In many ways Seattle is experiencing unprecedented prosperity. But in the dark corners of the city a tragic epidemic rages that no one wants to discuss and that is sex trafficking. According to the Department of Justice Seattle is considered one of the worst cities in the U.S for sex trafficking. While Washington led the nation to criminalize human trafficking it remains a hot bed for the trade due to the city’s ports, the I-5 corridor and its proximity to an international border.
A local organization, REST (Real Escape From the Sex Trade) was founded in 2009 to offer freedom, safety and hope for victims of sex trafficking and those involved in the trade. Today REST director of development Edward Sumner shares more about what REST is doing to contribute towards the solution.
REST envisions a community that is free from commercial sexual exploitation. Their mission is to provide pathways of freedom, safety and hope for victims of sex trafficking and people involved in the sex trade. In 2008 a study done by Dr. Debra Boyer from the University of Washington confirmed there are between three and five hundred under-age girls being sold for sex in King County alone. That was nearly a decade ago.
Trust and Credibility
REST’s aim early on was to build relationships of trust and build credibility with women who are being sold on the street to increase their likelihood of asking for help. A small team of trained women put on messenger bags and go to the areas where women are being sold. They give them comfort kits that include lipstick, harm reduction products and the REST hotline number so when a woman decides she is ready she has someone to call. They have gained some traction with this and women have asked for help.
Community advocates come alongside women who are seeking to exit the sex trade and have identified goals they believe will get them closer to the life they really want. These can be things like detox, seeing a doctor and talking about housing or jobs but more frequently it’s things like a drivers license or they will say they have never had a birthday party.
There are many great providers of housing in the city such as Mary’s Place, Hope Place and the YWCA but what REST started hearing was that the women they were serving didn’t identify as victims of domestic violence, or as addicts or as homeless because they weren’t.
REST has never had any harmful or dangerous interaction with traffickers. The reasons for that is that the traffickers know they are dealing closely with law enforcement, because of a rule of “the game” that you don’t go on someone else’s corner, because they don’t do a lot of hands on work but will use the woman who has been with them longest to recruit others, and because they feel the women have become so dependent on them that they don’t see REST as much of a threat.
At a very young age boys learn on the playground that it’s typically the strongest, loudest, fastest, most charming and most confident that get elevated to positions of power and posture in their little circles. So if you happen to be quiet, relatively weak, small, imaginative, kind, compassionate or patient the words that sub-culture of boys would use to almost criminalize those attributes were violent and feminine. These are words that begin with B, C and P. So that sense of shame develops as those connections are made.
Shame is often a deep driver for sexually unhealthy behavior. Those feelings that are connecting at a young age are characteristic of what the pornography industry is creating. Those violent and feminine features that pornography brings together preys upon that deep insecurity that a lot of men begin to develop as boys.
What most sex buyers have in common
The number of sex buyers is diverse in terms of ethnicity, race, socio-economic status and family status. But there is one very frequent, distinctive thing that sex buyers have in common and that is having an addiction to pornography.
Prolonged addiction to pornography impacts the brain the same way drugs and alcohol do meaning two things are happening.
1. It becomes increasingly difficult to quit
2. It starts requiring exposure to increasingly deviant content to achieve the physiologically hit that they are accustomed to achieving. It’s not uncommon for men who come to the end of that pornography addiction to begin venturing out to most risky engagements.
How You Can Help
REST is running a fund-a-day campaign to raise money for the emergency receiving center. It costs $1,500 to provide 24 hours of emergency care for as many as seven women. They are inviting people to fund-a-day with a singular gift of $1,500 or as a group gift for one day of the calendar year. For those who are able it is $547,000 to fund the center for an entire year. You can give online or Edward’s contact information is on the website if you want to connect in person.
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