No one wakes up one morning thinking, "I can do anything with my life and I think I would really like a career in prostitution."
Since I practice primarily in the area of tax and estate planning, human trafficking is not something that I had ever really thought about. I certainly had not considered the extent to which it takes place in the U.S., in Seattle or in my own neighborhood.
Sure, we have all seen Hollywood movies glamorizing prostitution and we may even see some of these women on the street. But until having a conversation with a friend who works for LexisNexis, a corporation that is a leader in the movement against human trafficking, I was really unaware of the reality of the horrific situations in our own community. I didn't recognize these people as victims of a crime.
Based on my own ignorance concerning the topic, I assume that there have to be other practitioners in this community who are unaware of this major issue as well and how the legal community can work toward raising awareness and ending human trafficking through protection, prosecution, prevention and partnerships.
Washington was the first state to criminalize human trafficking in RCW 9A.40.100, thanks to former Rep. Velma Veloria's tenacious efforts in 2003. Our state has also led the way in criminalizing commercial sexual abuse of minors, commonly known as child sex trafficking, with the enactment of RCW 9.68A.100–.103 in 2007, through the leadership of Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles. The Legislature, in 2010, enhanced penalties on traffickers of commercial sexual abuse of minors, and offered further protection to victims.1 In essence, Washington's human trafficking criminal codes are now in alignment with the federal law.
Both the federal and state governments have expended resources in Washington to coordinate protection for victims and to enforce laws to prosecute traffickers. Local police departments often participated in the FBI's Innocence Loss Task Force to coordinate investigation and prosecutions. However, and not undermining these efforts, federal prosecution cannot be the only source to deter the growth of modern-day slavery. Enforcement of Washington‘s human trafficking code is another important tool to effectively combat human trafficking.
As to commercial sexual abuse of minors, thanks to the hard work of the King County Prosecuting Attorney's Office several successful cases have secured convictions at the state level.2 However, to date, Washington's human trafficking criminal code under RCW 9A.40.100 has secured only one conviction in an egregious case, which occurred in 2009, six years after the code's enactment.
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