Child sex trafficking victims must be found and given access to services right away to help them move on from prostitution.

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SEXUAL abuse and exploitation happens to hundreds of young people every year in King County.

New efforts to find these victims and get them out of the commercial sex trade are promising. Our community must turn this momentum into lasting, positive change. That means embracing, not further punishing, a child who is being manipulated by a pimp.

“I see these kids every day,” says King County Superior Court Judge Barbara Mack, chair of the county’s Commercially Sexually Exploited Children Task Force. “When you have kids whose only support system is the pimp — they need something else.”

Our community must turn this momentum into lasting, positive change.”

In recent months, local law-enforcement agencies have sensibly shifted their responses to the commercial sex market by arresting buyers more often than the people they are paying for sex. And instead of arresting and charging girls and boys caught in those situations, police are beginning to refer them to services immediately. That means calling a community advocate as soon as victims are found and getting them access to safe shelter, mental-health and chemical-dependency treatment.

Between April 2014 and March 2015, judges, social-service agents, juvenile-justice workers, community members and parents referred 101 sexually exploited youths for services in King County.

Out of that total, 77 received follow-up visits from a community advocate and 66 are enrolled in services to get out of prostitution. That’s a small number compared to the hundreds of young people being bought and sold, but it’s progress.

What you can do

To refer trafficking victims between the ages of 12 and 24 for help, call 855-400-CSEC or email:

communityadvocate@youthcare.org

Attend free, ongoing trainings on identifying and responding to sexually exploited youths. Email:

Kelly.Mangiaracina@kingcounty.gov

View the issue by watching “The Long Night,” an award-winning documentary about trafficked girls in King County. More information:

facebook.com/moviethelongnight

YouthCare, Friends of Youth, Auburn Youth Resources and the Organization for Prostitution Survivors should be commended for forming the Bridge Collaborative and coordinating help for children through a 24-hour hotline. With funding from public and private sources, this group is training more school counselors, probation officers and social workers on the signs a child is being trafficked.

Most victims of sex trafficking have suffered abuse from an early age. Lack of family support and drug addiction are huge drivers of their behavior. The easier it is for them to heal from that trauma and access services when they are ready, the less likely they are to return to a harmful, dangerous life.