Senators hear from the public on ways to combat human-trafficking

Staff writerFebruary 24, 2014 

Human-trafficking is no longer an issue reserved for seedy back alleys in far-off countries. Recent estimates show that roughly 500 children are sold for sex every night in Seattle, and the Legislature is looking at ways to identify and rescue those in sexual slavery.

After hearing public testimony Monday on two human-trafficking-related pieces of legislation, the Senate Law and Justice Committee held a public forum to discuss the best ways to identify and rescue victims of human-trafficking in Washington.

Led by chairman Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, the committee heard testimony from victims of sex-trafficking as well as representatives from organizations rallying to stop sexual slavery.

Sheila Houston was a victim of sex-trafficking. Through her organization Rare Coins Ministries, Houston councils young women involved in trafficking and provides educational seminars to schools around the state. She told the committee ways she identifies potential victims of trafficking.

“If you notice young people not in their homes late at night...or dressing seductively, it means they’re being groomed,” Houston said. “[Girls] are all groomed to look alike.”

Dr. Stacy Cecchet, a clinical psychologist who teaches within the criminal justice department at Seattle University, said that although it’s apparent that many people are being victimized, there’s little data to fully grasp the number of people involved in sex trade. Cecchet said that the best way to stop the sex trade is to teach the public to recognize the signs of trafficking victims, and then teach them how they can report and rescue victims.

“Many don’t even have the vaguest idea that sex trafficking is occurring here in the US, let alone Seattle,” Cecchet said. “Training people in the community is a first line of defense; once trained we can teach them to report.”

Jenna Labourr is a Seattle attorney who works with the Human Rights Society as a women and children’s rights activist. She echoed Cecchet’s thoughts on educating the public and said that the rights of victims must be maintained.

Many victims are “afraid of repercussions” should they seek help Labourr said. “Education is extremely important about laws and rights of victims.”

Darly Abbot was one of those victims. Abbot was trafficked for five years, and tried to escape, but wasn’t sure who she could trust. She told the committee that her madam would plant people to ask if she wanted to be rescued, and that if she said yes, she would be beaten.

“I was terrified,” Abbot said.

Cecchet said one of the biggest obstacles to preventing trafficking is the stigma associated with those involved. She said that many regard prostitution as a choice by sex-crazed women.

To combat this, Cecchet said that training professionals and average citizens to idenify victims is the “number one” priority. If more people had training, they could report pimps and save young women and children from sex slavery.

Solving the issue of sex-trafficking is Washington is not going to happen overnight, but Padden said discussing the issue and implementing laws to help victims is a step in the right direction.

“This is a never ending issue and we will continue to work on this in a bipartisan way,” Padden said.

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