Eastside’s first center for victims of sex trafficking opens in Bellevue
Mere blocks away from the high-rise Bellevue condominiums where more than a dozen women were rescued in January after being forced into sex work, a new facility has opened to help survivors of sex trafficking. Local non-profit Escape to Peace launched the Eastside’s first center for survivors of sex trafficking in Bellevue on Oct. 6. Bellevue business owner Carol Loya was inspired to create the non-profit after a 2012 mission to Thailand, during which she was shocked to see and talk to young girls involved in sex work.While she initially wanted to help sex trafficking victims in Thailand, as Loya started educating herself on the issue, she realized that sex trafficking is an issue throughout the world — even in the Puget Sound area.
At any given time in King County, 300-500 underage girls are being trafficked. The average age of entry is 12-14 years old, with some as young as 8 or 9.
Young boys are also increasingly becoming sex trafficking victims — Some estimates have males making up 40 or 50 percent of sex trafficking cases in the U.S.
Elaine Adams was first exposed to sex work by a family member when she was 15. The relative — whom Adams had trusted and admired — convinced her to help her at a bachelor party in Bellevue. All she would have to do was dance, the relative told her.
It sounded harmeless, Adams said, but the encounter left her terrified and was the first part in a grooming process that most young victims undergo.
“You’re traumatized,” she said. “It’s not only the threat of physical violence, but also brainwashing. They find your vulnerabilities.”
In addition to using her low self-esteem against her, the people grooming her also used fear and violence. Adams was already broken from being raped at age 13, she said. As the years went on, Adams said she was raped so many times, she lost count. The sex trade soon felt like her identity.
Both Loya and Adams said that no young person truly chooses to become a sex worker — grooming and coercion is at the core of the sex trade. Part of the process is also glamorizing sex work, making victims think they’re free and/or loved by their pimps, Adams added.
Because of the mental and physical effects of sex trafficking, Loya said trauma therapy like that offered at Escape to Peace is key to helping victims work through overwhelming experiences and recover. The center will also house victims over 18 years of age and partner with other organizations to shelter underage victims.
“When I first started this work, it was about awareness, prevention and detection. But then I realized that I couldn’t be out there, thinking I was creating awareness of the situation, without somewhere for these victims to go,” Loya said. “But, there’s still that awareness piece. People are shocked when they hear sex trafficking is an issue around here.”
Gradually, Adams found her way out of sex work. Family members began taking her to church and the birth of her oldest son made Adams realize her life had to change. Now, she is an advocate for sex-trafficking victims and refers to herself not as a survivor, but an “overcomer”.
When asked what she would tell victims still entangled in sex trafficking, Adams’ answer is simple: “There is help out there. There are safe spaces. There are so many people like myself who have overcome this. Just try.”
The Escape to Peace center at 11100 Main St. will officially open to clients next month.
Click for original story at Bellevue Reporter.