Genesis Project: A Path Out of Sex Trafficking


In the shadows of the Emerald City, every night young girls, often coerced and manipulated, find themselves ensnared in a harrowing cycle of sexual exploitation. This isn’t happening in distant lands; it’s a chilling reality right here in the United States, thriving in the heart of Seattle as a multi-million-dollar industry.

Among the broken, bruised, and beaten, the Seattle Police Department labels it as an egregious abuse of human rights, one that shatters families and communities.

Enter The Genesis Project, a local non-profit that serves the Sea-Tac area. Their mission is to offer hope for a new life to girls and women leaving commercial prostitution. Andy Conner, a King County Sheriff Deputy Officer, founded the Genesis Project in 2009 after he encountered many young girls in “the life” on his nightly patrols and didn’t have an answer for the girl who said to him, “I don’t want to be here. Will you help me get out of this life?”

Conner’s journey began with a transformation of perspective that shook him. “My entire perspective on prostitution had changed,” he reflects in a public statement. As a man of faith, he recognized the limitations of his own efforts.

Driven by a sense of duty, Conner delved into extensive research, seeking solutions. His quest led him to a realization: there was not a single comprehensive recovery program for young women ensnared in sex trafficking or prostitution in the Seattle area. He asked, “How can we live in the wealthiest, most advanced nation in the world, and we don’t have a single organization that frees victimized girls from the shackles of sexual slavery?”

Drawing from his encounters with the women he arrested, he sought to unearth their stories, their hopes, and their dreams. What emerged were tales of profound despair and systemic neglect. These girls, Conner said, were not criminals but powerless victims who were ensnared by coercion, brute force, and twisted forms of emotional manipulation.

According to the Seattle Police Department’s statement on Human Trafficking, modern-day slavery persists. Over the course of ten years from 2011 to 2021, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, there has been a 49% increase in U.S. Attorney referrals for human trafficking offenses. Prosecutions for human-trafficking offenses doubled over that time, resulting in 1,672 cases in 2021. In the same year, 92% of the defendants in those cases were identified as male, 60% of which were white, with similar reports in Seattle.

The Genesis Project, partnering with the non-profit The Corridor, worked together to give support to the girls trapped in “the life.” Since 2011, The Genesis Project has had a physical location.

It’s crucial to distinguish between sex trafficking and consensual sex work such as prostitution, as Melodie Garcia of the Newmoon Network emphasizes. While advocacy efforts continue for those engaged in consensual sex work, all advocates and The Genesis Project stand resolute in their stance: minors cannot consent. The Genesis Project does not exist to forcibly make girls leave “the life,” but they offer a safe place for girls who want to leave “the life.”

“Other than housing, we really are a one-stop shop for our clients” Alyssa Vanderlin, The Genesis Project’s Fundraising and Marketing Director, said. “We can help them get jobs and get education and get everything else that people need, but housing is always the big thing people need.”

When such sex workers arrive, Barb Emmitt, one of the case managers and the Center Operations Manager at The Genesis Project or another take them through a general intake process. Who are they? What do they need? Do they want to pursue education? Do they have families or children? What are the goals they have for their life?

Not every client of The Genesis Project is immediately ready to leave “the life.” Some come in hopes of a warm meal, a chance to learn a skill, or to find a community. While The Genesis Project will not force anyone out of sex work if they’re not ready to leave, the project is ready to support them when they do.

Since the beginning, there’s been a girl, “Hannah” (not her real name), who walked through the doors of The Genesis Project on a semi-regular basis. Hannah started in the sex-work life around 13, the average age when girls who are sex trafficked start – an age when they haven’t finished middle school. None of them can drive. Often they’re being forced by family members to place their worth in their ability to have sex for money. 

When The Genesis Project opened a couple years after her start in sex work, it became a safe place for Hannah. A place she comes to, says hello, receives what she needs, and goes on her way leaving the team at The Genesis Project hopeful for the next time they will see her.

Hannah is now about 28 years old. Sometimes she’s sober, sometimes she’s not. The drug changes from time to time, but the consistent thing she has in her life is The Genesis Project. “She’s the nicest person that we have ever met,” Vanderlin said. “She should have such a bad outlook on life, such a cruel heart because of everything she’s been through, but she’s so genuine and so nice. It’s things like that that make it worth it. She’s someone who is so special to us that we drop everything for her when we can.”

The Genesis Project has clients that are in community college, studying for their GEDs, preparing for parenthood, recovering from physical and mental trauma, and those who are in and out of the center and “the life.” 

All girls, but especially the children, need a way out. The Genesis Project can be that way. But without a safe, on-site housing facility, girls are forced to venture to different partner programs where housing isn’t always a guarantee. “Housing,” Vanderlin said, “is definitely the long-term goal.” 

Hannah is a mom now. She still comes into the center for support, and the staff love getting to see her and her young son. She’s giving her all, doing her best. The Genesis Project will always have her back. To help them do that, you can donate here.

MaKenna Schwab
MaKenna Schwab
The author, a UW undergraduate, is a part of the UW Journalism News Lab. 


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