Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson

What is human trafficking?

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Services & Resources for Victims

Federal law defines severe human trafficking as:

  • Sex trafficking in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, coercion or in which the person induced to perform such an act is under 18.
  • The recruitment, transportation, harboring, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services (link to “labor” tab), through the use of force, fraud or coercion, for the purposes of subjecting that person to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage or slavery.

Human trafficking is the fastest growing criminal industry in the world today. This form of modern day slavery is tied with arms as the second largest international criminal industry – behind drug dealing.

The U.S. Dept. of Justice estimates that between 14,500 and 17,500 people are trafficked into the country each year.

History of the Anti-Human Trafficking Movement

In the mid-1990s, Susana Remerata Blackwell, Helen Clemente and Anastasia King, three immigrant women of color, came forward to share stories of mail order-brides/foreign brides being beaten, exploited and murdered.  The then State Representative Velma Veloria, Dr. Sutapa Basu, Executive Director of the UW Women’s Center, and Emma Catague, Community Organizing Program Manager at Asian & Pacific Islander (API) CHAYA (formerly Women and Family Safety Center), together set out to examine and end this emerging pattern, which was going unaddressed. 

In 2001, under Dr. Basu’s leadership, the UW Women’s Center hosted the first ever anti-human trafficking conference in the state, which was attended by over 300 participants and where the issues around human trafficking within Washington State were brought forth, including the recognition of bride trafficking.   In 2003, then Representative Velma Veloria sponsored the historic House Bill (HB) 1175.  With the support of her colleagues in both Chambers of the State Legislature, Washington set the stage for the local and national anti-trafficking movement by becoming the first State in the nation to criminalize human trafficking.  Since then, 50 States have replicated and instituted similar bills, launching a national movement.

It's Happening Here in Washington

Washington's Task Force Against Trafficking of Persons reports our state is a hotbed for the recruitment, transportation and sale of people for labor.  The report indicates several factors make Washington prone to human trafficking:

  • International border with Canada
  • Abundance of ports
  • Vast rural areas
  • Dependency on agricultural workers

Seattle is part of a trafficking circuit that can include Honolulu, Las Vegas, New Orleans, Portland, Vancouver (Clark County), Yakima and Canada.

The report also notes that trafficking has occurred in 18 Washington state counties.

  • Victims range from "mail-order" brides to sex workers to domestic workers and children.
  • Local victims have come as far as Russia, the Philippines, China and Mexico.

Working together to fight this crime

In 2003, Washington was the first state to pass a law criminalizing human trafficking and we have the most stringent law in the country.

  • Under the law, it's a serious felony to recruit, harbor, transport or obtain any person for labor or services using force, fraud or coercion. That includes sex trafficking and other forms of forced labor, from domestic servitude to sweatshop work.  

  • Unfortunately by 2008, no known charges had been filed under the law.  The Attorney General’s Office became involved in this issue through work on domestic violence.  At the AG’s Office, we learned the law wasn’t being used because victims of human trafficking were not being recognized as such. Rather, they were being seen as victims of other crimes, such as domestic violence and sexual assault.

AGO Human Trafficking Roundtable

In April 2008, the Attorney General’s Office convened a roundtable of legislative, law enforcement and social services leaders well-versed in the issue of human trafficking to determine ways to integrate efforts.

Our work is ongoing but we continue to seek a comprehensive approach to victims services, addressing:

  • Language barriers
  • Lack of awareness of services
  • Fear and suspicion of law enforcement


The Attorney General’s Office would like to provide a special thank you to the following national, state and local government and organizations.  They have generously provided us with advice, research assistance, resources, and given us permission to link to their materials.


  • Find recent news from the AGO here.






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