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Child sex trafficking is something we normally think of happening in other countries, not here in our own backyard. But it is a problem here. Patty Fleischmann, president of the newly-formed nonprofit StolenYouth, explains the danger that exists for young people in the Seattle area.

Are young women and girls really trapped in prostitution here? How big an issue is this locally?

There are approximately 300 to 500 girls in Seattle/King County but we fear much more because of the hidden nature of the Internet. This issue was first noticed thirty years ago but without enough resources to change the face of the issue it faded away from the public eye. It has never gone away because men continue to buy girls. It is a big business generating millions of dollars a year. In addition, the problem has become worse because of the increase in demand that can be met through the additional avenues of exploitation by the Internet.

Most people may not realize how vulnerable girls are when they're out at malls, or in public places. How do these men who prey on them lure them in?

One example of this was they had an undercover sting at Westlake Center where a policewoman dressed up as a young girl with a backpack and within hours was approached by a pimp. These predators are sophisticated... they lure the girls in by telling them they are beautiful, that they are the only ones that will love them, that they will protect them. The average age that these girls are recruited is 13 or 14. Most of the girls who get victimized generally have a long history of abuse which makes them easily identified by these predators. They look and act vulnerable.

But that s not always the case. The sad and scary piece is that it can be anyone's daughter...a bad fight with their parent, she runs away and they are out on the streets and can easily fall into the hands of these predators.

People listening might say, Well why don't these girls just leave and go back home or go somewhere for help? But the reality isn't that simple, is it? And is there a reason why the trafficking numbers are so high in our region?

As far as why they don't go home, it s very complicated. They may fear more violence from their pimps and also at home, there may be the shame, and feelings of worthlessness. It even could be what you may have heard of as the Stockholm Syndrome , where the young people are so degraded and stripped of their identities, they think they are in love with their predator.

How is StolenYouth helping?

The global issue of human trafficking is all over the news. We are actively trying to get the word out that it is happening in our own backyard. ParentMap Magazine s cover story in March was titled StolenYouth, and it brought to families who might have known about this before, powerful information about the exploited youth in our city.

We are speaking all over the city to small groups and organizations that want to learn more ... plus, we are having our first ever fundraiser on April 17th:

It is called the Not on Our Watch Luncheon. This is our first effort to raise desperately needed funds to provide these girls with a safe place to get off the streets and provide them the wrap-around services they so desperately need. It is in downtown Seattle at the Sheraton Hotel on Wednesday, April 17th. People can register on our website.

The only real way to help these girls is to ensure that they get to safety and get out of the grips of these predators. These children didn't choose this life... they were forced into it... we want to offer them a way out.

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