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Opinion >  Column

Sue Lani Madsen: Working to protect crime victims takes passion, purpose

State Rep. Jenny Graham, R-Spokane, is a passionate advocate for crime victims, especially for the girls and women (and not a few boys and men) who are swept into sex trafficking. For her, it’s personal and it drives her work on the Public Safety Committee.

On Monday, she met with agents from the FBI to discuss one of the barriers they face in pursuing sex trafficking cases in Washington. Graham said Washington law requires “two-party consent” to record, and that makes it difficult to build a case. “They don’t have to get consent from the trafficker at the federal level, but need to get that waived at the state level, otherwise cases are so hard to try. I’m working on a bill to address that as a state issue,” Graham said in an interview on Wednesday.

Her passion on the issue has caused her trouble. She took exception to a 2020 article in the Inlander that she felt downplayed the seriousness of the issue in Spokane. “We are a hub for both sex trafficking and drug distribution,” Graham said. “We need to raise awareness of the signs of trafficking and abuse so parents, grandparents, teachers know what to look for. I was once that 5-year-old kid hiding under the bed, and no responsible adult stepped in to help.”

Graham escaped a dysfunctional childhood by joining the Army Reserves. Her sister was trafficked and murdered, a victim of the Green River serial killer. Graham’s brother committed suicide. Graham herself faced harassment from a superior while in uniform. She knows how important it is to listen to the victims when they tell their stories.

According to the Jonah Project, a Spokane-based advocacy and aftercare program for victims of sex trafficking, signs may include the following:

• Changes in school attendance or interest.

• Fatigue, loss of memory or trouble keeping facts straight.

• Being overly fearful and anxious.

• Unexplainable expensive gifts, like makeup, jewelry or clothes.

• Addictions.

• Tattoos or branding (not a cute little butterfly on the ankle).

• Hanging out with a gang or acquiring an older boyfriend.

• Multiple social media accounts.

Children and teens living in chaotic families and unstable living situations are especially vulnerable, but anyone can be lured in. A teen from a stable family and just navigating the normal storms of adolescence may be vulnerable to a recruiter cultivating a “friendship” while convincing the target she (or sometimes he) may be misunderstood at home, but the new “friend” understands.

Human trafficking intersects with drug trafficking, and where there is drug trafficking, rising crime rates follow. In a podcast on Aug. 23, Spokane Police Chief Meidl reported year-to-date increases from 2021 to 2022 in Spokane County in violent crimes, including 12.5% increase in criminal homicide and an 84.1% increase in commercial robbery, generally shoplifting with use of force or weapon when confronted. “Every single one of those increases is a victim,” Meidl said as he presented the data. “Violent crime is a statewide issue. This isn’t unique to Spokane or Spokane County.” Even quiet little Lincoln County now has its first murder investigation in 20 years.

The Lincoln County Sheriff’s office regularly sends out “be on the lookout” notifications. NextDoor.com is full of Spokane County neighbors reporting on suspicious activity. While some of it may be overreactions to explainable events, it does reflect what worries people – how safe is my neighborhood? How safe is my family? Can my kids or grandkids safely play at the park or walk to school?

When given an open-ended question, a recent Crosscut/Elway poll indicated top issues for Republicans were the economy, crime, taxes and spending. Crime wasn’t listed for those polled who identify as Democrats, and the economy was No. 5. Both groups also indicated party affiliation would be a factor in their vote. The report didn’t indicate how independents rated the issues. Independents will have to make up their own minds whether they prefer candidates who acknowledge the impact of crime on the victims.

Some victims never recover from the trauma. Others use it as motivation to volunteer with groups like the Spokane-based Jonah Project, helping others to heal. And some like Jenny Graham use it to make sure victims receive as much respect in the justice system as those who victimize them.

Contact Sue Lani Madsen at rulingpen@gmail.com.

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