Sex trafficking here, not just elsewhere

MARYSVILLE – Sex trafficking doesn’t just happen somewhere else. It happens in Marysville and Arlington and all over Snohomish County.

“We have girls from Marysville schools who have been trafficked for sex,” said Elaine Hansen of the Sexual Exploitation Intervention Network, or SEIN. “One of the first items I learned about our localinvolvement was the girls hanging out at Donna’s Truck Stop working the truckers. It was quick money.”

To help these girls, SEIN is working with social service groups and agencies in the county to build Peoria Home. Marysville has been mentioned as a possible site.

To raise money, the 3rd Annual Beacon of Hope Dinner and Live Auction will take place at Xfinity Arena in Everett March 4. Norene Laggart of SEIN said prostitutes are not just working girls on the streetanymore.

“It’s by appointment, by computer,” she said. “It’s much more sophisticated, very invisible.”

Laggart said ads can be found on popular sites like Craigslist. Another site, called backpage.com, was just taken offline.

Computers also are used to recruit young girls. “They get caught into this being groomed by somebody,” Laggart said.

Laggart became involved after being a victim advocate at Providence Intervention Center.

“I kept seeing the same women over and over again in the ER” (emergency room), she said. “They wanted to get out and were crying.”

She said she also has seen sex abuse in her own family. “I’ve seen what it does – the loss of self-worth, self-esteem.”

Laggart said the county started noticing the problem about 10 years ago as calls increased on the Crisis Line.

“My neighbor’s daughter was caught up in that” or “I’ve seen lots of teenage girls being prostituted,” people would say, Laggart said.

County law enforcement received a grant to hire a detective to focus on sex trafficking. Laggart said 85 percent of the girls get their start after being sexually abused by a relative. “What happens to kidsin their own home is not right,” she said. “Lots of families are broken by this.”

And it’s not just kids from broken homes. The keynote Beacon of Hope speaker, Jeri Moomaw, came from a “perfect family.” However, when her mom died and dad checked out after that Moomawturned to that lifestyle. She talks about how she escaped that life and what communities can do to help.

Laggart said she has met others who have turned their lives around.

“They tell me they wish something like this was available to help them to get out of this life,” Laggart said.

Peoria Home is being modeled after Magdalene and Thistle Farms in Nashville, Tenn. It has an 84 percent success rate in its 20-year history. More than 30 other cities are looking at similar homes.

“We don’t have to reinvent the wheel,” Laggart said. The women at Magdalene are there for two years. They often get help for drug addiction and counseling for mental illness or post traumatic stresssyndrome. They also learn Life Skills, “which we all take for granted but they never learned,” Laggart said. All the women work at a Thistle Farms enterprise. At Peoria Home, organizers want to partnerwith Housing Hope’s Hopeworks project, which plans to build six social enterprises where low-income people can work. Fund-raising for Peoria Home has been a challenge. “It’s not a pretty subject.Nobody wants to know about it. People like to see tangible things,” Laggart said, adding they hope to have the house up and running by the end of the year.

Until the house is built, she said they try to do as much as they can to help those who have been trafficked for sex by connecting them to resources already available in the county.

“We want them to find a physical, mental and spiritual balance,” Laggart said.

Tickets for the Beacon of Hope event are $65 per person or $600 for a table for 10. It is March 4 from 5-9 p.m. at the Edward Hansen Conference Center, 2000 Hewitt Ave. in Everett.

Others involved include: Providence nurses, county prosecutor’s office, DSHS, CPS, Cocoon House, Denny Youth Center, Dawson Place, youth advocates and more. For details contact Norene Laggart atjmnlaggart@msn.com or Paula Skomski at Paula.Skomski@providence.org.

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