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Human trafficking is a reality in Puget Sound

Human trafficking is a stark reality in the Puget Sound, although many may not be aware that it exists in the region.

Because of this lack of awareness, the Federal Way Soroptimists are holding a forum on human trafficking at 7 p.m. Sept. 29 at Federal Way City Hall.

By definition, human trafficking is a modern-day form of slavery involving the illegal trade of people for sexual exploitation and forced labor.

Federal Way City Councilwoman Linda Kochmar feels this is an important forum for residents because the problem of human trafficking is here in Federal Way — and is very real.

“It’s amazing, everybody thinks it’s somebody else or that it only happens in other countries,” she said. “It happens right here. It’s your neighbor’s child.”

In 2010, Federal Way police made 20 prostitution arrests total, four of them involving juveniles, said Deputy Chief Andy Hwang: “We had two cases against pimps, and 14 adults arrested for prostitution.”

Regionally, Hwang said the Seattle Police Department made 20 prostitution arrests involving youth in 2008, 30 arrests involving youth in 2009, and 50 arrests involving youth in 2010. The increasing numbers may come from the changing face of human trafficking and juvenile prostitution, one that’s shifted from the streets to the online world.

“Streetwalking is not as prevalent. They’re doing an online type of business now,” Hwang said.

“They arrange to meet at a hotel with customers or some other place. It’s tough to enforce from a law enforcement point of view because they’re not visible on the street like they used to be.”

Hwang said many youth, most of which are young women, come from difficult circumstances before finding themselves in the dangerous position of selling sex for money.

“A lot of them come from broken homes, were maybe abused in their childhood, so there’s not a lot of support around them. And then these guys come around and start grooming them, maybe by being their friend, by buying them stuff,” Hwang said. “Next thing they know, they’re in that world where they’re being exploited for sex.”

Both Kochmar and Hwang said they hope the Sept. 29 forum will increase awareness in the community.

“They need to understand what’s happening in their own community, in their own neighborhoods,” Kochmar said. “They need to understand what’s happening to their children, what could happen to their children. We have people in our community who will step up and help. They just need to know what the problem is.”

Hwang said awareness is the first step in combatting human trafficking and its related activities.

“It’s important that we talk about it, recognize the issues surrounding young women particularly, and that they’re being exploited for sex,” Hwang said. “Awareness is a way to extract them from that lifestyle. It’s important for parents and other adults, to love these kids unconditionally. (They need someone) to provide support, to know what’s going on with them.”

Check it out

Federal Way Soroptimists are holding a forum on human trafficking at 7 p.m. Sept. 29 at Federal Way City Hall. A five-member panel will share information about human trafficking issues in the region. The lineup includes District 30 State Sen. Tracey Eide; Chris Johnson, policy director for state attorney general Rob McKenna; sister Donna Freed of Sisters United Against Human Trafficking; Andy Hwang, deputy chief of the Federal Way Police Department; and Robin Schildmeyer of the Genesis Project.

 

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