A coalition of women’s groups came to Olympia Thursday to tell legislators that Washington needs to take a second look at its anti-human trafficking laws and find ways to make them easier to enforce.
Participants in the event, who included representatives from Soroptimist International, the Polaris Project and the University of Washington Women’s Center, came to push bills Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles is drafting that would give police stronger tools to enforce human trafficking laws and provide victims of trafficking with more help.
“We’re working on bills that will be introduced to help police officers get convictions,” said Judy Norton of Zonta International, a group participating in the event. “We have some pretty strong laws now, but we need to be able to get convictions.”
Federal law defines human trafficking as coercing or tricking someone into performing commercial sex acts or doing forced labor.
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According to the Attorney General’s office, Washington’s ports and international border make it susceptible to trafficking, and it was the first state to pass a law making human trafficking a crime in 2003. As of 2008, however, there had not been any convictions under that law.
A 2008 report by the Washington State Task Force Against the Trafficking of Persons recommended that the state educate residents, provide legal aid to victims and make translation services available.
Kohl-Welles said she plans to introduce a bill next week that would eliminate the requirement that police investigators get consent from both parties being recorded to get voice-recorded evidence for human trafficking cases.
She said she is still working on the language of the bill, but she anticipated widespread support for the measure in the legislature.
Kohl-Welles also said she is working on another bill, to be introduced later, that would authorize trafficking victims to use state transitional housing.