Bar Bulletin

Bar Bulletin

Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children: I Thought I Knew, but Did I? Do You?

July 2021 Bar Bulletin

By Faith Ireland

Awareness. Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (CSEC) happens when a person buys, trades, or sells sex acts with someone under the age of 18.1 As a former King County judge and justice of the Washington Supreme Court, I thought I knew this subject well. After all, I have lectured on sex trafficking; I consulted on the Washington Supreme Court case that led to a settlement with for three girls who were trafficked in its advertisements;2 and Erik Bauer and I presented a WSBA Legal Lunchbox program for approximately 2,000 attorneys about the sex trafficking of girls. Still, I had much to learn.

Rachel Lloyd’s “Girls Like Us”3 was chosen by my Rotary Club for a book discussion. Reading this riveting memoir, I realized how little I actually knew about the lives of sex-trafficked children. The author earned a B.A. in psychology and M.A. in applied urban anthropology. She is the founder of Girls Educational and Mentoring Services (GEMS).4 She describes herself as “a sexually exploited high school drop-out,” who escaped “the life” only after surviving a strangling and her attempted suicide. She decided a higher power must have other plans for her life.

To raise awareness, Seattle 4 Rotary members and the Women’s University Club presented the film “I am Jane Doe,” which documents the sex trafficking of middle school girls. It was shown the very day that Erik Bauer and Pfau Cochran Vertetis Amala announced the settlement.

Rotarians Virginia McKenzie and Cathy Gibson have founded another group, Pacific Northwest Rotary Ending Sex Trafficking, which is soon to be chartered.5

The Victims: How Children Are Trapped. Today, a middle school girl with internet access may be lured into a meeting, a car, a bed; predatory abductors know child psychology and how to manipulate girls into being sold for sex. Often this includes drugs, violence, and even gang rape. An abducted girl who is quickly reported missing may be recovered through an amber alert, a search, and a local news account. But depending on the victim’s race,6 socio-economic class, foster-care,7 or run-away status, she may not be missed. Starved for attention and affection, this victim may be seen instead as a willing participant who becomes just another “teen prostitute.”

Anyone thinking some girls are in “the life” just to buy luxuries should reconsider. The money is rarely theirs. It often belongs to “Daddy,” their pimp. Like kidnapping victims, these girls may have Stockholm Syndrome or post-traumatic stress disorder from physical violence among other trauma. They may be in denial, unable to acknowledge the horror of their predicament out of fear or because it has been normalized.

If you have concerns about a child, visit Washington Trafficking Prevention for 21 Exploitation Indicators.8 In addition to 911, call 1-866-END-HARM (363-4276).

Pimp, Daddy, Manager, Businessman, Predator, or Leech? Lloyd decries the glamorization of pimps in film, television, music, and video.9 In actuality, pimps are leeches who suck the souls from young girls. These predators stalk their prey at bus stations, group homes, and middle schools, among other locales. Pimps seem to have graduated from the same “mind control training camp as cult leaders, hostage takers, and terrorists.” Allowing that pimps may also have been abused, addicted, or conditioned by family or peers, Lloyd asks first and foremost that they not be accepted, normalized, or aggrandized.

Johns, the Consumers. Child sex trafficking could not exist without demand. “John” is the catchall for the anonymous everyman, who is manifest in the millions of men in America who buy sex from children. Every walk of life, age group, ethnicity, and class are included. They are “Judges, mailmen, truck drivers, firemen, janitors, artists, clergy, cops, drug dealers, teachers.”

Lloyd calls these men statutory rapists and child abusers regardless of whether they conform to technical definitions of pedophile. Lloyd notes many men want someone who looks clean and fresh and more likely to be disease free. A survey by Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitations (CAASE) reported 80 percent preferred “young” prostitutes. Some may believe they are helping the girl, or they may use other rationalizations to deny they are a part of the sexual exploitation of children. Society also normalizes the buying of sex “because men have needs.”10

In Seattle, shopping for child sex is computerized. The three largest sites have been, CityX and The King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office reports a 28% increase in Commercial Sexual Abuse of a Minor (CSAM) charges in 2018 compared to 2017 in a limited number of jurisdictions dedicating resources toward the problem.12

The System. In 2008, Stolen Youth, a non-profit focused on Washington child victims of sex trafficking, commissioned a study by Debra Boyer, PhD, a cultural anthropologist. Dr. Boyer’s 2019 update reports cooperative efforts among groups such as King County CSEC Task Force, Bridge Collaborative, Adult Survivor Collaborative, and Ending Exploitation Collaborative. The CSEC Task force adopts best practices by (1) training across sectors, such as social services, health services, law enforcement, education, and business; (2) building community awareness and support; and (3) identifying exploitation and creating opportunities for youth to feel safe coming forward to access services.

Two critical law enforcement questions are (i) how can law enforcement agencies protect victims without an arrest? and (ii) how can an investigation of exploiters proceed with access to victims where there is no arrest?13

Further, child abuse and neglect may occur through domestic minor sex trafficking (DMST) victimization. Under Washington law, child abuse or neglect means, among other things, “sexual exploitation.”14 “‘Sexual exploitation’ includes (a) Allowing, permitting, or encouraging a child to engage in prostitution by any person; or (b) allowing, permitting, encouraging, or engaging in the obscene or pornographic photographing, filming, or depicting of a child by any person.”15 Accordingly, victims can receive a child protective response and child protective services may intervene in the life of any child under the age of 18 who is being sexually exploited by any adult.

Progress is reported in additional dedicated housing placements, policy progress in addressing pimping and prostitution activities, proposed legislative reforms to increase the age for prosecution for prostitution to 18 and protection from prosecution if seeking emergency assistance. There is also progress in implementing trafficking prevention in schools, men’s accountability programs, and focus on arrest of buyers.

Hope. Learning so much more about CSEC recently has been profound. Appreciating the magnitude of the problem and the devastation to children caught in the life has been discouraging. Still, learning how much attention, coordination, and effort are being shouldered by the system, not-for-profit agencies, and individuals like Rachel Lloyd gives me hope. No recounting of her book can equal the impact of listening to or reading it to understand what it is to be caught in the life and how difficult escaping is. I recommend “Girls Like Us” very highly. 

Faith Ireland has been an attorney and jurist for over fifty years. She is an activist for justice and a Life Empowerment Coach. She can be reached at and (206) 383-2478.

1 Among the crimes and acts that constitute CSEC are the following: child sex trafficking/the prostitution of children; child sex tourism involving commercial sexual activity; the commercial production of child pornography; and the online transmission of live video of a child engaged in sexual activity in exchange for anything of value.

2 J.S. et al. v. Village Voice Media Holdings, LLC, 184 Wn.2d 95, 359 P.3d 714 (2015).

3 Lloyd, Rachel. Girls Like Us: Fighting for a World Where Girls are Not for Sale, an Activist Finds Her Calling and Heals Herself. Harper, 2011. (ISBN 978-0061582059.)

4 – Ed.

5 A few charter memberships remain available. If you are interested in attending (virtual) or joining please contact Faith Ireland at

6 Victim data also shows a clear and disturbing racial disproportionality. Of 97 CSEC victims seen by KCPAO between 2011–2018, 45% were African American and 44% were Caucasian; all females. The African American population in King County is estimated to be 6.2% of the total population. Of sex buyers of minors who were prosecuted between 2013–2018, 73% (N=242) were Caucasian. Commercially Sexually Exploited Children in Seattle/King County 2019 Update, URL in footnote 1.

7 Video on foster care exploiters as told by the victims

8 Exploitation Indictors and Sudden & Alarming Changes

9 E.g., in 2003, 50 Cent released his platinum-
selling song “P. I. M. P.,” describing among his working girls the one with “stitches in her head”; within months, Reebok awarded him a sneaker endorsement worth $50 Million. Lloyd also catalogues cultural references, such as the energy drink called Pimp Juice, the slang phrase “pimped out,” and an Academy Award for the song, “It’s Hard out Here for a Pimp.”

10 Commercially Sexually Exploited Children in Seattle/King County 2019 Update URL in footnote 1.

11 For a video featuring Robert Beiser on preventing sex buying, see

12 King County Prosecuting Attorney Office (2019) King County Sexual Exploitation Cases: The Data Behind the Charges. Ben Gauen, Senior Deputy Prosecuting Attorney. › KCPAO+2019.

13 For a full discussion of the policies, roles and conflicts and ambiguities see Dr. Boyer’s 2019 report as referenced in footnote 1 at pages 49–51.

14 RCW § 26.44.020(1).

15 RCW § 26.44.020(25).

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