State Sen. Pam Roach, R-Sumner, has been removed from a state task force on human trafficking after allegedly making offensive comments about trafficking victims.
In a letter sent Monday, Lt. Gov. Brad Owen — a Democrat whose job includes presiding over the state Senate — said he received “numerous complaints” about comments that Roach made at a task force meeting last month, including an alleged comment that sexually trafficked minors “probably spend their money on drugs.”
Roach also asked whether trafficked persons were “illegals,” according to Owen’s letter, which included observations from people who were present at the December task force meeting.
“These comments serve one and only one purpose: to diminish the horrors of trafficking by attacking its victims,” Owen said of Roach’s remarks.
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“Victims of trafficking are already traumatized, and none of them need the additional trauma of continued exposure to you or your vile comments,” Owen told Roach in the letter, which removed the senator from the human trafficking task force.
Roach, who is running for a seat on the Pierce County Council in November, said she had not read Owen’s letter as of about 1:30 p.m. Monday. She said she has worked on several bills concerning sex trafficking, and is extremely well qualified to serve on the task force.
“I work on the ground on these issues,” said Roach, who last year sponsored legislation to help combat online child pornography.
Officials from the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction and the state Department of Commerce were among those who complained about Roach’s comments at the Dec. 14 task force meeting.
Dan Newell, an assistant superintendent at OSPI, wrote that Roach at one point commented that “our young girls wouldn’t be exploited if they didn’t have tattoos and wear nose rings.” Others present, meanwhile, called Roach’s remarks “victim-blaming” and “bigoted,” according to documents provided by Owen’s office.
Owen said it took him more than a month to confirm Roach's comments, given that the Dec. 14 meeting wasn't recorded.
In the letter, he said he thinks Roach should be removed from the Senate for her past history of “egregious and offensive behavior,” but he does not have that authority. Owen can remove her from the task force because the law establishing the panel gave him the power to appoint members at the request of their caucuses.
Roach said that during the December task force meeting, she may have talked about homeless youths not being able to fit in when they have tattoos and piercings. But she said those comments referenced the difficulties some of those young people face in finding jobs, and the need for them to have job counseling.
“That is an issue when it comes to being employed,” Roach said. “Someone probably needs to tell them that it’s difficult, in some places, to find work.”
Roach said she also was critical of how long it took state officials to organize the first meeting of the human trafficking task force — about seven months — and that may have caused some Department of Commerce officials to react badly to some of her comments.
“I think that points to a government that is incompetent,” Roach said Monday. She said she wouldn’t apologize because she didn’t think she said anything inappropriate.
Monday marks the second time in two years that Owen has rebuked Roach for her behavior.
During her 25-year Senate career, Roach has been known for her confrontations with staff, which led Republicans to kick her out of their private meetings from 2010 to 2012. In 2008, she was barred from contact with Senate staff for several years after an incident with a staff member.
Previously, she was reprimanded and asked to seek counseling in 2003 after staffers accused her of illegally obtaining employees’ e-mails and driving some to quit. She also was accused of brandishing a handgun at a staffer.
Roach has since had all of her caucus privileges and access to staff restored. She now chairs a Senate committee, and, in her role as Senate president pro tempore, presides over the Senate when Owen is away.