–Dusty Murphy, CWLA

On February 24, 2016, Representatives Dave Reichert (R-WA) and Tony Cárdenas (D-CA) sponsored a briefing, “Reducing Demand for American Children Trafficked for Sex: King County, WA as a National Model.”  Briefing panelists included Tim Matsui, director of The Long Night, a documentary about youth in the American sex trade, Alisa Bernard, survivor who has dedicated her time to helping others escape the sex trade, and Judge Barbara Mack, the Chair of the King County Commercially Sexually Exploited Children (CSEC) Task Force.

Mr. Matsui spoke about his work on human trafficking in Cambodia and Thailand, which ultimately led to his work on The Long Night.  He expressed hope that his film can be used as a catalyst for communities to address the issues of child sex trafficking.  He stated that his film can be used for training and education.  Ms. Bernard spoke about some of the services and tactics used in King County.  She stated that the county uses in-demand tactics to address the issue of child sex trafficking. The county has a “John school,” which utilizes diversion programs rather than sentencing for men who seek commercial sex.  The school is more intensive than most, with a program that lasts 10 weeks for a total of 30 hours.  She spoke about the seizure of the Review Board website, which allows solicitors of commercial sex to describe, in detail, their encounter with the prostitute.  Ms. Bernard countered arguments offered by some that websites help to keep the women safe.  She states that websites like this keep women and girls trapped in the life.

Judge Mack spoke about the CSEC Task Force, which includes educators, law enforcement, survivors, non-profits, and services providers, among others.  According to the Judge, King County has a huge demand issue.  In King County alone, there are 130 websites in which a person can buy sex.  In monitoring one website, there were 25,000 advertisements for sex in one month. In 24 hours, one monitored website had 68,000 persons seeking commercial sex.  In 2 hours there were 200 to 250 responses to ads for children.  The Judge said that they have begun advertising treatment programs on websites like these.  Seekers are offered help and the effort has led many men to make self-referrals into the diversion program.

In addition to this strategy they have a coalition of businesses, as many calls for commercial sex come in between 2 to 3pm from local businesses.  Judge Mack stated that one of the most important steps that has been taken is that minors in King County are no longer being arrested for prostitution, a practice that has been in place in the past.  In 2009, there were over 50 minors charged with prostitution, but less than 10 men charged with trying to buy sex from a minor.  In 2015, no children were arrested for prostitution, and were instead provided with services to enable them to escape the life.

Information provided by Rights4Girls states that “there is no such thing as a ‘child prostitute.’ There are only victims and survivors of child rape.”  Their campaign seeks to end the use of the term “child prostitute,” encourage the passage of policies to end arrest, detention, and prosecution of victims of child sex trafficking, urge for treatment of these children, and promote deterrence and apprehension of child sex buyers.

Panelists called for the reauthorization of the JJDPA and support for legislation that would increase and support Safe Harbor laws for victims of violence and trafficking.