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Opinion Northwest

Join the informed writers of The Times' editorial board in lively discussions at our blog, Opinion Northwest.

Topic: sex trafficking

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May 23, 2014 at 12:03 PM

Washington needs better data to save sexually exploited kids

How do we protect kids from being sold for sex when we don’t even understand the problem’s true scope? Media reports, law enforcement and advocates often report that between 300 and 500 kids are sexually exploited for commercial purposes every night in Washington state. Unfortunately, that’s a conservative estimate based on a 2008 study done…

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Comments | Topics: csec, sex trafficking, washington

May 20, 2014 at 6:03 AM

U.S. House should pass anti-sex trafficking bills, crack down on Backpage.com

The U.S. House of Representatives is expected to vote as early as Tuesday on several anti-sex trafficking bills. With broad support from members of both parties, these sweeping measures ought to have no problems getting passed off the floor and sent over to the U.S. Senate.

Take a look at the problem by the numbers:

  • In the U.S., up to 300,000 children are at risk of being sold for sex each year. (Source: U.S. Department of Justice)
  • Pimps and traffickers report making between $5,000 and $32,833 each week. (Source: Urban Institute)
  • In King County, conservative estimates show that between 300 and 500 boys and girls under the age of 18 are victims of commercial sexual exploitation every day. (Source: King County)

If they do indeed pull it off, then Americans should give lawmakers a rare pat on the back for working through their normally toxic relationship. Uniting behind victims of sexual exploitation is a no-brainer. But the legislation before the U.S. House this week creates some substantive changes. (The Seattle Times editorial board published a May 11 editorial in support of three of the proposed laws.) If Congress feels inspired enough to find consensus on this widespread problem, who knows. It could create enough goodwill for members to return to the table to resolve other stalled reform efforts (i.e. immigration).

One of the bills up for consideration, the Stop Advertising Victims of Exploitation (SAVE) Act, has caught some flak from Internet freedom advocates. To address their concerns, Samantha Vardaman, the senior director of policy for Shared Hope International, says the House Judiciary Committee amended the legislation on May 15 to ensure that federal charges and penalties are applied only to those websites that “knowingly” advertise minors.

That wording change raises the burden of proof for prosecutors and means the SAVE Act might not stop the posting of advertisements featuring commercially sexually exploited children. What’s to stop Backpage.com and its copycats from simply saying they didn’t know that photos posted on their sites are underage or victims of trafficking?

The SAVE Act is still a first step toward better, stronger policies in the future.

“It’s a thoughtful approach to introducing liability in a way that doesn’t exist currently,” Vardaman said over the phone.

Below is a list of the bills expected to be fast-tracked on Tuesday, courtesy of House Republican leadership:

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Comments | Topics: backpage, congress, sex trafficking

April 25, 2014 at 6:02 AM

Backpage.com’s adult ads continue to normalize, increase demand for sex trafficking

This Seattle Times editorial posted Thursday encourages the online community to help stop sex trafficking by refusing to sell or buy goods on Backpage.com until it stops posting adult services.

A disclaimer on the site asking users to “report suspected exploitation of minors and/or human trafficking” is disingenuous. Once viewers click “I agree” to the terms, they are exposed to illicit ads that reduce people’s daughters to faceless bodyshots and subject lines consisting of emoji characters, body measurements, ages that could be fake and suggestive pseudonyms.

Here’s a screenshot of just a few of the hundreds of listings Backpage.com allowed to be posted during the lunch hour on Wednesday. Does this look to you like a website that cares about protecting people — or promoting the dirty work of pimps?

Screen Shot 2014-04-24 at 6.22.46 PM

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Comments | Topics: backpage, prostitution, sex trafficking

March 11, 2014 at 10:49 AM

Legislature passes bills to fight sex trafficking

With just two more days left in the legislative session, state lawmakers have found the political will to unanimously pass three bills to help combat sex trafficking. One other foster-care bill is still in play and deserves consideration before Thursday’s adjournment.

As mentioned in previous Opinion Northwest blog posts and Seattle Times editorials, legislative action is necessary because hundreds of children are forced to sell their bodies every night. Some get caught up in the life for years before they are able to find help. Foster kids without a permanent home are especially susceptible to pimps and their false promises of clothing, shelter and love.

Here’s the status of several trafficking-related bills measures as of Tuesday morning: (Note: The status of each bill is subject to change.)

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Comments | Topics: foster care, legislature, sex trafficking

March 6, 2014 at 6:04 AM

Updated: Time running out for state Legislature to pass anti-sex trafficking bills

Updated 3:31 p.m. on March 7:

Bills are moving through the Legislature quickly. I’ve revised information throughout this post, which was originally published Thursday morning. Check back after the weekend for more updates.

Original:

As the Washington Legislature nears its March 13 deadline, now is the time to track and review efforts to end sex trafficking.

Yes, this is a statewide crisis. In the Seattle-King County area alone, the most recent studies suggest hundreds of children as young as 11 years old are being sexually exploited for commercial purposes. Organizations such as the Center for Child & Youth Justice and YouthCare are building new models to identify and treat these sex workers as victims, not criminals.

Below, watch video of StolenYouth’s Jan. 29 forum at Town Hall to understand how advocates are responding to the problem.

This year in Olympia, lawmakers took up several measures to strengthen the state’s laws against trafficking. So far, two bills outlined below have passed both houses. Lawmakers should make sure several other measures get to the governor’s desk before time runs out. They must maintain the state’s position as a leader in combating sex trafficking through strong legislation.

Here’s a rundown of several bills related to sex trafficking and their status as of Wednesday:

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Comments | Topics: legislature, prostitution, sex trafficking

February 20, 2014 at 6:08 AM

Prevent Washington’s foster kids from running away

My Thursday column on sex trafficking and the foster care system opened with a line about the number of wards running away from homes they’ve been placed in by the state.

Below are three charts that show the extent of the problem between January 2010 and March 2013. These graphs from Columbia Legal Services are from the last report compiled by the state Department of Social and Health Services for a now-defunct working group called Missing from Care.

1. How many kids under the care of the state run away each month? DSHS reported a low of 116 runaways in January 2010 and a high of 172 in April 2012.

Source: DSHS Children's Administration

Source: DSHS Children’s Administration

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Comments | Topics: Dave Reichert, dshs, foster care

January 31, 2014 at 6:08 AM

Seattle Seahawks, Super Bowl and sex trafficking

Opinions are mixed on just how much Super Bowls really attract sex trafficking, but several stories this week  by CBS News, The New York Times and The Christian Science Monitor place a spotlight on this widespread, illicit crime ahead of the match-up between the Seattle Seahawks and the Denver Broncos.

By Thursday morning, New York’s attorney general announced the arrest of 18 people suspected of running prostitution and drug rings in Manhattan for “high-end clientele” in town for Sunday’s game.

So here’s the message to the 12th man traveling east for the game: Have fun and represent your hometown. Don’t get caught doing you know what.

New Jersey officials are cracking down, too. Gov. Chris Christie has taken a beating in recent weeks for his staff’s shenanigans, but his blunt talk is worth paying attention to. Check out these tweets:

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Comments | Topics: seattle seahawks, sex trafficking, Super Bowl