Ideas into Law
Emerald green forests and snow-capped mountain peaks meet the Pacific Ocean and cradle the deep blue waters of Puget Sound, home to the second-busiest port in the Western United States—Seattle.
The stunning natural beauty belies an ugly secret, one that Scripps alumna Katherine Taylor ’05 confronted.
The state was a hotbed for the recruitment, transportation, and sale of people, revealed the Washington State Task Force Against Trafficking of Persons. What makes Washington an ideal gateway for human trafficking is the richness of the state’s riveting geography: an international border with Canada, an abundance of ports, and vast rural areas.
“I was surprised,” said Taylor, a Seattle University School of Law graduate who serves as nonpartisan counsel for the Washington State Senate on the Higher Education and Judiciary committees. “I had no idea Washington State was a leading destination for child sex trafficking.”
Human trafficking is the fastest-growing criminal industry in the world today. This form of modern-day slavery is tied with arms as the second largest international criminal industry—behind drug dealing. The U.S. Department of Justice estimates that between 14,500 and 17,500 people are trafficked into the country each year.
In 2008, the Seattle Human Services Department reported that 300 to 500 Seattle children were being exploited and that there were even advertised escort services that included the sale of children for sex.
To combat this practice, Washington State Senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D-Seattle) and 13 of her Democratic and Republican colleagues sought to propose a law that would require classified advertisers to validate the age of escorts.
Taylor, whose nonpartisan role means she supports both Republican and Democratic senators in the legislative process, was assigned to Senator Kohl-Welles to help take the proposal from an idea to a piece of legislation. It needed to be ready for introduction in the 2012 session as a law regulating advertising of commercial sexual abuse of a minor.
Although Washington was the first state to pass a law criminalizing human trafficking, and on this issue boasts the most stringent law in the country, problems remain. Victims of sex trafficking often do not come forward for help because of language barriers, lack of awareness of services, and fear and suspicion of law enforcement.
Under Washington State law, it is a serious felony to recruit, harbor, transport, or obtain any person for labor or services using force, fraud, or coercion. That includes sex trafficking and other forms of forced labor, from domestic servitude to sweatshop work. Yet, victims range from “mailorder” brides to sex workers and children. In Washington, victims have come from as far as Russia, the Philippines, China, and Mexico.
To expand protection of sexually exploited children, Taylor drafted another first-of-its-kind law that goes after classified advertising companies that don’t demand an ID to verify the age of people in sex-related ads published in print or online.
The bill was first heard in the Senate Judiciary Committee, where as part of her responsibilities staffing the bill, Taylor presented the legislation and responded to questions from senators. The bill passed by a unanimous bipartisan vote and was sent to the full Senate, where it also passed without amendments and with unanimous bipartisan support.
The process then began again in the House of Representatives, where it passed on final vote without objections and with bipartisan support, 96-0.
“While I play a nonpartisan role, I was gratified to have been a part of addressing an issue that I had not known was victimizing children in my home city and state,” said Taylor. “I learned a great deal about the issues surrounding sex trafficking as I met with the various advocates, mothers of victims, and heard from victims of sex trafficking.”
On March 29, 2012, Governor Christine Gregoire signed SB6251 into law, one of a dozen targeting sex trafficking passed in 2012.
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