Consider what you’ve been told about Human Trafficking. Consider how it has been portrayed in movies, television, or even some awareness campaigns. Have you seen pictures of slender wrists in handcuffs? Have you seen movies about a middle-class, adolescent female vacationing abroad when she is suddenly taken? Consider how rarely you see discussion of the invisible and coercive forces of poverty, psychological control, and isolation. The majority of trafficking situations involve such non-physical restraints, and as we enter the new year, and January’s observance of Human Trafficking Awareness Month, it is time to talk about that.**
Human trafficking occurs when someone employs force, fraud, or coercion to compel the victim to provide commercial sex acts, labor, or other forms of work. It is important to note that any commercial sex involving a minor is considered trafficking. The coercion in trafficking situations can take many, complex forms.
Tabitha Clifford, a Survivor Engagement Specialist with Real Escape from the Sex Trade (REST), believes it is important to dispel some of the common myths around who experiences human trafficking: “I really want to stress the piece about all genders. It’s something that REST has really taken on in terms of accepting that all genders are in the life and need help and respecting people’s pronouns. It’s super important to stress that. There’s so many men, women, transgender individuals involved. It’s not just women. All genders need services.”
Clifford also emphasizes the importance of having those with lived experience spearheading response efforts: “Survivor leadership is hugely important for understanding and bridging the gap for people in the life and others being able to relate. When we have more survivors in leadership, we kind of have that key piece where clients understand ‘she’s not a square.’ We know what we’re talking about because we lived it. Not only having worked with the vulnerable population, but having been the vulnerable population. It bridges understanding and stereotypes.”
The Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (CSEC) is a form of sex trafficking that occurs when a person buys, sells, or trades sex acts with a child under the age of 18. The King County CSEC Task Force has collected disturbing data that illustrates how CSEC perpetuates patterns of racial, economic, and gender oppression. Their 2019 report shows that 73% of sex buyers of children identified in King County were white men. Conversely, the child victims of sex trafficking were 45% African-American, which is significantly disproportionate when compared to the general population of King County.
Labor trafficking can often be erased among more sensationalized discussions of sex trafficking, yet goods and services produced by forced labor are a part of our daily lives. The International Labor Organization (ILO) estimates that 16 million people were trafficked via forced labor in the private economy in 2016. That same year, the ILO estimated that an additional 4.8 million people were trafficked via forced sexual exploitation and 4.1 million in forced state labor. Of the total number of those kept in such forms of modern slavery, 71% are estimated to be women and girls. Employers engaged in labor trafficking may exploit survivor vulnerabilities — such as undocumented immigration status, poverty, and a lack of labor protections — in order to assert power and control over an individual.
Of the 16 million trafficking victims in the private economy, the largest portion (24%) were domestic workers. Labor protections such as the City of Seattle’s Domestic Workers Ordinance seek to empower workers and prevent trafficking tactics by requiring rest breaks, meal breaks, and forbidding confiscation of critical documents such as a passport.
Washington State has a proud history of tireless anti-trafficking activism pioneered by women such as former 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). Thanks to their leadership, Washington was the first state in the nation to adopt anti-trafficking legislation in 2003.
To learn more about local efforts to disrupt human trafficking and ways to get involved, the Seattle Human Services Department’s Mayor’s Office on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault (MODVSA) is partnering with the Washington Advisory Committee on Trafficking (WashACT) to host a program honoring some of the women who have led the way in this work and featuring a panel discussion including survivors, activists, and representatives from our criminal justice response to help expand the conversation around human trafficking in the City of Seattle.
**Blog author Natalie Dolci, LICSW, currently works as a Planning & Development Specialist with the Mayor’s Office on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault.
For additional reading, she recommends Gerassi, Lara, B., Nichols, Andrea J, Sex Trafficking and Commercial Sexual Exploitation: Prevention, Advocacy, and Trauma-Informed Response
To report concerns that human trafficking might be taking place, please call
the Washington Anti-Trafficking Response Network Victim Assistance Line at 206.245.0782 or the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 888.3737.888.