'It makes me sick': Children sold for sex on Seattle streets

'It makes me sick': Children sold for sex on Seattle streets »Play Video
SEATTLE - He makes promises he doesn't keep - and what he takes destroys lives and tears families apart.

He's the guy out there right now on the streets of Seattle selling sex with underaged girls - children.

Now, a teenager who escaped from his clutches describes her terrifying ordeal - in her own words - in a letter she wrote and shared with KOMO News.

"Everything he ever told me was just lies," says "Natalie," who doesn't want her real name used or her photo to be shown. "Pimps know that they have got you all tangled up in their lies."

Her broken-hearted mother, "Lynne," says - no more. It's too late to save her daughter - now she wants to save yours.

"She said she'd been raped," says Lynne.

"It makes me sick to my stomach," says Philip Martin of Compassion2One, which works to end the enslavement of children.

Says Natalie, "You never know how quickly your life can be turned upside down."

Twenty-first century slavery is tightening its sinister grip on Seattle, as Natalie's case proves.

"We have anywhere from 500 to 700 young people under the age of 18 trafficked just within the city of Seattle alone, every week," says Martin.

Sex servants - as young as 11 years old.

Lynne's child Natalie was one of them.

"They picked her up a block from my house," says Lynne.

Natalie wrote these words: "They say anything and everything to convince you to do these things for them."

The experience was so traumatizing that the teenager won't let us use her voice, or reveal the faces or real names of her family - but Lynne desperately wants every mother to hear her story.

Natalie was barely 15 when she ran away from her home in Auburn, lured with fun promises by a girl she met on the street.

"Within 24 hours she was being sold on Backpage.com. Within 36 hours she had a pimp," says Lynne.

Backpage.com is accused of being a lucrative playground for pimps pushing their under-aged product. Village Voice Media owns the site, as well as Seattle Weekly, where similar ads are placed in the back.

"Nearly every one of these ads is for illegal services," says Rob McKenna, the state attorney general.

In a written statement, Backpage.com insists it has made safety changes and is working with law enforcement.

But McKenna demands that Backpage.com prove it polices its ads for minors. He links the site to 50 cases of child exploitation in 22 states in the last three years. Now a total of 51 attorneys general have signed that complaint.

"We haven't sued them. We haven't threatened to go after them for criminal violation. We just said, 'Do the right thing.' But if this persists, we will obviously be looking at legal remedies," McKenna says.

Yet for 108 days there was no remedy for a mother driven crazy with worry.

"I couldn't drive anymore - just hysterical - you just don't know," she says.

Her daughter was driven to buyers in Bellevue, Mercer Island, Tacoma and up to Bellingham.

"Her pimp would wait for her outside," says Lynne.

The pimp parked outside was Baruti Hopson - 16 years older than the girl he raped and sold over and over again.

"He told her she was doing God's will," says Lynne.

"It's usually too late to get out," wrote Natalie.

It took undercover Seattle police officers to get Natalie out.

On August 23, 2010, the vice unit set up a sting through a Backpage.com ad and busted Baruti at the Silver Cloud Hotel in South Seattle.

"We're third-highest in the nation when it comes to harboring and trafficking victims within the state and within our city," says Martin.

Philip Martin is co-founder of Seattle Against Slavery, works for the nonprofit Compassion2One and says young girls who lack self-esteem and come from broken homes are often most vulnerable to predators - who aren't only online.

"Something new that's happening - they are sending in guys who are boys, 15- to 16-year-old boys, into our schools to be spotters and to be recruiters," says Martin.

Movie theaters, bus stops, churches - any public venue is a target.

"The depth of the problem was worse than I had imagined," says Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn.

Last year police recovered 81 children being commercially sexually exploited in Seattle. Mayor McGinn knows statistics suggest the city is hotbed for the crime.

"Our statistics may say that it's more, but that's because we are daylighting the issue," he says - treating the young girls as victims instead of criminal prostitutes.

Almost $1 million in federal grants awarded recently to the Seattle police will help, but the mayor sees huge gaps in prevention, intervention and rehab to keep the rescued girls from going back.

"There's so many of these families that aren't getting their children back," says Lynne.

Natalie has been home for a year now.

"Facing the truth that the 31-year-old man I was with just used me for his own profit," she writes.

She testified against Baruti, who was sentenced to 26 years behind bars - one of the first to face tough penalties for sex trafficking under a state law passed in 2003.

"So if you ever find yourself in a relationship with someone who promises you the world as long as you sell your body for money - think twice about it," she says.

Natalie cried after writing these words. She thought she was in love with the guy - who brainwashed her into bed.

"It's an important story. It needs to be told."


Here are links to websites that show where to go for help - or to learn how you can help.










Here is Backpage.com's response to questions about its practices:


Here is a look at Attorney General McKenna's accusations: