Sex trafficking of children, teens has been growing in Puget Sound area, experts say


Lily Christopherson, the missing 15-year-old from Bonney Lake, has been found safe. More information >>

SEATTLE -- As the flyers with Lily Christopherson’s face hang at bus stops and parks, new court documents reveal that police believe the missing 15-year-old has been forced into sex trafficking.

“She’s a beautiful, special, compassionate girl. She just needs to get home. Every day is harder than the last,” said Lily's mother, Lena Winters.

Christopherson is not alone -- hundreds of children and teens are involved in sex trafficking across Western Washington.

“In King County, every night there are 500 minors exploited, that’s a very low number, because those are only the ones we know about,” said Beth Podvorac, center director at The Genesis Project, which helps victims of sex trafficking. Podvorac says the average age of entry into trafficking is just 13.

"It’s not as common for girls to get kidnapped and thrown in the car, it’s most often the trafficker building a relationship with the girl and then trafficking her that way,” said Podvorac.

She says if a child runs away from home, within 72 hours minors are likely to get trafficked.

"The traffickers are often very good at trafficking and making the girls think it’s what they want,” said Podvorac.

She adds that although it can happen to anyone, girls who come from less stable homes and ones who are looking to feel loved are easy targets for pimps, who pick up on their vulnerabilities. She says the pimps will often groom girls online or in person for a while before luring them into the sex trade.

"I think it’s really important to not hide it from your kids. To make them just understand that this can happen,” said Podvorac.

As the search for Christopherson enters its fourth week, family and friends continue to look for the missing Bonney Lake teen.

"I just want her to know whatever the circumstances are, she’s not in trouble, we just want to find her and get her safe,” said a friend helping with the search.

The message from Christopherson’s mother to other parents is to be vigilant.

"Be very active and watching. Talk, talk more with their daughters,” said Winters, who adds that the only message she wants her daughter to hear is, “I love you Lily, I love you so much.”