Seattle Medium - Ben Gauen and StolenYouth on declaration of May 7th as Child Sex Trafficking Prevention Day

May 09, 2024

“Not on our watch, and not in our state.”

More than 600 youth are trafficked in Washington state every year, with many more at risk of exploitation online. StolenYouth is a Seattle-based non-profit dedicated to ending child sex trafficking in Washington state. On May 8th, StolenYouth held their annual Not On Our Watch (NOOW) luncheon; a fundraiser geared toward supporting anti-trafficking organizations throughout the state, educating stakeholders, and encouraging the community to fight the sexual exploitation of children and youth.

The 2024 NOOW Luncheon coincided with Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell declaring May 7th as Child Sex Trafficking Prevention Day.

Seattle Medium reported on the mayor’s declaration and StolenYouth’s involvement, as well as several insights into the sex trafficking crisis from SGB attorney and Stolen Youth board member, Ben Gauen.

Click the link or read the full article below:

Seattle Proclaims May 7th Child Sex Trafficking Prevention Day
By Kiara Doyal, The Seattle Medium

Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell is slated to declare May 7th as “Child Sex Trafficking Prevention Day,” according to StolenYouth, a Seattle-based non-profit that aims to end child sex trafficking in Washington state. The declaration will occur on the same day StolenYouth will hold its annual fundraising luncheon.

StolenYouth’s annual luncheon is geared towards educating the community about child sex trafficking locally and galvanizing attendees to stand up and say, “Not on our watch and not in our state.”

Child sex trafficking is a pressing issue nationwide that has remained an issue for decades. Hundreds of children and youth are trafficked each year in Seattle alone, and with Aurora Avenue North being the epicenter of sex trafficking in Washington State, this newly declared prevention day, according to advocates, is critical in raising awareness in King County.

“We have observed a horrifying trend of victims of sex trafficking in King County,” says Ben Gauen, StolenYouth Board Member and Attorney at Schroeter Goldmark & Bender. “Out of all victims of trafficking, 44% identify as Black African Americans, and that is a staggering and horrifying statistic because in King County, according to 2020 census data, we know that as a whole the Black African American population is 7%.”

According to Gauen, looking at child sex trafficking and exploitation from a different point of view, the people who have been charged for exploiting children, have all been wealthy men.

“This leads us to the conclusion that we have the most privileged people in our community, White males, who are employed and taking part in the exploitation of disproportionately young Black girls who represent some of the most marginalized demographics in our community,” says Gauen. “Highlighting not only race and gender but also income. Inequity issues are very prevalent in sex trafficking.”

Founded in 2012, StolenYouth is the only local organization focused exclusively on ending child sex trafficking across the state. According to Renee Wallace, StolenYouth and REST (Real Escape from the Sex Trade) Board Member, the organization has three goals — prevention, intervention, and community engagement.

“Our goal is to raise awareness and drive engagement around the issue of sex trafficking not only in our community but across the state of Washington as well,” says Wallace.

Wallace says that she is a proponent of Child Sex Trafficking Prevention Day because it is time to shed a bright light on this issue.

“Our new sanctioned day is important to me because I want to make people aware of this issue. If we can give people that education and knowledge to be able to prevent this from happening to their children, family, and youth overall then we can kind of fulfill that overall mission of ending sex trafficking,” says Wallace.

Wallace says that there appears to be a misguided idea that sex trafficking and exploitation only happens to women, but StolenYouth members are working to change that narrative, as Black boys and Trans youth are becoming victims that by many standards are flying under the radar.

“The shame and guilt Black boys and our trans youth are experiencing in self-reporting trafficking is not nearly reported on enough, and collecting data on that is something that needs to start happening,” says Wallace.

“Racism is a public health crisis deemed back in 2020. With that, we are seeing that the amount of online exploitation is happening more and more for our male youth, especially in gaming, and it speaks to how dominant culture has kind of painted this picture that Black bodies are disposable and are more objects than human,” added Wallace.

According to Wallace, a lot of the time, children and youth do not realize that they are being exploited or trafficked because their abuser is someone close to them, so they believe that someone in close relations with them would never take advantage of them.

“This is a huge contributor to the vulnerability of youth for our basic needs not being met and being forced to try and make money to make ends meet,” says Wallace.

StolenYouth has worked endlessly to end child sex trafficking in Washington state each year by identifying different organizations across the state that are actively engaged in anti-trafficking work. The newly declared “Child Sex Trafficking Prevention Day” on May 7 is validation of the work StolenYouth has done to address intervention and prevention at the same time.

“My eyes have been opened, and that is the power of this movement we are actively working on,” says Gauen. “Part of the awareness building around the newly sanctioned day creates compassion and empathy for the young people that are being sex trafficked.”

Working to spread awareness and striving to prevent child sex trafficking is critical to the well-being and future of vulnerable children not only within the city of Seattle but nationwide.

“What I was always taught is an ounce of prevention is worth more than a pound of cure,” says Wallace.