SEATTLE -- Two decades ago it was the drug war.
Now, Steve Gutzler thinks child prostitution is the new major risk facing young people nationwide -- especially in the Seattle area.
Gutzler is president and founder of ComPassion2One, a group that works to rescue children from sex trafficking. Malls and other public places that attract children are major recruiting grounds for child prostitution, he said. Food courts and back hallways near restrooms are especially popular places for grooming to start.
"They're looking for primarily young, minor girls that are in that 14 to 16 age category," he said. "It's the classic pimp that is going to groom them, promise them, coerce them, maybe buy some clothing or jewelry."
The goal, Gutzler said, is to have the girls turn their first tricks within a couple weeks.
Phil Martin, national awareness coordinator for Shared Hope International, works closely with Gutzler to educate schools, malls and other places on sex trafficking. He says a lot of recruitment is happening in junior high schools.
"Pimps are recruiting guys who are 14, 15 years old to go in and recruit girls," he said. "You're just going to naturally converse with someone who's your own age."
Parents should pay attention to signs a child has been recruited. Those signs include excessive amounts of cash, hotel keys, chronic running away and erratic behavior.