Battle against sex trafficking takes center stage at Wilson HS

2/19/2014 | TACOMA, Washington

​Teenage girls in the Greater Tacoma area experience a higher risk of being manipulated into prostitution by savvy sex traffickers than girls in other parts of the state, according to a Tacoma police officer who served on a federal task force.

Now, Shared Hope, an international organization that battles sex trafficking, will present a free short documentary film screening and follow-up discussion March 5 at Wilson High School.

The 20-minute video, “Chosen,” tells the true story of two All-American girls tricked into the sex trade. Eighteen-year-old Brianna was an honor-roll student, cheerleader and worked at a local café. Thirteen-year-old Lacy was an active member of her youth group, and a volunteer in her community.

The video aims to “equip preteens and teens to protect themselves and others from being trapped in the horrific and violent sex industry,” according to Shared Hope. In addition, Shared Hope has resources to help educators and school counselors on the front lines understand the warning signs of sex trafficking.

For anyone who thinks, “this couldn’t happen to my child,” think again, said Tacoma Police Officer Jacob Martin, who worked for four years on the FBI’s Innocence Lost Initiative to battle sex trafficking.

“I hope people are starting to get a sense of the magnitude of this problem,” Officer Martin said. “Our unit could go out onto Pacific Avenue in Tacoma and pick up young girls on prostitution charges any time of the day. It was really sad to see the number of young girls out there…and the majority of cases were local girls from Tacoma.”

And the methods used by manipulative street pimps work on the naïve, Martin said. Typically, but not always, pimps prey on girls with low self-esteem, girls from broken, one-parent homes, girls never told they matter or have value. Sometimes the pimps will use other girls to recruit for them.

“And all of a sudden, here’s a guy who treats this girl nice, taking her to dinner, getting her hair done, giving her things,” Martin said. “He tells her he loves her, and they’ll have a great life together.”

Then things change abruptly. He’s got to pay the rent, keep the hotel room for another week, make a car payment, raise money so they can go to Hawaii. So he convinces her to prostitute herself.

“Sometimes it takes a day. Sometimes it takes a week. But once he convinces her to do it once, it’s all over,” Martin said.

Dianne Zoro, a Federal Way mother and a leader of the Federal Way Coalition Against Trafficking (www.fwcat.org), told a City Club of Tacoma audience on Wednesday that she hasn’t seen her daughter, Danica, in six years. Danica disappeared from a South Sound motel after being manipulated into becoming a prostitute.

Since then, Zoro said, she has joined the battle against sex trafficking and “learned that every high school in Federal Way has encountered trafficking issues in one form or another.”

The free public screening of “Chosen” will take place Wednesday, March 5, at 7 p.m. in the Wilson High School Auditorium, 1202 N. Orchard St., 98406.

Tips for identifying sex trafficker behavior
Traffickers can be anyone and they know how to manipulate their victims.  Look for these signs of a trafficker:

  • Gets jealous easily, seems controlling or exhibits violence
  • Is significantly older than your or your friend
  • Promises things that seem too good to be true
  • Encourages you to engage in illegal activities to achieve your goals and dreams
  • Suggests that they know how to help you make a lot of money
  • Buys expensive gifts or likes to flash his/her money
  • Is vague about his/her profession and you can't provide what they really do
  • Gets pushy or demanding about sex
  • Wants to take suggestive photos, encourages you to model or dance for money
  • Makes you feel responsible for his/her financial stability. Very open about financial matters
    (Source: Shared Hope International)

If you or a friend is involved with someone like this, call the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children: 1-800-THE-LOST or online www.cybertipline.org.