As millions of sports fans around the globe enjoyed the Super Bowl last Sunday, I joined community and government leaders across America to turn the spotlight on a national tragedy that now lurks in the shadows of every major sporting event in our country. Last week, thousands of children were trafficked into Texas to meet the demands of the multi-million dollar under-age sex industry. The Super Bowl, in fact, has become one of the largest human trafficking events in America.
Each year, up to 300,000 girls and thousands of boys between 11 and 17 become victims of the U.S. sex trafficking industry, including up to 90 percent of both runaways and children whose parents force them to leave home. Once these children fall victim to a trafficker, they become enslaved in a world of fear, shame, physical abuse and psychological manipulation. Many are trafficked across state lines, from city to city, throughout the year to serve events where large numbers of men gather.
As you may recall, in my December Must Read, I reported our launch of a multi-language poster campaign designed to connect with victims in Washington and encourage them to seek help. The poster provides a toll-free number that is staffed around the clock by the Polaris Project. In January, I participated in Anti-Trafficking Engagement Day in Olympia, and travelled to Portland to speak at the Northwest Conference Against Human Trafficking. In addition, our office has been engaged in a number of other anti-trafficking projects and initiatives over the past year, including the passage of new laws in 2010 to protect child victims of human trafficking in Washington state.
Washington’s New Law - SB 6476
Washington’s new law significantly strengthened penalties for both traffickers and buyers of minors. Buyers will be seeing some real jail time, from 21-144 months, while convicted pimps now face up to 318 months in prison. Both also face $5,000 fines to be deposited into the Prostitution Prevention and Intervention Account, which provides funding for treatment, rehabilitation programs, and crisis residential centers.
It also includes a number of other provisions to expose buyers and traffickers, improve services to victims, and enhance law enforcement training on this issue. So we’ve made great progress just in the past year, but there is much more work to be done. There are still gaps in our laws that need to be addressed in order to ensure that all children are safe from commercial sexual exploitation.
Shared Hope International issues state report cards – Washington receives a “C”
In January, I joined former Congresswomen Linda Smith, Founder and President of Shared Hope International, as she launched the Protected Innocence Initiative. Under this Initiative, Shared Hope will release report cards grading every state and Washington, DC on how well they are protecting children from domestic minor sex trafficking.
Shared Hope chose to launch this effort in Washington because we are a leading state in passing anti-trafficking laws. We received a “C”. Although we now have strong penalties in place for buying commercial sex with a minor, before passage of our new law, Washington would have received a failing grade. Shared Hope does not grade on a curve.
Looking ahead - Advancing a national anti-trafficking agendaAs the next President of the National Association of Attorneys General, I’ll be looking for ways to bring new focus to regional and national efforts to end human trafficking. Attorneys General across the country are in a strong position to provide statewide leadership on this issue, and I’ll be working hard to advance a national anti-trafficking agenda.
Lack of awareness has long been the biggest obstacle to ending human trafficking Even though victims could be working on any farm, or in any local restaurant, hotel, or salon, most of the community might never realize there are slaves among them.
That’s why I’ll continue finding opportunities to spread this message. Meanwhile, I hope you will take a few moments to consider this issue and find at least one way, large or small, to participate in raising awareness among the people of Washington that more needs to be done to end human slavery in America.