Lunch and Learn highlights County’s efforts to end human trafficking

According to Kelly Mangiaracina, King County’s Task Force Coordinator for Commercially Sexually Exploited Children (CSEC), an estimated 300-500 children are forced into prostitution in Seattle every year.

When the CSEC Task Force was convened by Juvenile Court Judge Barbara A. Mack in 2013, it hoped to change that.

“King County was very fortunate to realize this is an issue. We’re very fortunate to have great organizations in the area that want to do something about it,” Mangiaracina said at the Equity and Social Justice “Stopping Human Trafficking” Lunch and Learn held on June 30.

Stephanie Moyes, a program manager with the Department of Community and Human Services and one of the three panelists at the Lunch and Learn, said that human trafficking is a $32 billion criminal industry, the second largest criminal industry in the world.

The U.S. Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 defines human trafficking as “the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision or obtaining of a person for one of three reasons: Labor or services, commercial sex act through the use of force or fraud or coercion or any commercial sex act if the person is under 18 years of age regardless of the coercion.”

“At the end of the day, if you can only ask one question, the question is, does this person feel they have the choice to do what they’re doing?” panelist Kathleen Morris said.

Morris works for Washington’s Anti-Trafficking Response Network (WARN), a network that works with organizations around the state, including organizations within King County, to provide resources to survivors of human trafficking.

One of the efforts King County has done to combat human trafficking is shifting the focus more on prosecuting the buyer, not the seller.

“It’s still illegal for anyone to sell sex,” Mangiaracina said. “But if you’re under 18, you’re not going to get charged with it [in King County].”

Mangiaracina said CSEC views commercially sexually exploited people as victims, not criminals. King County law enforcement, Mangiaracina said, takes a similar approach.

“Across the board, law enforcement within King County I’ve been so impressed with how they’re handling this, from patrol officers to chiefs of police,” Mangiaracina said.

On top of law enforcement, Mangiaracina said, society needs to change how it views human trafficking.

“We could prosecute every pimp that’s out there, but as long as there are buyers, unless we address the demand, we can prosecute every single person and we’re not going to touch it.” Mangiaracina said. “So we have to look at how we as a society view human trafficking and what is and what isn’t acceptable.”

At the Lunch and Learn, panelists urged people to continue the conversation to raise human trafficking awareness.

“Right now this is the hot topic,” Moyes said. “Make it stay a hot issue.”