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Human trafficking has a local face, say agency leaders

Education efforts by World Relief, direct services by Lutheran Community Services and legislative efforts seek to raise awareness, serve victims and curb the spread of human trafficking in the Inland Northwest.

In February, World Relief’s Coalition to Abolish Human Trafficking is offering worship resources and speakers to faith community leaders to take part in Freedom Sunday on Feb. 26, the first Sunday of Lent.

Last year, more than 2,500 churches in 45 countries took part in Freedom Sunday to raise awareness about trafficking.

Rose Martin, volunteer coordinator of Freedom Sunday, said that while reading a book about modern slavery several years ago, “God radically changed the direction of my life.”

The Whitworth University graduate had thought human trafficking was rare and just in Southeast Asia or western Africa. 

Learning that it was not only in the United States, but also in Washington state and Spokane, she sought a way to become involved and has been volunteering with World Relief for a year. 

She previously coordinated the Race 2 End Slavery and a Facebook page for the coalition.

“People don’t realize we can meet victims of human trafficking in our daily lives.  At a fast-food taco restaurant in another part of the country, many of the workers were victims,” said Kevin Parker, State Representative from Spokane.

According to Mark Kadel, director of World Relief in Spokane, “human trafficking can be present almost anywhere from agriculture and construction to restaurants to nail salons and massage parlors.”

With Spokane’s close proximity to Canada, as the next big city east of Seattle, and West Coast ports, and in the heart of an agricultural region, human trafficking is a reality here.

Mabel Elsom, anti-human trafficking coordinator for Lutheran Community Services, said “many people don’t know or want to acknowledge there is a problem.”

The National Association of Attorneys General consider human trafficking the fastest growing crime in the world.

The U.S. Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report estimates that 10 to 20 million people are being trafficked globally, and 17,000 new victims are brought into the United States every year.

Washington State Attorney General Rob McKenna estimates it’s a $32 billion global industry.

While many people think that it doesn’t happen in their backyard, Washington is a high trafficked state and according to Washington State University’s Survey of Human Trafficking in the Spokane Region in 2007, there are 400 to 500 victims in Spokane on any given day, either residing here or being transported through.

The Department of Health and Human Services Campaign to Rescue and Restore Victims of Human Trafficking defines human trafficking as using force, fraud or coercion to recruit, harbor, transport, provide or obtain a person for labor, commercial sex or services in involuntary servitude, peonage, debt, bondage or slavery.

Some things are being done to address the issue.

A year ago, Mark formed the Coalition to Abolish Human Trafficking in the Inland Northwest.

When he came to Spokane, World Relief wasn’t involved in anti-human trafficking, so he formed the coalition to bring together people working on it.  He sees the coalition as a way to share resources and discuss what is happening.

With the coalition, World Relief started the Race 2 End Slavery, held with Bloomsday. Last year, 450 runners wore T-shirts to raise awareness and recruited sponsors to raise money.

World Relief’s efforts focus on education.

“Unless we address the demand side of human trafficking, it will continue to grow,” Mark said. “I believe God weeps that the church has been largely silent on it.

He considers it part of World Relief’s mission “to empower the local church to serve the most vulnerable.”

World Relief’s resources in refugee resettlement help victims.

Lutheran Community Services, which is also part of the coalition, provides services to victims under a contract with the Washington Anti-Trafficking Response Network (WARN), said Mabel.

In January, she started a task force to network the people who provide direct services for victims, so they are aware of each other and know where to refer victims.  The group includes detectives, lawyers, case managers, and emergency housing providers.

Mabel also organized a vigil for victims on Jan. 11, National Human Trafficking Awareness Day.

More than 70 people came, including mayors of Spokane and Spokane Valley, who read proclamations, voicing their support for raising awareness of this issue. Participants lit candles and had a moment of silence for the victims.

Kevin sees a rise in concern about human trafficking in the Washington State Legislature.

“When I first talked about modern day slavery a few years ago, most representatives were unaware of the issue,” he said.

This year he is submitting a bill to increase penalties for johns and pimps from a few hundred to several thousand dollars.

“We need to make it worthwhile for authorities to prosecute.  If we set a high dollar penalty, human trafficking moves onto everyone’s radar screen,” he said.

“However, some issues aren’t solved by legislation.  It can play a role, but we need people to be educated and know what to look for. People, not legislation, will take care of this issue,” said Kevin.

Those interviewed suggested some ways to be involved with anti-human trafficking efforts:

• There are local to global educational resources at worldreliefspokane.org.

• People can join coalition meetings at 4 p.m., first Mondays at World Relief, 1522 N. Monroe.

• World Relief offers a Human Trafficking 101 seminar each month. The next is at 5 p.m., Wednesday, Feb. 29.

• Action options include writing legislators.  Nationally, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, which guarantees services for victims, is up for renewal.

• People can use their purchasing power to buy products that aren’t made in sweatshops or by people enslaved.

• People can learn the signs of human trafficking and call the WARN hotline (206) 245-0782.

Signs of abusive employment situations include controlling employees’ identification documents, locking people in a residence or work place, people being unable to leave their job, threats to an employee or employee’s family, or a “debt” owed to the employer.

For information, call Mark 232-2814, Mabel 747-8224, Kevin 360-786-7922 or visit www.worldreliefspokane.org.