A coalition of women's groups came to Olympia on Thursday to tell lawmakers that Washington needs to take a second look at its anti-human-trafficking laws and find ways to make them easier to enforce.
Representatives from Soroptimist International, Polaris Project, the University of Washington Women’s Center and others came to push bills Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles is drafting that would give police stronger tools to enforce human-trafficking laws and give trafficking victims 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.
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.
Attorney General Rob McKenna said, however, that the measure was not used until 2009.
McKenna said the Kohl-Welles bills would be a good start toward better enforcing anti-trafficking laws in the state.
“We have a lot of work to do this legislative session,” he told participants in a gathering. “The bills that you prioritize are the right choices and the right changes to the law.”
A 2008 report by the Washington State Task Force Against the Trafficking of Persons recommended that the state address trafficking by educating residents about the issue, providing legal aid to victims and making 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 recorded voice evidence for human-trafficking cases.
She said she still is working on the language of the bill, but she expected 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.
Bradley Myles, director of the Washington, D.C.-based anti-trafficking group Polaris Project, said awareness and concern about the issue has grown in the past 10 years but added that state and federal law could be improved to more effectively react to the human-trafficking problem.
“The issue is hot right now,” Myles said. “We get to be part of this process of building a new body of law.”