Our recent International Workers’ Day was not without incident. And no, we’re not talking about the broken windows and rioting. We’re talking about an event that was overshadowed by those disturbances. On May 1, Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles and other anti-human trafficking advocates spoke at a press conference held in Olympia to highlight 12 recently enacted anti-trafficking laws.
Local anti-trafficking advocates, Emma Catague, field director of API Chaya, Dr. Sutapa Basu, co-chair of UW’s Task Force on Human Trafficking, and Velma Veloria, former state representative, started the anti-trafficking movement here in Washington. The murder of three Filipino women — Suzanna Blackwell, a mail-order bride, and her two friends — in 1995 by Blackwell’s husband launched a discussion about domestic violence, and also about mail-order brides. At Catague’s insistence, the three women worked to push for HB 1175, a law that makes human trafficking a crime.
Washington became the first state in the nation to make human trafficking a crime. Twelve new bills were signed into law with the combined efforts of advocates and many Democrat and Republican senators and state representatives. The bills address more specific issues in human trafficking, like the sexual abuse of minors and the seizure and forfeiture of property.
It is great to see that members of our community took action to extend protection to more individuals and to bring this issue to national attention. However, more changes can be made, starting with our perception of the issue. Human trafficking, more than the oft-perceived stereotype of foreign prostitutes and mail-order brides, also includes forced labor and conditions resembling slavery. Vulnerable citizens in our country — from those working as maids, farmers, factory workers, and in many other industries — are trafficked every day, forced to work in violating conditions that do not include a paycheck, much less a union. If we continue to discuss labor rights only in the context of how it affects a certain class of the workforce, we fail to address the whole issue.
We should continue to include human trafficking in the discussion when fighting for labor rights. Growing up, we’re often told that if we work hard, we’ll get to where we want to be. We now see that that is often not the case. Labor rights is an issue that affects every citizen, even those without jobs. Many have come out to speak against the riots and vandalism that occurred on May 1, but the press conference in Olympia shows that more good happened than bad that day. There are ways to ensure that progress continues on this issue in the days to follow. (end)