Our Voice: Kudos to Tri-City coalition's proactive fight against human trafficking

April 29, 2014 

Many Tri-Citians might say that we don't have to deal with child the commercial sexual exploitation of children. Human trafficking is something that happens in big cities and exotic ports.

But it is a tragically real problem, albeit fortunately still on a small scale in the Mid-Columbia. But with this crime, one victim is one too many.

Waiting until an issue becomes a big, visible problem leads to reactive responses. Those types of actions are usually rushed and abrasive. Results are neither comprehensive nor efficient.

Proactive thinking -- addressing a problem before it becomes pervasive -- is a far superior approach. A group of Tri-Citians recently became the first in the state to put in place a protocol to deal with child victims of commercial sexual exploitation.

Local law enforcement agencies and nonprofits joined to form the Tri-Cities Coalition Against Trafficking. The group has been working for months on a protocol, giving a sense of ownership in the process to the agencies involved.

"They understand their roles, what's expected of them. It also puts us together working on a team. Victim issues are so complicated, (and) to have others' expertise to draw upon is critical," said JoDee Garretson, executive director of the Support, Advocacy & Resource Center in Kennewick and the coalition's co-director.

The group received a grant for members to attend a two-day training to learn how to identify and respond to cases of commercial sexual exploitation of children. While four other groups also received the grants, the Tri-City coalition was the first to complete an action plan.

Richland Police Chief Chris Skinner admired the group's forethought.

"True vision isn't waiting for a problem to be so pervasive in a community that you then turn around and try to find a way to fix it," he said. "True vision is ... seeing the indicators in our community ... and being proactive enough and courageous enough to do something about it."

We couldn't agree more.

We are proud of our community for taking on an issue that some may dismiss as obscure, and putting in place a sensitive way to deal with the delicate victims. First responders have a clear road map for dealing with children who have been victims of commercial sexual exploitation. First responders have been trained to deal with a lot, but coming across a situation like that would still be a shock. Training under the new protocol allows them to shift into the action when needed, just as they do for other emergencies.

Other agencies besides police and sheriff's departments may find children who are being exploited, and they have joined in signing the protocol. My Friends Place youth homeless shelter is part of the coalition, for example. It will take a village to take care of young victims of sex trafficking and we're glad to see the coalition has a comprehensive list of community partners.

And by bringing attention to this crime, we just may send a message that the Tri-Cities won't tolerate this kind of exploitation. We will take care of the children and prosecute those who have wronged them.

We so admire the courage and the foresight this group has brought to the community, and the leadership they have shown in our state.

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