BY Tim Haeck on February 14, 2014
It’s a good bet that most of the children caught up in prostitution and sex trafficking are part of the foster care system. A new bill would force states to identify victims and make better lives for foster kids.
As a cop, Dave Reichert saw kids as young as 11 years old on the streets. They were victims in the sex trade, the type of people that the Green River Killer preyed upon.
“This is why I’m driven because I’ve lived this,” said Reichert, who estimated he collected the bodies of 150 young girls and women in his law enforcement career.
As a Congressman, Reichert wants to help them. Women like Mandy Urwiler, who entered the foster system at age 15 and talked to reporters at a news conference in Seattle Thurs.
“(I was) pressured to turn tricks for people who had every intention of exploiting me for their benefit,” she said.
Reichert is sponsoring a bill in the U.S. House that would help identify victims of child sex trafficking, gather more data on the issue and force states to develop plans to rapidly locate foster child runaways and determine if they’ve been victimized by sex trafficking.
As a deputy on the streets, King County Sheriff John Urquhart remembers arresting teen prostitutes.
“I’m not nostalgic about those days in any way, shape or form,” he said. “We were doing the wrong thing. We didn’t understand how victimized these women and young girls were.”
Advocates say victims of sex abuse are 28 times more likely to be involved in prostitution. Jim Theofolis with the Mockingbird Society said oftentimes, the abuse begins before they can even talk.
“These are young people who are filled with trauma.”
Serving foster kids can be a challenge, said Dr. Melinda Giovengo, Executive Director of Youth Care.
“When you have had 30 or 40 placements, when you have been sexually abused by someone you love and trust, it is difficult to pry your way into their lives and beg them to ‘trust me,’ ‘trust you’ to make a difference this time.”
Reichert’s bill would also promote ways to make the lives of foster kids more normal and prepare them for adulthood. For example, making sure they have Social Security cards, driver licenses and maybe a bank account.
Reichert plans to introduce the “Preventing Sex Trafficking and Improving Opportunities for Youth in Foster Care Act” this week. A hearing on the measure is scheduled for Wednesday Feb. 19 at Auburn City Hall.