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Attorney General launches trafficking initiative

Thu., June 23, 2011, 9:12 a.m.

OLYMPIA, Wash. — Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna launched a national initiative to combat human trafficking today, saying now is the time for states to marshal resources to protect the vulnerable.

McKenna announced his plans after being unanimously chosen as the new president of the National Association of Attorneys General. During the association’s meeting in Chicago, McKenna said increased awareness of human trafficking has reached a tipping point and that attorneys general are in a unique position to rally public support.

“The problem of trafficking is real. It is around us,” said McKenna, a Republican who recently announced a bid for governor in Washington. “It is aptly referred to as modern day slavery — the selling of another person’s body through the use of force, fear or coercion.”

A report compiled by the U.S. State Department found that 12.3 million adults and children are in forced labor, bonded labor and forced prostitution around the world. McKenna said it’s not just an international problem but a local one, too.

McKenna’s initiative will focus on coordinating data collection, prosecutions of traffickers and buyers, and mobilizing communities to provide support to victims. He also said the initiative would mean altering how prosecutors take on the issue.

“Human trafficking is the only crime I can think of where the victim is more likely to be prosecuted than the perpetrator,” McKenna said. “We need to end that.”

Alice Hill, senior counselor to U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, said human trafficking was a fast-growing area of criminal endeavor, and victims may be hidden from public view and from those who might want to rescue them. They are typically afraid of police because they’re involved in prostitution and have been told they are criminals themselves and will be punished if they are caught.

Hill said state and local police sometimes lack training on how to identify human trafficking. But she said it is crucial to find victims, get them support and secure their cooperation and crucial testimony in order to prosecute perpetrators.

“We’ll need to have robust information-sharing and partnerships, and this is a great start to making sure that occurs,” Hill said.

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