The many dimensions of human trafficking were the subject of a two-day conference, “Human Trafficking in the Era of Globalization,” held Jan. 11–12 at the University of Washington and organized by the University of Washington Women’s Center, UW School of Law and Seattle University School of Law.
The conference, which drew about 120 attendees, coincided with National Human Trafficking Awareness Day and King County’s launch of a campaign to raise awareness that will include ads on 200 Metro buses and increased training for county staff.
The International Labour Organization estimates that nearly 21 million people are victims of human trafficking, defined as the transport of people, by means of coercion, deception or consent, for exploitation by forced labor and/or prostitution.
“The difference between slavery and forced labor is that in today’s world it doesn’t say that you are owned by another human being,” said Sue Ross, director of the International Women’s Human Rights Clinic at Georgetown University. Ross was part of a panel that addressed human rights.
Topics addressed included recruiters, government corruption, transportation, policies and money laundering. Also examined were the roots and complicated structure of human trafficking. The practice is not limited to the sex industry; it can take place in industries such as domestic work, agriculture, hospitality and construction.
Victims of human trafficking as well as public health workers, local farmers, U.S. Homeland Security investigators, and human rights and migration specialists presented at the conference.
Despite the many campaigns, policy revisions and organizations working to fight human trafficking, human rights advocates say the problem is growing.
“It’s a network phenomenon and it’s difficult to detect, much less to prosecute people,’’ said Lila Shahani, who was the keynote speaker. Shahani is assistant secretary and head of communications for the Human Development and Poverty Reduction Cabinet Cluster in the Philippines.
In the 1990s, stories of mail-order brides being beaten, exploited and murdered came to light. In 2003 Rep. Velma Veloria sponsored HB 1175, which made Washington the first state in the nation to criminalize human trafficking. Now 47 states have similar bills.
To volunteer, or if you or someone you know is endangered or forced into labor or sexual activities, contact the National Human Trafficking Resource Center for help at 888.373.7888. You may also contact the local Washington Anti-Trafficking Response Network and victim assistance line at 206-245-0782.