February 11, 2010

Private donations save a Seattle plan to rescue teen prostitutes

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rita_hibbardwebA Seattle program to rescue teenage prostitutes from the streets was going the way of budget cuts until private citizens stepped in with donations, ranging from checks of $5 to $100,000. Those contributions will help the city keep a pilot program designed to provide about 20 teenage prostitutes a year with emergency shelter, transitional housing and social services.

All told, the program will cost $1.5 million, with the city providing about $1.2 million, Sara Jean Green of the The Seattle Times writes.

“People don’t want to overanalyze it. They hear it, they know it’s out there, they think it’s wrong and they want to do something about it,” said Terri Kimball of the Seattle Human Services Department.

Things got rolling in the fall, when a Seattle investment advisor pledged $100,000 to help launch the program. He then challenged others to match his donation, and those who did included the Gates Foundation and and Pearl Jam’s Stone Gossard and Mike McCready.

The investment advisor, who wishes to remain anonymous, has three daughters, and was moved to become involved after reading that there are between 300 and 500 teen prostitutes on the streets of King County at any given time. He and his wife usually donate to poorest Africa, he told Green in an interview, but decided to donate to this cause after reading of the need, and learning that there are only a few other residential rehab programs for teen prostitutes in the U.S. – in San Francisco, Los Angeles , New York and Atlanta. In these centers, the young prostitutes are treated more as victims of crimes than as criminals, under laws like California’s new sexually exploited minors law. Like California, New York also has a new law that calls for juvenile prostitutes to be sent to rehab rather than juvenile detention.

“It just touched my heart,” he said. “I believe most people understand these teenage girls aren’t doing this by choice,” he said. “Anytime people become aware of an injustice and can do something about it, they’re moved to do so. We all do what we can do — that’s what makes Seattle such a great place.”

— Rita Hibbard

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