County Council recognizes ongoing work to end Human Trafficking

The Metropolitan King County Council on Monday (Jan. 29) declared January ‘Human Trafficking Awareness Month’ in recognition that trafficking in persons is now the world’s second-largest and fastest-growing underground economy.

“Our regional, local and state leaders and many organizations have been at the front of the battle against human trafficking for two decades,” said Councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Welles, a co-sponsor of the proclamation. “The scourge of these crimes continues, but thanks to the early and continuing efforts of Emma Catague, Velma Veloria, and Sutapa Basu, among others, we have powerful tools to use in fighting these horrors and inhumanities.”

“King County offers resources to victims of human trafficking that can be accessed throughout our region,” said proclamation co-sponsor Council Vice Chair Reagan Dunn. “It’s our hope that in working to promote awareness of this heinous crime we’re able to reach someone in need.”

Legislation introduced by former State Representative Velma Veloria made Washington the first state in the country to create an anti-trafficking task force in 2002 and to criminalize human trafficking in 2003. As a member of the State Senate in 2002, Kohl-Welles sponsored legislation signed into law that provides protection to immigrants who come to Washington to marry residents through the services of international marriage brokers, which were found to be problematic in leaving people vulnerable to exploitation.

King County has been a leader in the effort to end human trafficking. Law enforcement agencies and prosecutors in King County work closely with the Washington Anti-Trafficking Network (WARN), a coalition of non-governmental organizations that provides direct services to survivors of human trafficking in Washington state, assisting them on their path to restoration and recovery.

This effort has grown through the establishment of the King County’s Commercially Sexually Exploited Children (“CSEC”) Task Force to help ensure the safety of young people who are survivors of sexual exploitation. In addition, the King County Prosecutors Office established the “Buyer’s Beware Program” with the Organization of Prostitution Survivors.

King County continues to work with NGO’s, such as API Chaya, Coalition of Immigrants, Refugees & Communities of Color, and Seattle Against Slavery.

King County has worked with both Clear Channel Outdoors, a division of Clear Channel Communications, and Titan Media to highlight the need to fight human trafficking through billboards that provided information on how to contact agencies that helped individuals escape trafficking.

Veloria and representatives of community organizations doing work in King County to address the issue of human trafficking were present to accept the proclamation.

Each year, API Chaya, a local organization providing services to survivors of sexual and domestic violence, exploitation, and human trafficking, holds a candlelight vigil commemorating the 1995 shooting of Susana Remerata Blackwell, her unborn child, and friends Phoebe Dizon and Veronica Laureta, who were killed by Ms. Blackwell’s estranged and abusive husband inside the King County Courthouse. Following the forced servitude case of Helen Clemente in 1999 and the murder of Anastasia Solovieva-King in 2000, King County has been active in working with the state Legislature in finding ways to reduce and aid the survivors of trafficking.

A 2013 report from the International Labour Organization estimates that nearly 27 million men, women and children are victims of various forms of trafficking, such as forced labor, sexual exploitation, debt bondage, and forced marriages, each year worldwide. Shining a bright light on these crimes and educating the public is one way we can work to eradicate these types of crimes.