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Public Health - Seattle & King County

Help stop human trafficking

This video was made with generous support from the Somaly Mam Foundation, Emma Thompson, the Helen Bamber Foundation, Estée Lauder and in-kind creative and technical support from Grey New York.

"I left home to work for them when I was 18 years old. I did not know I would become their slave cooking, cleaning, taking care of their elderly parents and their grandchildren. I worked from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. or later every day with no days off. I was never allowed to go anywhere by myself. They took my documents. They threatened me with deportation and jail. One time she tried to hit me. I was a slave and a prisoner. This went on for 16 years. I never got to get married or have children. I wasn't even allowed to have friends or go to church."

— A local human trafficking survivor
To get or give help, call the national hotline at 888-3737-888

Human trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery. It is one of the fastest growing criminal industries in the world, after illegal guns and drugs, with children accounting for half of the victims. And it happens right here in King County.

What is human trafficking?

Human trafficking is the use of force, fraud or coercion to compel a person into any form of labor against their will. Human trafficking can occur in any industry, including agriculture, construction, domestic service (housekeeper, nanny), restaurants, salons, commercial sex work, massage parlors, and small businesses.

Poster downloads

"He lied about the job, now he won't let me leave."

"He lied about the job, now he won't let me leave."

"He promised me a place to stay, then forced me to work as a prostitute."

"He promised me a place to stay, then forced me to work as a prostitute."

"She promised me work, then forced me to give up my passport and my wages."

"She promised me work, then forced me to give up my passport and my wages."

Help Stop Human Trafficking poster on Metro buses
Help Stop Human Trafficking

Victims of human trafficking can include:

  • Children who are lured or forced into commercial sex trade/prostitution
  • Adult sex trafficking
  • Forced labor
  • Involuntary domestic servitude
  • Forced child labor
  • Debt bondage among migrant workers

Victims are lured away from family and friends by the promise of a better life. They are forced to perform both legal and illegal work ranging from prostitution to exotic dancing, street peddling to housekeeping, child care to construction and landscaping. Some victims are forced to work in restaurants, nail salons and factories. They are drawn into servile marriages or criminal activities.

Victims are controlled physically, emotionally and financially. Escape is difficult because victims of human trafficking are often invisible. Some don't speak English. They are afraid to approach authorities because they fear threats of harm against their families or deportation if they are not US citizens. They may have no idea where they are or how to get help. They are ashamed.

Help stop human trafficking

The first step toward ending human trafficking begins with raising visibility of the issue in our community, recognizing the signs, and learning what to do if you see or hear something.

Signs of human trafficking

Victims are often kept out of sight and are afraid to reach out for help. According to the Polaris Project of the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, the following may be signs that someone is a victim of trafficking:

  • Workers who have had their ID, passport, or documents taken away
  • Workers who show signs of physical and/or sexual abuse, physical restraint, confinement, or torture
  • Workers who show signs of emotional abuse
  • Workers who are being threatened by or are in debt to their boss
  • Workers who are under 18 and are involved in the commercial sex industry
  • Workers who are not free to leave or come and go from their place of work as they wish
  • Workers who don't seem to be receiving payment

Are you being forced to work against your will?

Help is available in our community. To get help, contact the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline at 1-888-3737-888. Operators are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Interpreters are available for up to 170 different languages for those callers that require interpretive services. They will connect you to local assistance. There are many local organizations to provide support that is safe, confidential and free.

Call if you:

  • Cannot leave your job or situation if you want to
  • Cannot come and go as you please
  • Have been threatened if you try to leave
  • Have been physically harmed in any way
  • Have you ever been deprived of food, water, sleep, or medical care
  • Have to ask permission to eat, sleep, or go to the bathroom
  • Have re locks on your doors and windows so you cannot get out
  • Have had your family threatened
  • Have had identification or documentation taken away
  • Are being forced to do anything that you do not want to do

The national hotline helps determine if someone is a victim of human trafficking, addresses the trafficking situation, and connects individuals and families to local resources available in King County that can help to help protect and serve victims so they can begin the process of restoring their lives. You can learn about local organizations in our community that do this work.

King County's response to human trafficking

King County recognizes that human trafficking is a violation of human rights and a threat to public health and safety nationally as well as in our own community. The Washington Task Force against Trafficking Persons reported that Washington State is a hotbed for the recruitment, transportation and sale of people for labor due in part to the multiple ports, International border with Canada, and vast rural areas. Because many victims are youth and children, and others are isolated linguistically and physically from their local communities, the issue of human trafficking is an equity and social justice issue for our community. Through local law enforcement efforts, prosecution of traffickers, and providing services to vulnerable populations, King County is a key local and regional player in stopping human trafficking.

King County launched the "Help Stop Human Trafficking" campaign on National Human Trafficking Awareness Day, January 11, 2013, to raise awareness of this important issue in our community with signage on 200 Metro buses. Watch a video of King County leaders launching the campaign. The campaign was made possible through the support of partners including Grey Media, Titan Advertising, the Washington Anti-Trafficking Rescue Network, Seattle Against Slavery, New York City Office of the Mayor, the Somaly Mam Foundation and other community partners. In addition, the King County Council issued a proclamation to bring regional attention to the ongoing problem of modern-day slavery.

King County will also train key staff to recognize signs of human trafficking and take action. King County will also be working in 2013 towards collecting key data, identifying best practices for county government and funding opportunities, and creating an integrated, ongoing response with our local partners.

Commercial sex trafficking of youth

A 2008 study of commercial sexual exploitation of youth in King County estimated that at least 300-500 girls were being trafficked at that time. Law enforcement experience suggests that this is an under-count. Some victims are as young as 11 years old. Youth especially at-risk of trafficking are those who run away, often from abusive or neglect situations.

Learn more about commercial sexual exploitation of youth in our community.

Youth in need of help - SafePlace

Youth who are in crisis have an option of going to a SafePlace. A partnership started in 2011 between King County, YouthCare, Auburn Youth Resources, Friends of Youth, SafePlace is for young people in crisis who now need only find the nearest bus driver and request a SafePlace. Through the national SafePlace program, youth may also text SAFE and their current location to 69866 and get help within seconds.

How does SafePlace work?

A young person age 12-17 in need of help approaches any Metro bus driver, who will then make a call to trigger contact with a youth service provider. What happens next depends on the needs of the youth. Sometimes it's counseling and providing help to reunite the child with family or friends. In the absence of alternatives, youth can be taken to a safe shelter.

In addition, "Text 4 HELP" is a National Safe Place service that uses SMS text technology to offer information about the closest location to access immediate help and safety. By texting the word "SAFE" and their current location to 69866, youth can get help within seconds. In our area, they will be referred to shelters that will provide the assistance they need.

Learn more: Commercially Sexually Exploited Children (Prostituted Youth)

"She offered me a job in the U.S. working in her restaurant. When I got here I was locked in an apartment and forced to have sex with 10, sometimes 20, men every day. Every one of them raped me. I still see their faces. She told me she had all the power because I was illegal. She threatened me, called me names, and imprisoned me."

— A local human trafficking survivor