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Innocence Lost: Underage girls who turn to prostitution

Seattle police so far this year have arrested 41 men for trying to hire teenage prostitutes. But the real mission of the detectives in the High Risk Victims Unit is rescuing those ensnared in child sex trafficking. They have rescued 29 underage girls so far this year.

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SEATTLE — Seattle detective Todd Novisedlak knows well how many pimps are working near Westlake Park to lure young girls into a life of prostitution.

He’s helped take down four of them during undercover stings there, including two last year.

pimps2“This is a duck pond for predators, sexual predators who are here for one purpose only,” Novisedlak said.

During an operation in 2012 near the fountain, two female officers pretended to be underage students from out of town  It wasn’t long before two pimps approached them — Bruce Brooks, a convicted rapist who was sentenced to 20 years in prison, and Michael Gaines.

Gaines told the officers he was once a pimp and wanted to get back into the business.  They even escorted the officers through a downtown store to show them all the nice things they could buy with the money they would earn working as prostitutes.

“When you start flashing whether it’s real merchandise like jewelry or the car you’re driving or a wad of cash or telling them stories about all the great things you could do together or the potential this girl has, she’s so beautiful, then you’ve got your hooks in her,” Novisedlak said.

Police arrested the two men after they put the girls on a bus to Aurora Avenue North.

“It is a major spot for recruiting and we’ve discovered that, through recovering of victims, business owners who report the activity, police officers who report the activity, girls who are still in it and even pimps that we’ve arrested have confided in us that this is the spot that they come to set their sights on a potential victim,” Novisedlak said.

Capt. Eric Sano commands the Seattle Police Unit investigating sex trafficking.  He says the pimps working near the park have silver tongues.

“They wait. They look, they try and find that one girl that maybe looks lost, that maybe looks neglected, that maybe looks like they could get their hooks into her and they`ll woo her and tell things that make her believe she`s beautiful and then they`ll lure her into this lifestyle,”  Sano said.

It may seem exciting to a troubled teenager, Novisedlak says, but, “Many of the girls end up hooked on drugs, beaten, starved and even tortured to make them keep earning.

Sano adds,  ‘We need to get these guys off the streets so that these victims, these girls, can start the healing process.”

SEATTLE — “Alice” is 16 years old now.  That’s not her real name. Nor is it the name she used when she worked as a prostitute on Highway 99 in Tukwila starting when she was just 12.

“I used to wear booty shorts, leggings. Do my hair, dress up, wear makeup. I never used to wear makeup. Lip gloss, just some skimpy little clothes showing cleavage to get attention, you know?” Alice said.

innocencelost2Alice is exactly the kind of girl pimps look for — girls they can charm and lure into a life of prostitution.

She says she never had a pimp but that didn’t stop guys from trying.

“First of all, pimps are not these glamorized, slick promoters that we see in the music industry or movies,” Seattle police Capt. Eric Sano said. “These guys are flat predators.”

Sano commands the Seattle Police Department’s High Risk Victims Unit that has rescued dozens of girls so far this year.

“The one thing that remains consistent is these young girls at some point in their life were either physically, verbally, emotionally abused or neglected and that forced them to go, as Willie Nelson says, to find love in all the wrong places,” Sano said.

Girls like “Sarah” from West Seattle.

“I was in a night club, an all-ages night club and I was approached romantically,” Sarah said. “It started out as a boyfriend/girlfriend relationship but it was just him grooming me.”

Sarah said a few weeks after they met, she couldn’t pay her rent.  That’s when her new “boyfriend” made a proposition.

“He said, ‘Well, if you need money I’ll pay your rent, this is what we`re going to do.’ He explained to me that I was going to be walking.”

Street walking on Highway 99. Eventually, the guy, who was a gang member, sold her out of local hotels.

“On a bad day I was making  between $2, 000 to $3,000 and on a good day I could make upwards of $6, 000 to $7,000,” Sarah said.

That cash  went straight into the pimp’s pocket.

“It’s not worth it,” Sarah said. “You will not see a dime of the money made. You`re not going to have that. You`re going to have less than what you started with.”

She was finally rescued in an undercover police sting.  Her pimp got 17 years behind bars.

‘These guys actually have a psychological hold on them,” Sano said. “We see time and time again these trauma bonds forming.”

To break those bonds, the girls need therapy and somewhere safe to live. The problem is, long-term, there’s nowhere for them to go.

“If there`s no place to put these girls who`ve been in this lifestyle, if there aren`t the medical professionals and the psychological professionals that can give them the tools to build up their own self-worth, their own self-esteem, they`re just gonna be re-victimized over and over again and go back to doing what they know, whether it`s the best thing for them or not, it`s what they know,” Sano said.

Stefanie Thomas agrees.  She works as a victim’s advocate for the High Risk Victim’s Unit.

“‘One of the failures would be the numerous victims who we remove from the situation, try to offer services and help and the referrals but that are not yet ready to. So we rescue or recover them one night, but the next night or the next week, they`re back out being exploited by somebody else,” Thomas said.

The success stories are few but worth it.

“Alice” was taken in by her dad far from the highway she used to walk in Tukwila.  She’s back in school and doing well. “Alice” is one of the lucky ones and she knows it.

“’I mean, look at the bigger picture. I mean, where is it going to get you? Condom could break. You could be pregnant with some man’s kid you don`t even know.  I`m actually glad I got out of it because it`s not no place for no old woman, young teen. It`s not a place for anybody. It`s not.”



SEATTLE — Seattle police so far this year have arrested 41 men for trying to hire teenage prostitutes. But the real mission of the detectives in the High Risk Victims Unit is rescuing those ensnared in child sex trafficking.

innocencelostDetectives in the unit this year have rescued 29 underage victims of child sex trafficking, including a 16-year-old girl and her 17-year-old friend during a recent undercover operation at a north Seattle hotel.

Police Capt. Eric Sano commands the department’s Coordinated Criminal Investigations Section and overseas the unit.

“You have girls that may be so despondent over this lifestyle, that they were sold a bill of goods, that they are suicidal and, of course, there`s always the risk of meeting that ‘john’ that could be the next Green River Killer or the pimp that beats them or kills them,” Sano said.

During the operation, officers targeted girls in online ads that appeared to be underage.  Five young women showed up at the hotel and were allowed to go home because they were over 18.   One girl said she was working as an escort because she wanted a car.  Another said she was busted as a prostitute for the first time when she was 15.

A third who came with her sister said, “This is just my first time, we were just hanging out. A friend ditched out. We just came over to have a drink.’”

Detective Bill Guyer , who works undercover in the unit, said of  the operation, “The home run is to find a young juvenile girl who is ready to be rescued.’”

He called a girl advertised online who came to the room with her friend. Both were underage and weren’t talking.

Guyer said, “If their still caught up in the glamour of, aw, this is OK, and their pimp is still the greatest guy in the world, that’s going to be a difficult interview.”

Detectives were able to track down the girls’ alleged pimp — Jeremiah Williams, a 21-year-old felon who goes by “J.” He was ordered held on two counts of promoting commercial sexual abuse of a minor.

Guyer said, “Our victims aren`t standing at the street corners waving us down, so, unfortunately, we have to dive out into the ocean to save that drowning victim. (That) is kind of what it is.”