Human trafficking activities – ranging from mail-order brides to forced teenage prostitution – are causing “considerable concern” in the Spokane region, a new study concludes.
“Trafficking victims work on our streets, are often held captive in residents’ homes and hotels, and travel over our highways to other destinations where they will experience further exploitation and abuse,” according to the report prepared for the Western Regional Institute for Community Oriented Public Safety.
The report by Debbie R. DuPey was based on a written survey and interviews in 2007 with 25 service agencies.
This form of “victimization is of considerable concern for this region,” states the report. “There is a wide spectrum of trafficking activities that include sex slavery, forced prostitution, forced pan-handling, farm labor, janitorial work and domestic servitude.”
Said John Goldman, the institute’s director, “enforcement officials frequently fail to understand the severe human rights abuses and suffering occurring through the exploitation of vulnerable humans of all types.” Although Washington state adopted the first anti-human-trafficking law in the nation and the Federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act was enacted in 2000, very few prosecutions are being brought, he said.
“In part, the absence of enforcement is due to perception and misunderstanding,” Goldman said. “Too often, the victims are viewed first as criminals and enforcement is aimed at the ‘low-hanging fruit’ – prostitutes and illegal immigrants,” he said.
Goldman, former sheriff of Spokane County, said first responders, including police and emergency care workers, need to be better trained about how and where human trafficking occurs. The study covered six categories of human trafficking: gang and organized crime; prostitution industry; minors in prostitution; mail-order brides; labor exploitation; and “other … situations.”
“It is suspected that there is some gang-related pimping and prostitution occurring in Spokane,” but the report listed only one documented case, involving a woman “traded to a gang member by her boyfriend for drugs.”
Gang members subsequently forced the woman to work as a prostitute in several Western states for two weeks before a man associated with the gang helped her get to a bus station and contact her family, the report says.
Prostitution is the largest form of human trafficking in the region, it says. “There are an estimated 500 adult women in prostitution in Spokane,” it says. That includes women working for escort businesses, massage parlors, drug houses and on the streets.
“In addition, there are an unknown number of males and minors involved in the sex industry in Spokane,” the report says, adding that male prostitution is “much hidden” and those involved “are especially vulnerable.”
Drug addiction is a “common component of the lives of street prostitutes,” the reports says, with an estimated 80 percent of women involved in the activity “doing it for drugs.”
“Mental health issues and childhood trauma also were noted as being key components of the prostitution scene,” the report says. One study responder said: “Prostitutes are universally abused as children,” including one-third sold into prostitution by their mothers.
“Spokane has a significant teen prostitution problem and is considered an entry area for child prostitutes,” the study says. Teen prostitutes “are initiated here and then moved into larger metro areas.”
Agencies surveyed frequently come into contact with minors living in the Spokane area who are forced to have sex in exchange for basic necessities, a trade frequently organized by adults, the study says.
“Boys and girls are pimped out. We see it on a daily basis,” the study says, quoting a social service agency.
To track mail-order brides, the study sent questionnaires to schools and organizations providing English as a Second Language programs.
“Of the ‘mail-order brides’ that come into the area, there are some common threads,” the study concludes.
The women frequently are divorced with children in their countries of origin, causing them to be shamed and disowned by their families. They come from all over the world and frequently marry American men 20 to 30 years older, the report says.
“The males included farmers, doctors, business and both retired and active military personnel,” the report says, adding that at least one man living in the Spokane area has had five or six mail-order brides.
On the topic of “labor exploitation,” the report said it occurs among children and adults, especially those who are homeless or from unstable home environments.
“There were a few situations involving both legal immigrants and undocumented laborers from other countries,” the report said. It cited one instance in North Idaho in which two or three individuals doing agricultural work received housing, but no food or pay.
The report also documented other forms of human trafficking – defined as holding a person against their will, use of force, fraud or coercion to obtain labor or sex. That section cited an instance in which a homeless woman was “held in a boarded-up hole” by a homeless man who was sexually abusing her.
Human trafficking “is a new issue for our region, and we are only beginning to assess the nature and extent of the problem,” it concludes.
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