SEATTLE — Although Washington has adopted some of the most comprehensive anti-trafficking legislation in the country, more research, training and outreach are needed in order to combat child sex trafficking, according to a new report.
Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced today that the Washington Statewide Coordinating Committee on the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children has published its 2014 Initial Report to the Legislature. Attorney General Ferguson is the convening authority for the committee.
“I am proud that my office and our state continue to be leaders in the fight against human trafficking,” Ferguson said. “The commercial sexual exploitation of children remains a serious problem in Washington. We must come together to tackle this problem and protect our kids.”
In coming together, members of the committee made their first effort toward doing just that. Its first recommendations include:
- Expanding and supporting task forces. Washington has already established five regional anti-trafficking task forces, which promote coordination and training among groups that may encounter child victims, including law enforcement, social services, businesses, and schools.
- Better publicizing the warning signs. Educate the public on danger signs so friends and family can recognize them when a child may be involved in sex trafficking.
- Improving data collection. The more that is understood about the scope of the problem and the activities of traffickers, the more leaders can build effective strategies to stop them.
- Supporting victims. The Legislature and the committee should work to find new funding to support victim services, from medical care to job training to housing. Stakeholders should also work to leverage existing funding, such as drug and gang task forces.
Children cannot legally consent to be involved in commercial sexual activity. As the report describes, children may be commercially sexually exploited by adults who coerce them into activities such as prostitution or stripping. In numerous cases, underage children have been forced by pimps to prostitute themselves on the street or on the Internet.
Increasingly, criminal gangs also appear to be involved in prostitution and the commercial sexual exploitation of children. Under the law, the commercial sexual exploitation of minors is a form of human trafficking, even in purely domestic cases where both traffickers and victims are from Washington.
It is likely that several hundred children are commercially sexually exploited in Washington every year. Better research and education potentially could identify even higher numbers. The problem is not limited to large urban areas, as is commonly believed, but occurs throughout the state.
The Statewide Coordinating Committee was formed by the Legislature in 2013 to address the issue of children who are commercially sexually exploited, to examine the practices of local and regional entities involved in addressing sexually exploited children, and to make recommendations on statewide laws and practices.
Washington has long been a leader in the fight against human trafficking. In October, Attorney General Ferguson led a bi-partisan coalition of 53 state and territorial attorneys general calling on Congress to approve the Stop Advertising Victims of Exploitation Act, which would provide more oversight of websites that provide “adult services.”
The Commercially Sexually Exploited Children Statewide Coordinating Committee includes representatives from state agencies, members of the Legislature, prosecutors and law enforcement officials, victim advocates, and social services organizations. Part of its work is to monitor the implementation of the Washington State Model Protocol for Commercially Sexually Exploited Children.
The Model Protocol is a set of guidelines on how law enforcement, social services, and other organizations can best respond to identified or suspected cases of children being exploited. It was created through a process known as “Project Respect,” led by the Center for Children & Youth Justice, a statewide nonprofit organization founded by retired Washington State Supreme Court Justice Bobbe J. Bridge.
“Children and youth don’t choose prostitution. They are the victims of abuse. Before the development of the Project Respect model protocol, law enforcement, the courts and society often treated them as criminals,” Justice Bridge said. “I am grateful to Attorney General Ferguson and local jurisdictions across the state for recognizing that these children, like all children, like all human beings, deserve respect.
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The Office of the Attorney General is the chief legal office for the state of Washington with attorneys and staff in 27 divisions across the state providing legal services to roughly 200 state agencies, boards and commissions. Attorney General Bob Ferguson is working hard to protect consumers and seniors against fraud, keep our communities safe, protect our environment and stand up for our veterans. Visit www.atg.wa.gov to learn more.
Alison Dempsey-Hall, Acting Communications Director