Councilmembers call for public awareness campaign to combat the issue
StoryHuman trafficking and the commercial sexual exploitation of children, one of the fastest growing criminal industries in the world, has become a serious issue for law enforcement in King County. Members of the Metropolitan King County Council have proposed a motion calling on the County Executive to embark on a public awareness campaign and support efforts using the King County Transit division public service advertising resources to help educate the public and combat these heinous crimes.
“The issue of human trafficking and sexual exploitation of children has become a crisis, I have seen this problem continue to grow both here in King County during my time as a Councilmember and as a federal prosecutor,” said Councilmember Reagan Dunn, prime sponsor of the Motion. “This is a form of modern day slavery. There is an indisputable link between public transit and the recruitment of minors into prostitution and we have the obligation to let the victims know there is help available and to make the public aware of the growing problem of human sex trafficking.”
“Our Metro Transit buses already serve as a refuge and resource for youth through our partnership with the Safe Place program,” said Councilmember Kathy Lambert, chair of the Council’s Law, Justice, Health and Human Services Committee. “With about 1,300 vehicles on the road all over King County, Metro Transit can be an effective medium for spreading this important public safety and human rights message to those in need of help.”
“King County is taking a stand against human trafficking and sexual exploitation of children with this action,” said Councilmember Larry Phillips, Transportation, Economy and Environment Committee Chair. “This measure asks the Executive to report on how King County can use our resources to raise awareness to help stop human trafficking.”
Human trafficking as defined under Federal Law includes children involved in the commercial sex trade, adults age eighteen or over who are coerced or deceived into commercial sex acts and anyone forced into different forms of “labor or services,” such as domestic workers held in a home, or farm-workers forced to labor against their will.
It is estimated that between 300 and 500 children will be bought and sold in King County this year and children as young as 11 have been known to have been commercially sexually exploited in King County as well. The state of Washington has always been a focal point for human traffickers due to a number of characteristics including an abundance of ports, proximity to an international border and a dependency on agricultural workers.
In 2003, Washington State was the first state in the nation to criminalize human trafficking and in 2012 Governor Gregoire singed 12 new anti-human trafficking bills into law making this state a model for comprehensive anti-human trafficking laws. The motion introduced by members will build on the new laws signed by the Governor.
The proposed motion requests the County’s Transit Division and the County Executive develop and implement a strategy to increase public awareness of human trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation of children. Metro Transit currently participates in the Safe Place program to assist at-risk youth in finding support and services and a public awareness campaign about human trafficking such as this can continue to educate the public about the issue and inform victims about resources available to them.
The motion calls for the use of transit resources such as public service advertising on Metro buses and for the County to examine placing information on county internet sites and other county resources. Once implemented, the motion would address the needs of both individual victims and educational priorities of the Washington State Task Force on Trafficking.
In addition to the motion, Dunn, Lambert and Council Vice Chair Jane Hague have sent a letter to County Executive Dow Constantine urging the use of funds from the Veterans and Human Service Levy to assist programs that fight human trafficking.