Given its international border with Canada, large stretches of agricultural land, coastal ports, and vulnerable populations with income disparities, a huge network for trafficking people for sex and labor has developed in Washington State. However, Washington is also one of the leading advocates in dismantling this illicit industry, as it was the first state to pass an anti-trafficking law at the state level.
Washington has an extensive network of organizations and people collaborating to help fight this issue and they are making huge strides locally, nationally, and internationally. I want to highlight a few of the individuals and organizations who dedicate their time to interrupting, addressing, and preventing this violence in our communities. Click through each description to read my interviews with these amazing individuals!
“The young, free to act on their initiative, can lead their elders in the direction of the unknown… The children, the young, must ask the questions that we would never think to ask, but enough trust must be re-established so that the elders will be permitted to work with them on the answers.” — Margaret Mead
These inspiring youth have dedicated a significant amount of time to a variety of social justice issues in their communities ranging from animal shelters and homelessness, to human trafficking. These young women have led clubs, created social media videos and websites, organized food drives, and given presentations advocating on the issue of human trafficking and other human rights issues. I am in awe of these efforts to create change. The foundation of the future lies in the hands of the youth – and if we have more kids doing what Sheridan, Ellen, and Hana are accomplishing, the future will look promising.
I was given the opportunity to sit down with these determined young women as they walked me through how they got involved with these taxing issues and shared ways their peers can also get involved.
Co-founded in the Spring of 2012 by Noel Gomez and Peter Qualliotine, OPS was created to assist survivors of prostitution by cultivating services and hopes that establish a world of gender based equality that is liberated from exploitation. Their focus areas are Survivor Services, Community Education, and Men’s Accountability. Centered around amplifying the voices of survivors and giving them the tools to heal from the oppression they have faced, OPS has facilitated survivor-led support groups, weekly drop-in meetings, art workshops, and yoga classes. This Seattle-based anti-trafficking organization is a piece of the big puzzle, doing their part to help address this worldwide issue by empowering women affected by gender-based violence and creating a space for them to build community.
I sat down with Noel Gomez to discuss her jouney that led to her passion for human trafficking and what members of the community can do to end trafficking.
The IRC is a large organization with offices scattered all around the globe helping anyone affected by strife or disasters who have made it into the U.S. They make sure these people in need have access to the services necessary to take back control within their lives. The IRC in Seattle opens its arms to refugees, asylees, victims of human trafficking, survivors of torture, and other immigrants to help create the prosperous life they sought in America- a life they previously lacked. The IRC is a hands-on organization supporting some of the most vulnerable trafficking populations to ensure the best possible life for them in America.
In a little coffee shop in Seattle, I sat across from Dulce Zamora and learned how she makes a difference day to day in the world of people in distress.
Inspired by a series of meetings examining the methods in which trafficking could be prevented in 2011, BEST emerged in the Spring of 2012 with a clear goal: it was obvious that businesses were a crucial factor in identifying human trafficking and reporting it, however, they were not included in any of the past prevention efforts. BEST was the bridge linking these service employers with the training and information needed to increase the number of trafficking victims identified and decrease exploitation overall. Through awareness, consultation, training, and administering safe jobs, BEST does its part to try and prevent the exploitation of people of all genders and ages. Most recently, BEST launched its online training platform for hotel staff, legal education, and basic education for any employee. This nationwide instruction for service workers has the ability to create a domino effect of positive feedback.
After meeting Kevin Connelly I learned the paths he took to end up at BEST and the monumental contributions BEST is facilitating.
Founded in 2009 by a group of women, Real Escape from The Sex Trade sought out to forge a path to provide pathways to freedom, safety and hope for all those affected in the sex trade. Christian based but with no religious requirements or restrictions, REST offers a space for recovery, growth, and opportunity to those who wish to engage. What REST offers is unconditional care, truly meeting their clients where they are and providing space for individuals to have agency over their lives. REST has an array of different programs ranging from drop in services (a safe place for survivors to come for a hot meal, support groups, classes and workshops), to REST houses (housing for up to a year for those exiting sex work). REST is informed about the trauma that comes with sex trafficking victims and hopes victims are able to overcome their agony through creating a heeling environment with love, safety, and a sense of belonging to a community.
Following the conversation with Jacquelynn at REST’s Seattle office, I left feeling full. This woman walked me through her life in and out of being in the cycle and ways the public can support those who have or are being trafficked.
The mission of The King County Task Force for the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children is to safeguard children who have been sexually exploited and additionally prevent future exploitation. A program branched off of the state run juvenile court, Kelly Mangiaracina created an all-inclusive approach to bring everyone – organizations, adults, students- to the table.
In a delightful conversation with Kelly Mangiaracina, I learned the ways she is able to connect the organizations and people dealing with Human Trafficking with each other and how society can contribute to ending this illicit industry.