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Community Corner—REST | Real Escape from the Sex Trade

Community Corner highlights the work of Seattle Human Services’ community partners in their own words. Our goal is to gather stories and photos that illustrate their amazing work on behalf of the people of Seattle.

REST’s Outreach Team providing coffee and condoms on Aurora Ave. Photo provided by REST.

What is the role your organization fulfills in your community?

REST exists to create pathways to freedom, safety, and hope in order to end sex trafficking. In Seattle, we estimate that 2,000-3,000 adults and minors are commercially sexually exploited every day. We create spaces and services where survivors can step out of the exhaustive work of making money and surviving, have basic needs met, and really rest, in order to decide and work towards their personal goals.

Our services are structured as a continuum of care that includes:

  • outreach,
  • a 24/7 hotline,
  • advocates,
  • enrichment,
  • employment,
  • behavioral health services,
  • emergency shelter,
  • transitional housing, and
  • permanent housing services.

All of our services are individualized, strengths-based, and trauma-informed.

How does your partnership with Seattle Human Services (HSD) assist you in that role?

HSD funds REST’s outreach and emergency receiving center. Outreach’s purpose is to go to where survivors are, build trust, share about services, and connect to greater support through the Adult Survivor Collaboration—a partnership between REST, the YWCA, Organization for Prostitution Survivors, and Aurora Commons. REST’s Emergency Receiving Center is an emergency shelter specifically designed for survivors of commercial sexual exploitation. It provides individual rooms, specialized services, and support for survivors to have a safe location to stabilize and work towards achieving personal goals and stable housing.

What is your organization’s origin story?

REST was formed in 2009 by a small group of women involved in homeless youth and sexual assault services. We saw that individuals experiencing commercial sexual exploitation were misunderstood, often seen as service-resistant, and barred from services. We started doing outreach and listening to survivors, asking, “What do you want and need?” and then working to fill the gaps that existed.

How has your organization grown or developed in recent years?

REST’s Substance Use Disorder Professional ready for an individual session. Photo provided by REST.

In 13 years, REST has grown from being entirely volunteer-led to 45 employees, and from one service to 10. REST works with more than 600 individuals each year and has worked with more than 4,000 survivors in total. We have held to our principles throughout our years of operation but have also grown in our depth of understanding of how to do that. We continue to center the voices of survivors to operate, create, and adapt services. We also rely on community partners, knowing that survivors experience high rates of homelessness, substance use, mental health needs, and sexual assault, and they need services that intersect in other arenas.

Why is it important for HSD and City of Seattle taxpayers to invest in community-led work?

We tend to think of community as being “people like us.” We would argue, however, that community is actually “the people that are around us.” And at REST we know that people involved in the sex trade or commercial sexual exploitation are both like all of us and can be found in Seattle neighborhoods all around us. But the problems, threats, and solutions are different from people who are not involved. It is critical for taxpayers to invest in community-led work because we need to share resources with the people around us to create solutions. We also need experts with lived experience determining those solutions as we know that solutions that are informed by the communities most affected are the most effective. One person’s well-being affects everyone’s well-being. In order to have a healthy Seattle, we need wellness for everyone.

How do your organization’s programs and services help to reduce the disparities experienced by people of color living in our region?

Sex trafficking highlights the racial disparities in our community, as 32% of REST’s sexually exploited clients are African American, compared to 7% of the general African American population in King County. 72% of child sex buyers in our community are white, compared to 63% of the general population. These injustices are the direct result of policies and systems that allow racist outcomes. REST reduces disparities by implementing practices that increase outcomes for our clients of all racial backgrounds.

It is also worth noting that REST works with all genders. Almost one third of our clients are LGBTQ+ and 6% are transgender or non-binary. In addition to efforts to reduce disparities for human beings of all racial backgrounds, we also strive for equal outcomes for all genders.

What’s one example of how an HSD-funded program or service made a difference in the life of one of your community members?

One woman, born and raised in Seattle, was exploited by a family member at a very young age and found a lifeline in a text she received from REST. Grasping this opportunity, she began engaging with REST’s outreach coordinator. She moved into our emergency shelter and found not only safety but also the space and time to heal, grow, and dream again. With the support of REST’s dedicated team, she embraced therapy, joined a survivor support group, and began transforming her life. Today, her example of hope and resilience is an encouragement to others, as she is living independently, thriving in a job she loves, and continuing her journey of healing and growth.

What motivates your staff or keeps you going?

REST’s Emergency Receiving Center and staff. Photo provided by REST.

Many of our staff have experienced similar adverse harm as our clients: sex trafficking, sexual exploitation, assault, and marginalization. We know that resources create a foundation on which to build safety, growth, and empowerment. It often takes an exploitative relationship to enter the sex trade and requires supportive relationships and resources to exit. Our staff are motivated to create pathways for survivors that many of us wish we had, some of us have utilized, and all of us see as necessities for the survivors we serve each day.