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Sex slavery and human trafficking strikes Federal Way

State Sen. Tracey Eide (D-District 30) speaks about human trafficking Oct. 23 during a meeting of Soroptimist International of Federal Way. - Andy Hobbs/The Mirror
State Sen. Tracey Eide (D-District 30) speaks about human trafficking Oct. 23 during a meeting of Soroptimist International of Federal Way.
— image credit: Andy Hobbs/The Mirror

Human trafficking thrives worldwide at the expense of women and children who are forced into sex slavery.

In the United States, Washington state is just one gateway to human trafficking, and Federal Way even feels the effects.

Five men were charged earlier this month with holding a 16-year-old Afghan girl as a slave in Federal Way. She was beaten, sexually assaulted and forced to perform household chores for the men. A trial is set for Dec. 23.

On Oct. 23, State Sen. Tracey Eide (D-District 30) discussed human trafficking in Washington state during a meeting of Soroptimist International of Federal Way.

Eide noted that women, usually former victims themselves, commonly act as ringleaders for trafficking by stealing and selling girls as young as age 3, then conditioning them for work and export.

Trafficking is a lucrative multibillion-dollar industry, and perpetrators come from all walks of life. Many culprits are already wealthy, with some sporting respectable jobs such as CEO, Eide said. Kidnappers change the identities of victims while drugging, starving and beating them into submission. Victims hesitate to come forward because of threats made to their lives and families, Eide said.

Nowadays, the Internet is a primary tool for human trafficking. Women and girls are lured with the promise of jobs or marriage, for example. The Afghan girl who was held against her will in Federal Way was brought to the United States by an 84-year-old man and 17-year-old woman who lied on the girl's immigration application, according to a police officer at the meeting.

Following the murder of two mail-order brides about eight years ago in Washington state, the Legislature began to see action. Eide co-sponsored a resolution that authorized the state to seize the assets of traffickers upon first conviction. In 2003, the Mail Order Bride Act was passed, and in 2004, a task force against human trafficking was formed. Eide said the task force is now in danger of dissolving due to budget strains; the task force commands about $287,000 a year.

Eide said state laws alone cannot stop human traffickers.

"But we can make it damn difficult for them," she said. "If we don't stay on top of it, it will run amok."

Jan. 11 is Human Trafficking Awareness Day, Eide said, promising to address the topic that day on the state Senate floor.

Local action:

Federal Way police regularly crack down on prostitution, the primary area where trafficked women are exploited. However, police face difficulty identifying women and girls held as slaves, according to a few officers who attended Thursday's meeting. One officer described a past success story involving a 14-year-old girl who was reported missing from Arizona. It was a labor-intensive process, the officer said, because the girl's fake identification listed her as an adult — a common occurrence among underage prostitutes.

In describing a past prostitution sting, officer Chris Norman said the Internet — most notably Craigslist.org — serves as a connection for prostitutes and their customers. One recent bust involved an 18-year-old prostitute who negotiated a deal with an undercover officer. Once an agreement was made, the woman then showed the officer his "date:" A 13-year-old runaway.

Although the runaway was not part of a trafficking ring, Norman used that as an example of the Internet's role in promoting prostitution. In another sting, Federal Way police posted an ad on Craigslist and arrested 11 customers who responded. Most of the customers, also known as johns, were wealthy or successful people in society, including a UCLA professor.

"A lot of prostitutes have a history and background of abuse," Norman said.

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Learn about a new documentary involving human trafficking: www.callandresponse.com

Learn more about State Sen. Tracey Eide's presentation to members of Soroptimist International of Federal Way: (253) 838-3511.

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