On Jan. 19, the Metropolitan King County Council declared January Human Trafficking Awareness Month in recognition of the ongoing effort to call attention to this form of modern day slavery.
“In order to stop the scourge of human trafficking in our county, we need a coordinated and unified response,” said Councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Welles, a co-sponsor of the proclamation. “I am glad to see so many organizations come together today to raise awareness, share resources and work together to end this despicable practice.”
Protecting the survivors of human trafficking has been a focus for King County since the murder of Susan Remerata Blackwell, her unborn child, and friends Phoebe Dizon and Veronica Laureta, all originally from the Philippines.
They were killed by Blackwell’s estranged and abusive husband in 1995 inside the King County Courthouse.
King County has been active in collaborating with the state legislature in finding ways to reduce trafficking and aid the survivors of trafficking.
Washington state is known as a national leader in the fight against slavery and human trafficking, being the first State in the country to criminalize human trafficking in 2003.
As a member of the state legislature, Councilmember Kohl-Welles worked with former State Rep. Velma Veloria in creating the first state anti-trafficking task force in the Country in conjunction with 2002 legislation which provided protections for foreign brides who go through international marriage brokers
“The murders of the three Filipina women inside the King County Courthouse started the anti-trafficking movement in our state,” said Veloria. “This proclamation is a reminder to us all that human trafficking is not just a local problem, it is an international issue.”
Law enforcement agencies and prosecutors in King County also work closely alongside the Washington Anti-Trafficking Network (WARN) who since 2004 have brought together a coalition of non-governmental organizations that provide direct services to survivors of slavery and human trafficking in Washington state and assist them on their path to restoration and recovery.
That effort has grown through the establishment of the King County’s Commercially Sexually Exploited Children (“CSEC”) Task Force to help ensure the safety of young people who are survivors of sexual exploitation.
“Human trafficking is not limited to commercial sex work. It occurs in every industry including agriculture, construction, salons, and small businesses,” said Kathleen Morris, Program Manager at Washington Anti-Trafficking Response Network (WARN). “Creating awareness about how to identify and report cases of human trafficking provides the public with the knowledge they might need to help those who experience human trafficking.”
A 2013 report from the U.S. State Department identifies nearly 47,000 men, women and children trafficked and forced into different forms of slavery, such as forced labor, sexual exploitation, debt bondage, and forced marriages each year worldwide. (end)
*This article has been edited from its original version. It was updated to correct information and to edit out pejorative referrals of Blackwell, Dizon, and Laureta as “mail-order brides.”