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King County leaders launch new campaign to raise awareness of human trafficking

King County today launched a countywide campaign to raise awareness of the problem of human trafficking in our community.  The campaign includes ads on 200 Metro buses that will begin to appear on Friday, a public service announcement, and a program to train key County staff to recognize and respond to human trafficking situations.

“We can end human trafficking only by raising the visibility of the issue in our community, recognizing the signs, and learning what to do if you see or hear something,” said King County Executive Dow Constantine.

Human trafficking, defined as compelling a person into any form of labor against their will, is one of the fastest growing criminal industries in the world, after illegal guns and drugs. Children account for half of the victims.  Human trafficking can occur in any industry, including agriculture, construction, domestic service (housekeeper, nanny), restaurants, salons, commercial sex work, massage parlors, and small businesses.

“The Sheriff’s Office is committed to raising awareness and bringing to justice those who participate in human trafficking,” said King County Sheriff John Urquhart.  “I am proud to partner with Executive Constantine, Councilmember Dunn and leaders across King County to develop a more comprehensive plan on this issue.”

“We know that it takes only 45 minutes for an unaccompanied minor girl to be approached by a pimp or a john at Westlake Center, in the heart of Downtown Seattle,” said King County Councilmember Reagan Dunn, sponsor of the trafficking motion adopted by the Council. “That is why what we are doing today is so important.  This public awareness campaign will show victims and potential victims that help is available and there is a way out of such a horrific situation.”

The public awareness campaign encourages people to call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline at 1-888-3737-888 if they suspect someone may be a victim of human trafficking or if they are victims themselves. The ads will run in eight languages, including Spanish, Amharic, Chinese, Korean, Russian, Tagalog and Vietnamese.

According to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, the following may be signs that someone is a victim of trafficking:

  • Workers who have had their ID, passport, or documents taken away
  • Workers who show signs of physical and/or sexual abuse, physical restraint, confinement, or torture
  • Workers who show signs of emotional abuse
  • Workers who are being threatened by or are in debt to their boss
  • Workers who are under 18 and are involved in the commercial sex industry
  • Workers who are not free to leave or come and go from their place of work as they wish
  • Workers who don't seem to be receiving payment

Through local law enforcement efforts, prosecution of traffickers, and providing services to vulnerable populations, King County is a key local and regional player in stopping human trafficking. In addition to the public awareness campaign, King County will also train key staff to recognize signs of human trafficking and take action.

In 2011, King County, in partnership with YouthCare, Auburn Youth Resources, and Friends of Youth, launched SafePlace, a national program launched for youth in crisis including those who may be victims of human trafficking. Through the program any young person between the ages of 12 and 17 in need of help can approach any Metro bus driver, who will then trigger contact with a youth service provider.

In 2013, King County will work toward collecting key data, identifying best practices for county government and funding opportunities, and creating an integrated, ongoing response with our local partners.

“As providers serving victims of human trafficking in King County, WARN is encouraged by this campaign and hopes it will help those affected by human trafficking access services so they can escape exploitation and build a better future for themselves,” said Kathleen Morris, Program Manager for the Washington Anti-Trafficking Response Network (WARN).

For more information, visit www.kingcounty.gov/humantrafficking. Special thanks to New York City Office of the Mayor and the Somaly Mam Foundation for the resources they provided for the King County campaign.

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