Local women working to expose, eradicate human trafficking
SEATTLE -- The fastest growing industry in the world is human trafficking.
Every year more than two million children disappear, forced to work as sex and labor slaves.
It's a human rights issue that a group of local filmmakers, including Seattle's own Jane Charles, are trying to expose.
"I feel like these are all our children, whether Cambodia, India, Russia they are all our children we can not turn a blind eye to it anymore we have to create change," Charles said.
Charles and her team are making a movie based on a book called "Sold." The book examines the story of a girl named Lakshmi, who was sold to a pimp by her parents.
"These girls could be my daughter," Charles said. "They could be your daughter, could have been one of us."
Girls from any country and any city -- even Seattle -- are targets
"It is in our backyard. It's a huge problem," Charles said.
Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna said Washington is especially vulnerable to human trafficking because of its international border with Canada, its abundance of ports and its dependency on agricultural workers.
But it's not just foreign girls who are victimized in Washington.
Noel used to work as a prostitute on a stretch of Aurora Avenue that's known as "The Track."
"It's where you go to find Johns, where you go to make money," she said.
Instead of working on The Track, Noel now patrols it, hoping to rescue minors who are at the mercy of their pimps.
Noel said she's met dozens of underage girls who prefer to advertise on Seattle Weekly's Backpage for hookups.
She now works for Seattle's Youth Care Bridge Program, which offers housing, support and a way out for sexually-exploited minors.
"There are girls being victimized every hour," she said.
At just 16-years old, Noel became one of those girls when her boyfriend turned out to be her pimp.
"I was terrified of him," she said. "It was like I loved him but I was also terrified of him."
The two met randomly in a grocery store parking lot.
"They're everywhere and they're looking for girls to prey upon," she said.
Noel was an easy mark. After a fallout with her family, the teen was on her own and vulnerable.
"I was just really lost and when I met him it was like, wow, it was like meeting the president," she said. "He was telling me how beautiful I was, he loved me and that we'd have a great life together. We'd have money and I was going to get to travel the world."
Everything seemed normal, until he took her on a road trip to Los Angeles.
"He lured me there saying we were going on vacation, I was going to see Hollywood and I was going to be famous and all the things you dream about when you're young," Noel said.
She soon found out that it was all a lie.
"He took me to LA and I did not know I was going to be forced to work on Sunset Boulevard that night." she said. "He told me, 'You're going to go out and make some money or I'm going to hurt you really bad.' That was my first night out."
That continued for 13 long, miserable years until the night she almost died when a John turned violent.
" I knew I'd die out there. That time I was like, 'I'm done, I'm done with this,'' she said. "The police officer that picked me up said this is where we found the last five dead girls."
Noel and Lakhsmi are survivors, a testament to the human spirit and they are now dedicated to exposing an invisible crime and helping its youngest victims.
"I'm not ashamed or embarrassed my mission in life," Noel said. "The reason I'm alive and those Johns didn't kill me is because I'm here to help other girls."