Commentary: Public awareness of sex trafficking is first step toward ending it

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Sex trafficking is a growing problem across Washington.

Our state ranks in the top 15 states with active human trafficking cases, most of which are sex trafficking cases, with 3.49 cases per 100,000 citizens — higher than the national average of 2.83 cases per 100,000 citizens, according to the National Human Trafficking Hotline.

Sex trafficking may be as close as your child’s school, your neighborhood or even the internet in your home.

It’s time we double down on our efforts to put an end to it.

Clark County’s size as the fifth largest county in Washington and its position between Seattle and Portland with Interstate 5 as one of our main corridors makes it part of the sex trafficking circuit in the West. We need to protect our children by combating these activities and supporting the communities impacted by it.

In 2017, Rep. Vicki Kraft, R-Vancouver, and Rep. Tina Orwall, D-Des Moines, launched the Sex Trafficking Prevention Caucus, which also includes Rep. Sharon Wylie, D-Vancouver. Our goal in this bipartisan effort is to provide education on this important issue and collaborate with other legislators with a laser focus on enacting policies to prevent sex trafficking in our state.

Educating our communities on the dangers that sex trafficking poses to youth and at-risk individuals is the first step in putting an end to this criminal enterprise. Students need to know the warning signs to recognize if they, or their friends, are being lured into sex trafficking. It’s also important for parents, educators and community service providers to know what to look for and what to do if they believe their child or a young person may be at risk.

Local advocacy groups in Vancouver are working to address this issue. Shared Hope International is a nonprofit organization that advocates for legislation on behalf of survivors, works to expand services and provides education on sex trafficking. National Women’s Coalition Against Violence and Exploitation (NWCAVE) provides education and support for women and youth facing exploitation, trafficking or violence. The Human Trafficking Task Force of Clark County is a collaborative, non-investigative, task force of individuals, lived experienced experts and community partners. Their mission is to address the conditions that foster commercial sexual exploitation and labor trafficking of children and adults, provide community outreach and to connect survivors with trauma informed care.

If you think you know someone who may be at risk of being involved in sex trafficking, here are some steps you can take:

• Know the warning signs. Download this free information at: sharedhope.org/resources/.

• If there’s an emergency involving suspected sex trafficking, dial 911.

• If you believe you may have information about a trafficking situation, contact the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888, or humantraffickinghotline.org, or text them at 233733 to be quickly connected with the proper help, including immediate trafficking intervention, if needed, in your local area.

We are also here to help. Please contact our offices if you have questions, comments or information that would help us further the fight against sex trafficking in our communities.

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Rep. Vicki Kraft represents the 17th Legislative District. She can be contacted through her website: RepresentativeVickiKraft.com. Rep. Tina Orwall is deputy speaker pro tempore, a member of the House Public Safety Committee, and serves the 33rd Legislative District. Her website is: housedemocrats.wa.gov/orwall. Rep. Sharon Wylie serves the 49th Legislative District. Her website is: housedemocrats.wa.gov/wylie.

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