Community

Human trafficking forum highlights dangers

From left, Paula Newman-Skomski of the Providence Intervention Center for Assault and Abuse, Julio Cortes of Cocoon House and Snohomish County Sheriff’s Detective Peter Teske warn area residents of the presence of sexual predators in their own community, during the April 15 human trafficking forum. - Kirk Boxleitner
From left, Paula Newman-Skomski of the Providence Intervention Center for Assault and Abuse, Julio Cortes of Cocoon House and Snohomish County Sheriff’s Detective Peter Teske warn area residents of the presence of sexual predators in their own community, during the April 15 human trafficking forum.
— image credit: Kirk Boxleitner

MARYSVILLE — The Marysville Chapter of Soroptimist International offered the local community an eye-opening education on the world of human trafficking on Tuesday, April 15, from the perspectives of three people who deal most often with its victims.

Snohomish County Sheriff’s Detective Peter Teske is part of a special investigations unit whose sole focus is on sex trafficking, and he hammered home to his audience in the Marysville-Pilchuck High School Auditorium that evening that human trafficking, or sex trafficking, is more of a local issue than they might realize.

“The average age that children are recruited into sex trafficking is 12-14 years,” Teske said. “Many of us still have the idea that they’re shipped into or out of this country, or that they’re abducted in windowless white vans. We have between 100,000 to 300,000 juveniles who are trafficked, right here in Snohomish County, each year.”

Julio Cortes, community relations and legislative coordinator for Cocoon House, noted that many of the homeless or otherwise at-risk youth that his organization serves have been sexually exploited, which is why Cocoon House provides not only shelter, but also career and life skills training, to help decrease their vulnerability.

“A lot of young ladies out there are brainwashed by their pimps,” Cortes said. “It’s not uncommon for them to engage in ‘survival sex,’ in exchange to food or clothing or a place to stay. It’s important to give kids an outlet when they’re in a crisis. We want young people to know that we have these resources available to them.”

Paula Newman-Skomski, a forensic nurse examiner with the Providence Intervention Center for Assault and Abuse, joined Teske in advising parents to keep a watchful eye on their children’s activities, both online and in the real world, to help ensure their safety from sexual predators.

“I’m honest with my children about sex, about sexual behavior and about sexual boundaries, in ways that are appropriate for their age and development levels,” Newman-Skomski said. “And I always know where they are and who they’re with.”

“Too many parents are at the beck and call of their children, rather than the other way around,” Teske said. “If my kids are going to be accessing anything on the Internet, on any device, it’s going to be in a public area, and not behind closed doors. Also, with the way girls are socialized, they all too often feel an inability to tell people who are creeping them out to go away. They need to know that it’s okay, in a public place, to say, ‘Leave me alone.’”

Marysville Soroptimist Board member Elaine Hanson became a fighter to end the teen sex trade after she and other Soroptimist members attended a Northwest Coalition Against Trafficking Conference in Portland in 2011, which she described as a “shocking eye-opener. I knew that, if I didn’t know anything about this kind of activity, then many others in Marysville didn’t either.”

The human sex trafficking issue has become a key initiative of Soroptimist International, and the Marysville Chapter has hosted a public event each year since the Portland conference.

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