The world’s oldest profession is flourishing around the nation, and in the Seattle-Tacoma corridor in particular. That requires sex slavery and human trafficking — prostitution’s evil cousins — to provide a constant supply of abused young women and boys.
A comprehensive research project by the Urban Institute found Seattle-Tacoma’s commercial sex trade was growing faster than the other eight metropolitan areas it studied. Researchers cited its location next to several interstate highways and a busy international entry point as likely reasons for this growth.
The U.S. State Department estimates that 27 million people worldwide are forced into unpaid labor or prostitution. Many of them are immigrants, some brought into the United States illegally to work in the commercial sex industry.
To fight sex and human trafficking, the Legislature gave authorities several new tools this year. The most important came in a bill sponsored by Sen. Karen Fraser, D-Olympia.
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Fraser has been a leader in the Legislature on human and sex trafficking issues. Her successful bill this year, Senate Bill 6339, makes it a felony to coerce someone into involuntary servitude.
Fraser’s bill specifically targets traffickers who use the threat of immigration problems to force people into work or sex slavery.
State lawmakers made other laudable progress, too, including a measure pressuring Congress to make it easier for states to prosecute Internet service providers that allow the advertising of minors on adult websites. Another bill has created the opportunity for survivors of the sex trade to clear their criminal records.
Those measures will help, and we expect the Legislature will do more in the next session because the problem keeps growing.
The Urban Institute Researchers estimated that the size of the underground prostitution economy in Seattle-Tacoma grew from $50 million per year in 2003 to more than $112 million in 2007. That’s heartbreaking growth, and it has most likely doubled again or more in the last seven years.
We’d be nave to think the effects of sex trafficking haven’t reached down into Thurston County.
That’s why Olympia resident Rose Gunderson, who is trying to establish a coalition of statewide anti-trafficking organizations through her nonprofit, Washington Engage, recently opposed the opening of the city’s first strip club.
Gunderson calls strip clubs potential “hotbeds of human trafficking.” She interprets state law on sex trafficking to include causing another person to perform sexually explicit acts like those in strip clubs, including lap dancing.
Thuston County need not follow Seattle and Tacoma’s lead as growth markets for the sex trade. If city and county law enforcement make a special effort to monitor the new strip club for illegal activity, we can draw a moral line at the Pierce County border.