Despite the fact that sex trafficking seems like an issue for third world countries, Seattle struggles with this problem more than any other city on the west coast. Due to a lack of awareness, this issue often gets swept under the rug, with limited access to the facts. Jordyn Cline, an anti-sex trafficking advocate, discusses the limited awareness of this cause: “If I get into a conversation with someone about Human Trafficking, they have no clue either what it is or that it really happens so close to us. It is the third (maybe second) most profitable illegal industry in the world next to drugs and firearms. It’s slavery and it still happens today – it has not gone away.” However, a greater effort has been made to help the citizens of Seattle understand its severity.
According to Nicole Baumgartner, a member of several anti-sexual abuse organizations, there are two different kinds of human trafficking; “Labor trafficking and sex trafficking. With labor trafficking, people will go to countries like China or Burma and tell them they will be able to get high paying jobs in Seattle so they can send money to their families. As soon as they get here the trafficker takes away their documentation (passports, papers, etc) and they tell them that they have to work off the money that they owe them or else they will have them turned in and deported.” As a result, the people who have been trafficked are forced to remain in Seattle to work off their debt for fear of being arrested. The port of Seattle, evidently, is one of the most likely places to bring these people into the United States illegally due to the fact that it is so accessible to Asian countries.
The second type is called sex trafficking. Baumgartner says; “In the US, what happens is pimps who are younger or people who are hired will go into situations with younger girls around the age of 13 to 16 and they are trained to ask specific questions and say certain things to get the girls to fall for them. Once they start getting to know them, they virtually brainwash them until they are attached, and then phrase sex trade as something which they owe them. Almost as if to say ‘if you really love me, you will do this for me.’ And they join the sex trade.” When Jordyn was asked the difference between prostitution and sex trafficking, she adds: “the people who are being trafficked are absolutely being held against their will and being forced to commit acts they do not want to. If they don’t they will be beaten, drugged severely, made to have abortions, told their family members will be targeted (i.e. younger siblings will be taken to be trafficked as well), or the girls are on film committing these acts and that can be used against them as well. Nothing about this is done willingly.”
Personally, the idea of sex trafficking happening in a city which I consider to be safe raised a few questions for me. When asked where these exchanges usually happen, Nicole says “The motels right along the 99, as you’re crossing the bridge, is where the majority of the prostitution happens on the streets in Seattle. Another activist Jordyn Cline points out the areas around the airport; “Most of the trafficking in the greater Seattle area takes place right around Sea-Tac; there is what the Seattle PD refers to as “the track” that is about three miles long near International Blvd. A great deal of the trafficking takes place there and a good majority of pimps bring their girls from all around to this specific track due to the high volume of customers – a lot of them being right from the airport.”
In addition, Nicole points out that anybody who wants to know where trafficking incidents have happened in their area can visit slaverymap.org. This map shows where arrests and reports have been made related to prostitution and abuse. I was surprised to see how many of these issues have occurred within miles of my house, even in relatively “safe” areas such as Bellevue. These issues take place within miles of the University of Washington as well, according to Jordyn: “Yes, it does happen near the UW and U-district. Fall quarter of this year (2012) a girl was raped on a street very close to where I live. Pimps are all over and they are tactful, they can spot sensitivity and insecurity in a girl before most people can and will start following her to see if she could be a candidate.”
In addition to certain areas around Seattle, the big issues these days are things that happen online. “You will have 18 year old boys who are trained to attract them into the trade,” Nicole says. “Once these girls are attracted, they are taken somewhere else by the “boyfriend” they trust and forced into prostitution.” The use of online trafficking has caused many cases of sexual abuse to occur, and much more often than one would think. Nicole points out that often you will see missing person’s reports for women from the age about 13-15 in the greater Seattle area, and more often than not these are the women who have been forced into the prostitution business; “Many times when you see missing girls around the age of twelve to fifteen their report will involve something along the lines of “last seen with a 20 to 30 year old man. That is when you can pretty much guarantee it was a trafficking kidnap.”
While the locations and methods of sex trafficking are a great issue, the even greater issue is the recovery and rehabilitation of these sexually abused victims. When Nicole was asked what efforts were being made to rehabilitate these victims, she points to the organizations which have helped these women over the years; “Anti-human trafficking organizations often target various aspects. They target education to let people know what it looks like; “what kind of questions they will ask you, what to look for, etc. One of the newer things people say is that a lot of human trafficking and alluring has been happening in malls. They let them know what looks suspicious, such as an older man talking to a younger girl. The national human trafficking hotline has published an informational type sheet that they’ve been able to get up in gas stations, etc. to educate people on what to look for. Basically it’s advocacy, it’s trying to inform people about what’s going on.” With education, you have prevention. These programs put Seattle one step ahead of the sex trafficking industry and have succeeded in the past in warning women about their surroundings.
Another part, according to Nicole; “is the aftercare. The aftercare part is a really tough part, because a lot of these times these girls who are taken are sexually abused, emotionally abused. One of the main issues that happens is police don’t know the difference between people who are prostitutes and people who have been trafficked. Police tend to think “these people are prostitutes, prostitution is illegal, we’re going to send them to juvenile facilities.” A lot of times these girls know a lot and the pimps are worried that they’re going to testify against them and there are not enough state funds to take them somewhere that they will be protected and healed.”
When asked about programs around Seattle which help these victims, Nicole points to The Genesis Project. The Genesis Project is one of the best after care facilities for victims of human trafficking in the Seattle area. They will take girls in and make sure they get the correct psychological care and even the basics such as a safe bed to sleep in. Nicole says that “There are probably thousands who have been trafficked and only about two hundred beds combined for these victims to find shelter. They have to do a lot of fundraising and target fundraising to give these girls a place to heal.”
Another organization is Youth Care, which specifically targets homeless youth. They have a program called the Bridge Program specifically designed to help the traffic victims with aftercare. In addition, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act is being reauthorized to help protect victims. This act helps created harsher sentences for traffickers as well as advocacy for all other kinds of prevention techniques. For example, a greater effort has been made to inform American immigration on the difference between a prostitute and somebody who has been “trafficked,” in order to prevent them from arresting them and sending them back to their countries without treatment. Jordyn Cline also points out that “the Mayor of Seattle has been running these campaigns on city buses and over the radio.” Which has helped raise even more awareness about how to look out for these traffickers and stay safe. She too, points to the Genesis Project, saying that it is capable of “helping girls get off the track, away from their pimp and out of the life.” As all great organizations, they are always in need of more volunteers. If this issue is something that you find yourself wanting to know more about, the links below this article are posted for your convenience. There is power in numbers; the more people who know about this issue, the more people we can protect in our city.
Ways to find information:
Seattle Against Slavery: http://www.seattleagainstslavery.org (there is a tab called “give” as well as several links for upcoming events)
The Genesis project: http://www.gpseattle.org (there is a tab called “take action” at the top where you can find out how to become an anti-sex trafficking advocate)
Compassion 2 one: http://www.compassion2one.org (they are starting a new program called Protect Her where anyone can find ways to raise awareness about the issue of sex trafficking in their community)