One King County for ending sexual exploitation and trafficking

Dear fellow King County employee,

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King County Executive Dow Constantine

We’re fortunate to have a talented workforce dedicated to making King County a more just, more equitable community – a place where people’s rights are protected and everyone has the opportunity to achieve his or her full potential in life.

As we showed when we helped nearly 200,000 residents sign up for affordable health insurance, we’re most effective at improving people’s lives when we work together as One King County to achieve a common goal.

Now, I want to apply that same collective approach to confront a destructive, often overlooked scourge in our region. Tomorrow, I will publicly announce that King County is a founding member of a national alliance of employers dedicated to ending sexual exploitation and trafficking of women and children.

The alliance is led by a Seattle-based nonprofit organization that provides resources to help public- and private-sector employers prevent their assets from being used by traffickers. Research shows that a peak time for people going online to solicit sex for hire is 2 p.m. – in the middle of the work day.

We will start by revising our policy to make it unequivocally clear that employees are prohibited from using county government resources, facilities, or time to solicit prostitution. While the existing policy covers all illegal activity, it is important that we raise awareness of the damaging effect exploitation and sex trafficking have on individual lives and families, and how it undermines our commitment to equity and social justice.

Most people assume that sex trafficking is largely confined to other countries. But it occurs in our region at a startling rate. Researchers at Arizona State University found that in a single 24-hour period, more than 8,800 people in the Seattle area went online to solicit sex for hire. An estimated 27,000 people solicit prostitution each day in King County. The victims are among our most vulnerable, many forced into prostitution between the ages of 13 and 15.

While preventing our resources from being used by traffickers is an important, necessary first step, I also want us to consider all the opportunities we have as public agents to help victims of sex trafficking, and help prevent these horrific crimes from occurring. We have more than 13,000 employees – most of whom work directly with the public – who can help identify victims and circumstances that contribute to sexual exploitation. I want each of us to know what we can do in our individual roles to contribute to this effort.

This fall, the Executive Office, the Prosecutor’s Office and the Sheriff’s Office will host a screening of “The Long Night,” an insightful documentary on the underlying causes and devastating impacts of sex trafficking in south King County. After the screening, we’ll have a discussion about what actions we can take across departments to combat this growing challenge. I will send you an invitation in the next few weeks.

To be clear, I have no knowledge of any county employee violating our employment policies in this way. However, given the vast numbers of daily solicitations, it is unlikely that any major employer is completely immune from this problem. My goal is to establish King County as a model for how employers can strengthen community efforts to end slavery and trafficking, and to encourage private-sector employers to help create a united front.

This is an opportunity for us to once again lead by example and bring us closer to our promise of a more just and equitable King County.

Sincerely,

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Dow Constantine

King County Executive