Children and youth who are forced into prostitution are rarely identified, but if they are, they are likely to be treated as criminals instead victims. Project Respect, in partnership with YouthCare, has created a compassionate and consistent statewide response to sexually exploited children and youth.
"We believe these victimized girls and boys need help and compassion, not the further victimization of arrest, incarceration and a return to the streets where they once again will be forced into commercial sex acts for the monetary gain of abusive pimps," says Bobbe Bridge.
"Until now, there has been no standard cross system, best practice or coordinated response for youth trying to escape prostitution," she explains. "Without such a standardized response and the training to implement it appropriately, law enforcement, the courts and other 'first responders' unintentionally perpetuate the problem and offer little hope to young victims."
Project Respect, in collaboration with more than 200 statewide stakeholders, has created the Washington State Model Protocol for Commercially Sexually Exploited Children. CCYJ is also training local task forces in Tri-Cities, Spokane County, Yakima County, Whatcom/Skagit Counties and King County in how to use their own unique resources and strengths to adapt and implement the protocol for their communities.
Together, we are creating a coordinated statewide response to prostituted children with the goal of identifying, engaging and helping victimized youth become free and recover from the exploitation and coercion they have endured. This shift in the relationship between the justice system and youth will decrease arrests among victimized youth, reduce the number of youth who are forced to return to prostitution, and increase the prosecution of traffickers. The protocol will not only improve the lives of victimized youth throughout Washington State, but it will become a national model for easing the further traumatization of these vulnerable young girls and boys.