Local group strives to help those trapped into prostitution

SEATTLE - A local organization is trying to start a community dialogue about prostitution in our area as part of an ongoing effort to help the survivors and women still caught up in the lifestyle.

The co-founders of The Organization For Prostitution Survivors, or OPS, are trying to raise money and public support. They want others to know about the violence the women experience.

Noel Gomez became homeless after getting pregnant. She spent most of her life on the streets as a prostitute.

"I'd been kicked out of my house when I was 15," she says. "I was the perfect victim for a pimp. I met a guy. Thought he was going to care of me, sold me a dream and I bought it."

Gomez worked the streets in Las Vegas, Arizona and Seattle. Those years are marked by violence, fear and threats, but Gomez is now making it her mission to help others caught up in the lifestyle.

"I want to give back. The bad experiences that I had I want to take from that and help other people who are trapped in this life to also exit," she says.

Her efforts are an ongoing process - she's helping women heal through artwork and support groups. As part of the outreach, she also hopes to place a memorial in Seattle to remember the victims of the Green River Killer, Gary Ridgway.

"This is still something extremely hurtful to them," says Gomez. "A lot of them knew girls who were murdered. A lot of them worked with girls who were murdered. This is a huge thing that happened in Seattle to us."

The story of the Green River Killer is also a reminder of the youngest victims - and the sexual exploitation of children.

"If we look back into the '80s and '90s we can see that more than half of Ridgway's identified victims were under the age of 18, but that's not often talked about because they were considered prostitutes," says Peter Qualliotine, who is also helping the organization for prostitution survivors.

Gomez has now been out of the lifestyle almost eight years. She went to school and has a job working with youth.

"My life has been incredible since that time," she says.

OPS is still trying to get funding. The money will be used to pay for salaries, services for survivors and the memorial.
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