SEATTLE -- Prostitution is often called the world's oldest profession. While "working girls" are viewed as a problem, they're also someone's mother, sister or daughter who most people on the street pretend not to see.
I went undercover with Seattle police and discovered this is a story about people with hope. You may be surprised to learn how hard one woman has worked to get out of 'the life', while also teaching other women a new way to live.
We pass 'working girls' every day and measure their worth by the company they keep.
“Well, the girls call it The Track. We call it Aurora (Avenue), but they call it The Track. It`s just a slang word for where they work,” says an undercover detective.
For the women who work here, The Track is a road to nowhere -- owned by the men who buy them, ruled by the men who turned them out.
“They call them boyfriends. In this city you spell boyfriend P-I-M-P. They stay in these rooms. Then, in order to pay for the rooms and the drugs they use, they go out on what they call the track, Aurora, and work the sex trade,” says the detective.
On this particular night, undercover detectives are patrolling State Route 99, from 80th to 145th. But there goal isn`t just to bust them. They’re here to give the working girls some hope.
“Most people look down on prostitutes, like you`re just a prostitute. They forget that they’re somebody`s daughter, they’re a human being,” says one undercover officer.
That brings us to Noel Gomez.
“We didn`t think as little girls, when I grow up I want to be a prostitute on Aurora, you know? That`s not what we ever dreamed about doing.”
Noel made her living on The Track every night for nearly a decade.
“I know what it`s like to be on the streets and have a pimp,” she says.
Pregnant as a teen and kicked out of her home, Noel says she was turned out and trafficked by the boyfriend she trusted.
“My biggest fear was to be killed by a ‘john’ or a buyer. That would be the worst death I could imagine and I just didn`t want to die like that,” she says.
Noel managed to escape and now spends her time helping other girls get out of ‘the life.'
“When I`m out here I literally feel sick to my stomach. It really just makes my heart hurt just so bad for these women who are just living in hell,” says Noel.
Her nonprofit, Organization for Prostitution Survivors , known as OPS, aims to get women off this endless track and on to the right one.
On this particular night, the undercover detectives are heading up a sting targeting the 'johns'. A police officer decoy walks The Track as a potential 'john' approaches. Undercover detectives wait until the decoy gives the signal, and within seconds, they`re surrounded by flashing lights.
The ‘john’ is cuffed and taken away and before anyone has time to realize what`s happening, the undercovers are back in position and ready for the next bust.
On this particular night, they arrest six men in just a few hours. Farther down The Track, other officers are picking up prostitutes. The women are given two options: jail time or accept a second chance. They`re provided a list of resources to start fresh, but sadly, for so many it is just not that simple.
“What does it take from you? What does it take from you when you have to have sex with a perfect stranger for money? It takes your dignity, your self-respect, your self-esteem. It takes everything from you. They’re left with less than nothing,” says the undercover.
Maybe the hardest part is counseling the women, 13 of them on this night, to walk away. How do you sell a worthy idea to a person who is sold every night, someone who believes she is worthless?
“Their self-esteems have been demolished. When you`ve been in this life and you`ve been raped and beat and abused and manipulated, had everybody try to kill you and stab you in the back, and you`ve been down on your luck your whole life, it`s not really easy. You don`t know how to get a job,” says Noel.
It`s not easy. But nothing worth doing ever is.
“Yes, there is life after `the life`. It`s worth it. It`s worth it. These girls and these women are worth it and somebody`s gotta do it,” says Noel.
Which is why the undercover detective, his unit and Noel spend their days and their nights working with the women who work The Track.
“I don`t think you can put a price on your soul. I mean, it doesn`t matter how much they pay you. It all ends up the same in the end, you know?” says Noel.
Through Noel`s OPS program, she has helped change the lives of hundreds of women and girls.
For more information on Organization for Prostitution Survivors, click on this link www.seattleops.org or call 206-850-8252. Another organization that can help is Youthcare; it's 24-hour line is 1-855-400-CSEC.