Human trafficking comes in several forms, and while the term implies physically and forcefully moving a person or persons it can happen with verbal threat or intimidation — meaning it can happen anywhere.
Because of its proximity to international borders, Washington state has become a magnet for human trafficking in its two primary forms: sex and labor trafficking.
To help residents on the Olympic Peninsula understand this issue, the Soroptimist International of Sequim, in collaboration with two Port Angeles-area Soroptimist groups, are hosting a special presentation on Tuesday, Jan. 21, highlighted by guest speaker Brenna Doyle, program director with Washington Trafficking Prevention.
The presentation is set for 6:30 p.m. at Trinity United Methodist Church, 100 S. Blake Ave., Sequim.
The goal of the presentation, Soroptimist members say, is to help community members “gain a better understanding of what human trafficking is, learn how to identify the signs of trafficking, undertake a practical response in our communities and identify resources for safety and referrals.”
“This is a serious issue; we decided we need to not only address with with our membership but also our community,” Sequim Soroptimist Colleen Blazier said.
“So many people think we live in Sequim (and that) nothing happens here. It does and will continue to happen her because we’re on the corridor.”
According to the Polaris Project, a nonprofit, non-governmental organization formed in 2002, human trafficking is “the business of stealing freedom for profit. In some cases, traffickers trick, defraud or physically force victims into providing commercial sex. In others, victims are lied to, assaulted, threatened or manipulated into working under inhumane, illegal or otherwise unacceptable conditions.”
The Washington State Department of Commerce defines human trafficking as when “a person uses violence, deception, or threats of force to coerce another person to provide labor or commercial sex, and to prevent that person from leaving the situation. Human trafficking also occurs when a person recruits, harbors, transports, provides or obtains another person knowing that force, fraud or coercion will be used to exploit the other person for labor or commercial sex. Trafficking is ongoing exploitation. Travel is not always involved. Victims in the U.S. are entitled to protection and assistance, regardless of their immigration status.”
Human trafficking is a multi-billion dollar criminal industry that denies freedom to 24.9 million people around the world, Polaris Project representatives note. From 2007-2017, the National Human Trafficking Hotline, operated by Polaris, received reports of 34,700 sex trafficking cases inside the United States.
The Washington’s Task Force Against Trafficking of Persons reports that our state is a hotbed for the recruitment, transportation and sale of people for labor, Blazier noted.
There are several factors that make Washington state prone to human trafficking: The international border with Canada, an abundance of ports, large rural areas and a dependency on agricultural workers.
In addition, Seattle is part of the trafficking corridor that includes Honolulu; Las Vegas, Nev.; New Orleans; Portland, Ore.; Vancouver, B.C; Yakima and Canada.
Trafficking, which has occurred in 18 Washington counties, has affected victims ranging from mail-order brides to sex workers and children, from as far away as Russia, the Philippines, China and Mexico.
“Women and children they’re so vulnerable, they truly are,” Blazier said.
That holds true across the globe. Yuri Fedotov, Executive Director for the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC), noted in a January 2019 report on human trafficking that “Traffickers the world over continue to target women and girls. The vast majority of detected victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation and 35 per ent of those trafficked for forced labour are female.”
Services for these victims in the U.S., Blazier noted, is complicated because of language barriers, lack of awareness of services available and the fear/suspicion of law enforcement.
Trafficked youth and adults are kept captive through a variety of means, including debt bondage, isolation from their families and communities, confiscation of passports and identification documents, the use or threat of violence, being told they will be imprisoned or deported if they contact authorities and control of the victims’ money.
Between 2007-2015, there have been 1,850 human trafficking calls made through the human trafficking victim hotline system in Washington state, and a total of 432 human trafficking cases reported. In 2018 alone, the National Human Trafficking Hotline listed 229 recorded cases of trafficking in Washington.
State and regional leaders have taken note. In 2002, Washington state became the first state to work on human trafficking by enacting new laws and by creating an anti-trafficking task force, and a year later became the first state to enact a law making human trafficking a crime.
Since 2002, the state legislature has enacted 38 laws to combat human trafficking. In 2013 and 2014, Washington received top marks from two leading non-governmental organizations for the strength of its anti-trafficking laws: the Polaris Project gave Washington a perfect score of 10 and Washington received an “A” report card from Shared Hope International’s Protected Innocence Challenge.
Blazier said the Polaris Project is a good resource to find out more about human trafficking and what those concerned about the issue can do.
“They correlate human trafficking to modern day slavery-that; to me, that is quite profound,” Blazier said.
The UNODC’s 2018 Global Report on Trafficking in Persons noted that in 2009, just 26 countries had an institution that systematically collected and disseminated data on trafficking cases. By 2018, the number had risen to 65.
While resources and attention going human trafficking are going up, so are reported incidents. Nearly 25,000 cases of human trafficking were reported to UNODC in 2016, up from about 20,000 in 2014 and 17,000 in 2013.
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According to a December 2017 report led by Brian Bonlender, Washington State Department of Commerce Director, children, youth, and adults at risk of being trafficked in Washington state include: individuals experiencing homelessness, or who have been “kicked out” of their homes; youth who identify as LGBTQ2; immigrants, individuals seeking employment to support their families; individuals who have been impacted by trauma and are seeking a trusting and “safe” relationship; individuals of color, and individuals who have entered the country legally, are forced to work and are unable to leave their employment.
Human trafficking, state officials report, is often confused with human smuggling, which involves illegal border crossings. In fact, the crime of human trafficking does not require any movement whatsoever.
“Survivors can be recruited and trafficked in their own home towns, even their own homes,” according to state task force officials.
For help or more information go to the Washington State Department of Commerce’s website (www.commerce.wa.gov); under the “Serving Communities” menu click on “Crime Victims & Public Safety” and then “Human Trafficking.”
For more about human, sex and labor trafficking, recognizing signs, survivor stories and resources, see polarisproject.org.
To request help or report suspected human trafficking, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline (www.humantraffickinghotline.org) at 888-373-7888 or text “help” to BeFree (233733).
To get help locally, one can start at www.watraffickinghelp.org, a site hosted by the Washington State Office of the Attorney General..
Locally, contact officials with Healthy Families of Clallam County (1210 E .Front St. # C, Port Angeles; 360-452-3811; www.healthyfam.org) and Serenity House of Clallam County (502 E. First St., Port Angeles; 360-452-7224; www.serenityhouseclallam.org).