When it comes to human trafficking, Seattle city leaders believe words matter.
Last week, the city council voted unanimously to change the name of the crime of “patronizing a prostitute” to “sexual exploitation.”
Those who work with survivors of the sex trade say it’s a shift that could save lives.
In the sex trade, it’s known as walking the track. It’s a path most of them don’t chose. They’re abused, they’re alone. And for women like Marcy, they feel trapped.
“I felt there was nothing else I could do. I felt it was all I knew, I felt like I was never going to make it out of that life alive,” Marcy recalled. She asked that we not use her real name.
The goal behind changing what the crime is called, is changing how prostitution is viewed. Sexual exploitation targets the customers and recognizes that, in the majority of cases, the person being sold is a victim.
“When we call it sex exploitation, it puts a lot more responsibility on the person who’s engaging in that activity and it says, ‘Am I willing to do something that’s exploitive to another person?'” said Amanda Hightower, Executive Director of REST– Real Escape from the Sex Trade.
REST partners with Seattle Police. The idea is to provide sex workers a choice and a second chance.
“Instead of taking them to jail they would have the opportunity to bring them to us,” said Hightower. “We don’t have time limits. We’re not going to end the relationship. We’re going to stick by your side as long as you want, the way that you want, that you feel is best for you.”
Marcy remembers the day two years ago when a police officer stopped her. She thought she was going to jail.
“But the officer at that point was like, ‘Do you want to get help? Do you want to get out of this?'”
For Marcy, the answer was yes. After six years in the sex trade, she got out.
“I finally had somebody positive speaking into my life. I’ve never and that, I’ve never had anybody care or try to steer me in the right way,” she said.
Marcy is now on the right track, thanks to a police officer who gave her a choice and an organization that gave her a chance.
“I’m clean today. I’m off the streets and I’m a good mother to my son. And I’m just striving to not let what I went through define me anymore,” said Marcy.
Hightower says REST is now working toward building a long-term emergency receiving center for people trying to get out and stay out of the sex trade.