I acknowledge, this is not a pretty subject, nor is it one we enjoy talking about. Many would rather never deal with it. We certainly don't want to acknowledge that it occurs in our city. But the facts are irrefuteable.
Some children in Seattle and King County are forced into street and Internet prostitution. It is an ugly, violent and totally degrading experience for the victims of the predatory men who use and abuse these kids. And this terrible crime is being facilitated by a company that claims it is only defending the First Amendment: Village Voice Media/Backpage.com.
Over the past three years, 18 criminal investigations, all resulting in criminal charges being filed in King County Superior Court, have produced evidence that Village Voice Media/Backpage.com has been used as a vehicle in the prostitution of children. Five of these cases have resulted in trial convictions. Seven resulted in plea convictions. Six are pending trial.
And because we do know the facts, we are intensely focused on rescuing these kids and protecting them and caring for them.
Our police officers in Seattle have shifted from their traditional approach; now they view these kids as victims, not criminals. Their effectiveness is evident. For each of the past three years, we have led the nation in the number of children rescued from prostitution as reported by the FBI.
Village Voice Media/Backpage.com may want to debate the scope of the problem, but that’s nothing but a massive distraction. We know the facts, the reality on the street. We’re not debating whether it’s a problem or not, we’re working hard to stop it and help these kids.
In fact, 13 months ago, Seattle became just the fourth city in the United States to establish a safe-haven, a residential facility run by YouthCare where these children can receive the care, therapy, education and love they need.
And the need for all of us to stay engaged and united on this topic continues. Over the past 13 months, YouthCare has engaged with 185 children—some referred to YouthCare by police and other organizations, others identified by YouthCare staff involved in outreach efforts—who acknowledged being commercially sexually exploited through prostitution. Of this total, 119 enrolled in a YouthCare program and 23 of these reported being prostituted through Village Voice Media/Backpage.com.
So Village Voice Media/BackPage.com can try to minimize the problem if they want, but we know the facts. Mayor McGinn knows the facts. My Council colleagues know the facts. The detectives who work in our High Risk Victims Unit know the facts. I know the facts. City government is united and resolute. We will act to protect our children and we will speak the truth about those who assist and facilitate harm upon our children. The facts compell this reponse.
Village Voice Media/Backpage.com knows the facts, too!
Everyone can see the facts because they are held in the case files in the King County Superior Court. They are clear and irrefutable. In case after case over the past three years, Dan Satterberg's prosecutors have established that Village Voice Media/Backpage.com is used to assist and facilitate the commercial sexual exploitation of children.
It doesn't have to continue. Village Voice Media/Backpage.com could chose to follow the very simple steps that other publishers follow that would make it almost impossible for this exploitation of children to take place. Their corporate irresponsibility is harming our community; it’s harming our children. That’s a fact.