OLYMPIA, WA - At the State Capitol, diverse grass roots and service organizations are converging to urge an end to human trafficking. Representing a constituency base of more than 15,000, they will come together as one unified voice to engage our lawmakers, law enforcement agencies and business leaders in establishing new strategic partnerships in the state to eradicate modern day slavery in Washington State. Over 50 legislative meetings have already been set to discuss the issue.
The event will include speakers Bradley Myles, CEO and Executive Director of Polaris Project, Washington State Attorney General, Rob McKenna, Terri Kimball - Director Division of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Prevention, City of Seattle, and Senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle.
The gathering will build on previous successes in the state. Washington has been a leader in the fight against human trafficking. In 2001, the University of Washington's Women Center and Velma Veloria of the Asian Pacific Islander Safety Center led the state in bringing forward the issue of trafficking, helping to form the Washington State Task Force, the first of its kind in the country.
"In 2003, Washington became the first state to criminalize trafficking and to extend protections to mail order brides." said Dr. Sutapa Basu, Executive Director of UW's Women's Center. Part of the Engagement Day program will included honoring the trailblazing efforts these women's groups have brought to our state and continue to be a roadmap for others.
Tomorrow will build upon that momentum as the challenges to fighting trafficking continues to evolve. "Too little attention has been given to trafficking of people into virtual slavery as domestic laborers, agricultural, and construction workers and other forms of labor." continues Dr. Basu, "We need to ensure that much greater focus is placed on all forms of trafficked labor and all its victims in our state."
Highlighting the work yet to be done, just this week, Shared Hope International gave Washington State a "C" grade of in regards to the level of protection afforded by state laws regarding the sex trafficking of children.
"The average age of an American child forced into prostitution is 13. These children are not just cheap labor, they are slaves. These children are not prostitutes, they are victims." Says Alex Miller of Eastside Women of Purpose,
"This is not a problem that is going to be solved quickly." says Judy Norton of Zonta International, "We need to work together for strong laws, public awareness and education and support services for the young victims."
"That is what Washington Anti-Trafficking Engagement Day is all about," says Deana Berg, event chair, "to catalyze strategic partnerships to support research-based policy and legislative changes to end modern-day slavery." Research and collaboration are currently underway to develop proposed legislation that will further protection for victims of trafficking. At the event, the University of Washington's Women's Center will be announcing that they have agreed to start collecting data on exactly how many people are trafficked and map laws and other resources to help facilitate enforceable and wide- reaching legislation.
One such legislative change is in the area of police investigation and voice recording consent. Currently, in any investigation except when drugs are involved, both parties being recorded must consent. In trafficking cases it is extremely difficult to gain consent in time to collect evidence against traffickers. "To allow police one-party consent voice recording will reduce re-traumatizing the victims because the recording will reduce the number of times the victim has to testify." says Rose Gundersen, Legislative Director for Washington Anti-Trafficking Engagement. "Other states have recognized those laws already, and this administrative warrant procedure is recommended by both Polaris Project and the Protective Innocence Initiative prepared by Shared Hope International because it will enhance investigation and prosecution."
In looking to the past, however, there is hope for the future. Last year, when grass roots activists unified to support human trafficking bills, the Legislature passed four of them unanimously. "This year, we hope to continue that momentum." says Berg.