped to coordinate the whole weekend.”
Louie is grateful for the help the Federal agency brings to the table in combatting sex trafficking–which is not only a national problem, but a global one. “The FBI is integral in that,” the Captain points out–a valuable “regional asset” for a small municipality with limited resources and budgets. According to Task Force site, over the last seven years, joint operations
have worked successfully to rescue more than 1,200 children. Investigations have successfully led to the conviction of over 600 pimps, madams, and their associates who exploit children through prostitution. These convictions have resulted in lengthy sentences, including multiple 25-year-to-life sentences and the seizure of real property, vehicles, and monetary assets.
Captain Louie also touts other local resources devoted to stemming both the tide and effects of sex trafficking.
The Genesis Project–which “exists to offer hope for a new life to young women and girls involved in Domestic Minor Sex-Trafficking (DMST) in the South King County area”–is one of those, and has been working with girls since 2009 to provide them with alternatives to jail time. In the past, prostitutes as young as 11 years old might be arrested and sent directly to juvenile detention centers. With facilities like the Genesis Project’s 24-hour drop-in center, girls rescued from the sex trade, have a process that treats them like victims rather than criminals. (The girls rescued over the weekend were returned to their parents.) As described by the Genesis Project website:
Phase 1: Rescue – Once rescued, victims will be able to utilize the 24 hour drop-in center to access hot meals, showers, laundry facilities, and a place to rest in a safe, stable environment. They will receive counseling and encouragement as well as access to any and all resources that are available through our other non-profit partners.
Phase 2: Renew and Restore – Referral to transitional housing that is already established. As funding is received we will build our own housing which will be long term and outside the normal areas of prostitution to offer normal living conditions in a loving environment.
Phase 3: Education and Release – After a victim has been enrolled in the long term housing we will offer them the option of taking classes from our educational faclility. This facility will offer them the ability to get their GED as well as other Job and life skill training. They will be able to choose something that they are passionate about and upon completion we will assist them in job placement. Once released, they will receive support from the Genesis Project for as long as they wish.
Another resource is Soroptimist, an international volunteer organization “raising awareness about the devastating and complex crime of sex trafficking, which largely affects women and girl children.” The Federal Way chapter is hosting a forum on human trafficking tonight in the Federal Way City Council chambers at 7 PM (33325 8th Ave. South). District 30 State Senator Tracey Eide, Chris Johnson (policy director for state attorney general Rob McKenna), Sr. Donna Freed of Sisters United Against Human Trafficking, Federal Way deputy police chief Andy Hwang, and Robin Schildmeyer of the Genesis Project are expected to participate.
Sex trafficking has been in the local and national headlines of late due to the controversy over online classified ad site Backpage.com’s “adult services” listings–which fail to screen out ads for underage girls and boys. As reported today on Publicola,
Backpage is in the midst of a game of legal chicken with Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn and a group of 51 attorneys general—led by Washington’s Republican AG Rob McKenna—who have all demanded Backpage shut down their escort ad section, or institute much stricter guidelines on the site to protect children from being exploited by pimps and johns.
Backpage responded to McKenna in a letter last week, declining to make any major changes to the site, and saying the company is already doing its “best to provide a sage and legal environment for its customers and to be a responsible corporate citizen.”
Village Voice, which publishes Backpage, has since early summer been editorializing against CNN, McGinn, McKenna, and other public officials for criticizing what Backpage sees as its right to free speech. As reported today by MyNorthwest.com‘s Dan Mitchinson, McGinn was feisty yesterday in the wake of the weekend’s operations:
“In light of Backpage.com’s response to the 51 attorneys general, I’d like to update you on our efforts to rescue children from being sexually exploited on Backpage.com,” said Mayor Mike McGinn. “On Thursday September 22, while Backpage.com was drafting its lengthy rationalization of their practices, our High Risk Victims Unit participated in a task force operation in SeaTac. We recovered three female children who were being advertised for sex on Backpage.com.”
McGinn says protecting exploited children is a top priority for the Seattle Police Department, but continues, “we can never get ahead of this crime while a company like Backpage.com profits from the sexual exploitation of children and uses their newsrooms to minimize the extent of the issue.”