With over 70 ports importing and exporting thousands of cargo containers per day and a long international border, Washington is a top destination for traffickers. This year, Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle, continued her work to put an end to this inhumane trade with legislation to strengthen the criminal definition of trafficking, increase penalties associated with the crime, and improve services for trafficking victims and their families. These measures were signed into law today by Gov. Gregoire.
“Washington State has led the way toward stopping this form of enslavement ever since 2002 when we passed two bills enacted into law as a response to the murder of two ‘mail-order brides,' Susanna Blackwell and Anastasia King, a high-profile forced servitude of another, Helen Clemente, and the deaths and injuries of others being smuggled into the state on container ships,” Kohl-Welles said. “In 2003, Washington led the country as the first state to criminalize human trafficking, and this legislation being signed into law today will go far in continuing our efforts to end this horrific practice and ensuring that traffickers are brought to justice.”
Senate Bill 5546 expands the criminal definition of human trafficking to include the illegal harvesting or sale of human organs and to hold accountable those convicted of transporting a person for the future purpose of prostitution, including of minors, or forced manual labor.
"Well over 15,000 people are trafficked into the country each year and forced into prostitution and manual labor, but it's often difficult for law enforcement to apprehend those involved in the criminal activity," Kohl-Welles said. "This expansion of the definition of trafficking will help prosecutors and law enforcement officers ensure traffickers, as well as those involved with interstate and intrastate commercial sexual abuse of minors, are held accountable."
In a committee hearing earlier this session, former State Representative Veloria voiced her support for SB 5546 to amend the criminal definitions.
Veloria, who spearheaded efforts to criminalize trafficking in 2002, said, “This bill addresses and defines the many types of trafficking we see in this state and will continue to face in the future.”
Kohl-Welles’ other bill on the issue, Senate Bill 5482, authorizes local governments to use affordable housing funds to provide housing assistance to victims of human trafficking and their families.
Kohl-Welles' bills are part of a package of proposals introduced this session to tighten up human trafficking and child prostitution laws.
House Bill 1874, introduced by Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson, D-Seattle, and the companion bill to SB 5545, sponsored by Sen. Jerome Delvin, R-Richland, would allow law enforcement officers to conduct surveillance operations on suspected human-trafficking and child-prostitution activities with the consent of the victim. It would also authorize prosecutors to request assistance from juveniles in the undercover surveillance of telephone communications in trafficking investigations, without putting them in danger.
“We think of child prostitution as something that happens in other countries, but not here at home but, unfortunately, this is not the case-- child prostitution is a growing problem in states across the country,” said Dickerson (D-Seattle). "Law enforcement officers need to be equipped with every tool necessary to put an end to this horrific industry here in Washington, and this bill brings them one step closer to that aim."
It is anticipated that HB 1874 will pass the Legislature this week and sent to the governor for her signature.
Public-policy efforts to combat child prostitution and human trafficking have been under way in Washington for years. Beginning with the creation of a task force on human-trafficking operations in 2002, the Legislature has added new laws to the books and/or appropriated funds every session since to strengthen penalties against trafficking criminals and to improve support services for victims.
“I’ve been working to combat human trafficking for nine years,” Kohl-Welles said. “Each year we make more progress and this year’s legislation is the logical next step.”