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KM: My name is Kelly Mangaracina and I am King County’s Commercially Sexually Exploited Children’s Task Force Coordinator and Program Manager. I attempt to keep everybody who is addressing the issue of sex trafficking of children at the table, talking to each other, coordinating our response so that we can provide a better continuum of care for our young people and hopefully not duplicate resources.
JH: Do we
have a child sex trafficking problem in King County?
We have a child sex trafficking problem in Seattle, in
King County, in Washington state, and in the United States. There is no
community that is immune to this issue. if you look at the federal definition
for purposes of kids, it’s a very simple definition.
You need to have a young person under the age of 18 and a
commercial sex act and a commercial sex act is anytime there’s a sexual
encounter in exchange for something of good or value. That goes up to a young
person who is 17 and 364 days of age. As soon as the young person turns 18 we
need to prove that they engaged in that commercial sex act because of force,
fraud or coercion. But if they’re under the age of 18 we simply need to prove
that there is a commercial sex act and that they are under the age of 18 and
that is child sex trafficking. We don’t need to prove that there’s a third
party pimp or trafficker simply that there is a commercial sex act and the
individual is under the age of 18.
Anything of good or value is exchanged for a sexual encounter
and that would be money, actual financial exchange for sexual intercourse. It
would also be the exchange of drugs for that sexual encounter. It could be a
sandwich in exchange for that sexual encounter. It could be a place to stay for
that sexual encounter. So oftentimes what we have is youth who are experiencing
homelessness, who are participating in what we could call survival sex. They’re
doing what they need to do to survive and they are victims of child sex
JH: Survival sex is a termed I’ve never heard before.
It is young people having sex in order to meet their basic
survival needs, their needs for food, shelter, clothing, or I’d argue if
there’s an addiction at play also for drugs.
For years we criminalized this behavior and called those
young people prostitutes. We were charging them with prostitution for a crime
that they couldn’t actually consent to do. We are charging 13- 14- 15-year-old
children with prostitution. Fortunately we collectively have learned from our
mistakes and we now see those children appropriately – as victims of commercial
sexual exploitation, exploitation, victims of commercial sex trafficking. And
those young people are seen as victims and no longer stigmatized or labeled as
criminals in that way.
So here’s a little analogy that we like to use. If you
have a 40-year-old soccer coach in 40-year-old soccer coach has a sexual
relationship with 14-year-old on the soccer team and the 14-year-old says, but
no, I love soccer coach. I want to be having sex with soccer coach. I’m down
with this. This is what I want. Everybody universally as agreed that a crime
has occurred that the soccer coach is the bad actor in this scenario and that
Kiddo has done nothing wrong. Kiddo should not be charged with anything and all
we should be doing is getting that young person connected to the services that
If we change that
script a little, just a little bit, people get confused. Same 40-year-old
soccer coach, same 14-year-old young person, exact same sex act occurring, but
instead of the kid being on the soccer team, kid is now experiencing
homelessness and at the end of the sex act kidded receives $50 in. Kid says,
no, you don’t understand. I wanted to do it. I wanted the $50 I’m down with
this. Historically, what we did is we said, oh, kid should be charged with
prostitution. Kid should be put in juvenile detention. Kid is the bad actor in
If kid on the soccer team can’t consent to this
exploitation for love, why are you saying that kid who’s experiencing
homelessness can consents of this exploitation for money? When in doubt, take
the money out. If it’s exploitation, it’s exploitation. And we fortunately
opened up our eyes and said, you know what? You’re right. A 14 year old cannot
consent. They can’t consent for love. They cannot consent for money.
JH: Who are
I like to say they’re not the creepy dude you cross the
street to avoid. They look like everybody else. The data we have from the King
County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office and men charged with the commercial sexual
abuse of a minor are men you would see as you walk down the streets of downtown
Seattle, there are men in suits. They’re men in ties. They are men who are in
business. They are in travel, they’re in it. They are in the military. They
look like everybody else.
The cases that we do see with our
prosecutor’s office are oftentimes well educated, privileged men who are buying
access to young people who are doing what they need to do to survive. And we
have a disproportionate number of privileged individuals buying are more
marginalized individuals and to put a very striking, shocking spin to it and
when we have a real child being harmed in charged cases from the King County
prosecuting attorney’s Office on commercial sexual abuse of a minor 52% of the
time that child is African American. The African American population of King
County is nowhere close to 52%. This is some radical disproportionality in
which we have privileged disproportionately white men buying access to our
marginalized youth of color.
JH: How does
I work with an amazing survivor and she is mixed race and
she made a comment one time that the men purchased her because she didn’t look
like their daughter. They were specifically targeting the “Other”. I don’t have
actual data to back that up. That is one survivor story, but that narrative
speaks volumes of truth to me.
don’t people know that you think they should?
It happens here and it’s harmful, but we can help, but now
we need to look at the why it’s happening and how it’s happening and how we can
interrupt it. In King County we have great free classes that are available for
anyone who’s interested in taking them at our website, www.kingcounty.csec.org We have five different trainings that are all
free and all open to the public.
There are lots of myths and misconceptions about what sex
trafficking is, and if we don’t have good information, we do ourselves a
We need people to be informed of what the actual issue is
and once they know what it is, how to respond appropriately in a compassionate
and judgment-free manner.
Here’s a question for you. Do LGBTQ youth experience
homelessness at a disproportionately higher rate? Yes. Are homeless youth more
likely to engage in things like survival sex and be more at risk for
trafficking? Yes, so it makes sense that there’s a disproportionately high rate
of LGBTQ youth who are trafficked and we really need to respond in a trauma
informed, supportive, nonjudgmental way when we come across youth. Anyone can
be exploited – boys, girls, trans youth, youth of all racial ethnicities, youth
of all demographics, youth of all education levels, youth of all socioeconomic
statuses. Any youth can be exploited.
When we ask the young people themselves, “Have you ever
traded sex for money, drugs, food, shelter, or something you needed to survive?”
And they say, yes. About half of our yesses come from girls and about half of
our yesses come from boys. So if we’re only thinking that trafficking
survivors, our girls were missing half of our victims who are in need of
services. This happens to our boys, this happens to our trans youth, this
happens to our gender nonconforming youth. We really need to open our eyes that
this can happen to anyone.
There are some families where you grew up in, you’re
expected to be a doctor. Some families where you grew up and you’re expected to
be a lawyer. Some families you grew up in, you’re expected to be a teacher.
There are some families where you grew up in, you’re expected to be in the sex
trades. No judgment on that. That’s just the family business. There’s also
family-based exploitation that happens when maybe mom or dad’s addiction is so
extreme that they are sharing access to the young person for financial
assistance to get those drugs. Or it might be that mom and dad need money for
rent and so their trading access to their child for that purpose. People really
haven’t looked into that and really thought about it much, but what we’re
finding is that it is very prevalent in cases of sex trafficking, that there
have been some family trafficking as well.
Poverty is a really great trafficker. When you do not have
the means to make ends meet, you’ll do anything. We live in an area with very
high-income inequality and we have people with access to lots of wealth and
people who are barely scraping by and it is ripe for trafficking.
JH: Do you
think it’s getting worse now that there’s that disparity in the greater Seattle
That is a great question and my answer is, I don’t know.
Seattle is oftentimes ranked as one of the worst cases for traffic or were
cities for trafficking. And could it be because it’s actually that bad? Maybe. We
are a port city. We are near an international border. We’re on the I-5
corridor. We’re part of the circuit. You have Vancouver, BC, Seattle, Portland,
and Las Vegas. We have high income disproportionality. All of those could be
why we have a really bad problem.
The pushback I would give is in Seattle and in King County for the most part, comparatively speaking, we’re what we are relatively well aware of this issue through free training and fabulous organizations. So we have a more engaged community. We are identifying more cases, we’re prosecuting more cases and we’re connecting more survivors to services. So it looks like we have a really bad problem. I’d argue that there are cities out there who have no trafficking cases, not because they don’t have trafficking, but because they’re not aware and they’re not looking for it. So on one level, the fact that we are finding all of these cases, that’s a really good thing. It means we’re aware of it. And we’re connecting our survivors to much needed services. Now do we need more services? Yes, but we’re doing good with the what we have at the moment.