Protect kids from sex traffickers, local activists plead

Community members and activists passionate about the fight against human trafficking are getting together in Puyallup Tuesday night (June 24) to spread awareness about the problem of youths being exploited sexually for commercial gain.

The timing couldn’t be more appropriate. The Federal Bureau of Investigation reported Monday that four child victims were recovered last week in Washington state, and 13 individuals were arrested on suspicion of sex trafficking.

Three of the four child victims, and eight of the 13 suspected pimps arrested, were recovered in the South Sound, said Seattle-based FBI spokeswoman Ayn Dietrich.

Tuesday’s presentation will provide citizens with information to help them recognize and report sex trafficking, said Jo Lembo, a presenter from Shared Hope International, a nonprofit organization working to end human trafficking.

“People need to know what are the tactics being used to snare their kids,” she said.

The nonprofit will also show a short documentary about sex trafficking in the Pacific Northwest.

Diane Kienholz of Puyallup, who organized the event, said trafficking is an important community issue and a large problem in the Northwest.

The mother of eight and grandmother of 12 started getting involved by talking to local political leaders, handing out information flyers and speaking to community groups about the realities of human trafficking.

“I stuck my foot in it, and I wanted my city to be aware,” said Kienholz, a former child care worker, explaining her involvement in the issue.

Capt. Dalan Brokaw of the Puyallup Police Department said he’s doesn’t know of any reported trafficking of minors within Puyallup city limits. Even so, he will attend Tuesday’s event to raise awareness and inform people how to report possible cases.

Community outrage was inflamed in the Puyallup area over an alleged incident that occurred outside a grocery store on South Hill last December in which a man was accused of trying to sell a 7-year-old girl for sex.

The reporting party had been drinking and got into an argument with the defendant outside the store, a Pierce County prosecutor’s office spokeswoman said Monday. After further investigation, the child did not disclose any history of physical or sexual abuse, and no charges were filed, the spokeswoman said.

But other cases of South Sound trafficking have led to serious charges and prison time.

Prosecutors secured a big conviction last summer when a Tacoma man accused of coercing women and girls to work for him as prostitutes was sentenced to 23 years in federal prison. Alexander Walls, 27, recruited women and girls to sell sex in Pierce and King counties, often selling their services on websites Backpage.com and Craigslist. Walls’ accomplice pleaded guilty and received a 15-year sentence.

Lembo said Tuesday’s presentation will show how traffickers target and lure young girls into the sex industry. She said traffickers often target troubled teens who run away from home or are addicted to drugs.

She said a trafficker will befriend a young girl with gifts and promises of a glamorous lifestyle, but will begin to control her emotions while isolating the girl from her friends and family. Most traffickers are older males who will threaten, intimidate and blackmail girls into performing sexual acts, she said

Other organizations will be at the event, including Washington Engaged, a nonprofit focused on eradicating trafficking through policy and prevention. It will collect signatures for its “Not In My City” petition.

Haley Nicholson, Miss Pierce County 2013, will also attend Tuesday’s event to speak to teens about the dangers of sex trafficking, an issue that she’s passionate about.