Opinion

Millions of women, men affected by human trafficking | FOR GOOD, FOR EVER

People who know me know that while I run the Renton Community Foundation by day, by night, I write murder mysteries.

The crime that drove the story line in my latest book was illegal sex trafficking. And although I write murder mysteries for fun and enjoyment, I find human trafficking horrifying and tragic. In fact, I hoped to make that point at the end of that book, when I encouraged readers to do their own research and get involved in this worldwide problem.

Most people don’t like to think about human trafficking, whether it’s for forced labor or for sex. But according to the Washington Engage website, human trafficking is tied with illegal arms trading as the second-largest criminal industry in the world today.

And, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, it’s the fastest growing.

The Washington Anti-trafficking Response Network defines human trafficking as “. . . the use of force, fraud or coercion to compel a person into any form of work or service against their will.”

We normally think of human trafficking as involving those who get caught up unwillingly in the sex trade. But it can occur in any industry, including construction, salons, restaurants, hotels and cleaning services.

The Polaris Project describes it this way: “Human trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery where people profit from the control and exploitation of others.” They report that it is a multi-billion-dollar industry that denies freedom to 20.9 million people around the world.

Sadly, human trafficking has been reported in all 50 states here in America. And believe me, it’s alive and well right here in Washington.

In fact, out of the almost 32,000 calls to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline in 2013, 633 were from Washington state.

That makes our state 11th out of all 50 states in the number of calls for help last year.

While there is not an accurate count of how many victims there are in the U.S., estimates are that at least 100,000 minors are involved each year in the commercial sex trade alone.

Worldwide, that count goes up to nearly two million. And 80 percent of all human trafficking victims are women and girls. Victims include people brought into our country legally or illegally. It also includes U.S. citizens.

So what can you do?

First, be aware of some of the signs of human trafficking. For instance, it’s a red flag if an individual you know:

• Is not free to come and go as he/she wishes;

• Has few or no personal possessions;

• Is not in control of his/her own money;

• Is not in control of his/her own identification documents (ID or passport);

• Lacks knowledge of his/her whereabouts and/or does not know what city he/she is in; or

• Has numerous inconsistencies in his/her story.

Second, if you suspect that someone is a victim of human trafficking, give them the number for the National Human Trafficking Hotline: 1-888-373-7888. Young people between the ages of 12 – 17 can go to the nearest Metro bus driver and request a SafePlace. This will trigger a call to a youth services provider who can step in to help.

Third, get involved. We have a number of agencies that fight human trafficking and/or work with victims right here in the Puget Sound area:

• Southeast County Coalition Against Trafficking (SEKCAT) meets the third Tuesday of every month at the Kent Senior Activity Center.

• Seattle Against Slavery - www.seattleagainstslavery.org.

• Youth Care - www.youthcare.org.

• Friends of Youth - www.friendsofyouth.org.

• Washington Engage – www.waengage.com.

• WARN (Washington Anti-trafficking Response Network) www.warn-trafficking.org.

Human trafficking is a silent epidemic in our country and around the world. It steals people’s dignity, robs them of their humanity, and ruins lives. Be a voice that says, “Enough!”

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