Monthly Archives: March 2015

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    Human trafficking panel reviews past, highlights future focus

Human trafficking panel reviews past, highlights future focus

March 30th, 2015|

Much has been done to help victims of human trafficking and reduce the prevalence of the crime but much remains to be done as well, according to a bipartisan panel of current and past lawmakers as well as advocates, survivors and officials dedicated to reducing human trafficking who spoke in a wide-ranging panel discussion recently.

Sen. Maralyn Chase, D-Shoreline, hosted the panel to highlight the need for continued engagement and problem-solving, particularly involving minors.

“When people think of human trafficking, the tendency is to think of third-world countries, not our own communities here in Washington or elsewhere in the United States, and that’s a deadly mistake,” Chase said. “Our communities are rife for human trafficking, and it occurs at an alarming rate. The roll call of victims grows as I speak.”

Groups most targeted include runaway girls ages 12-14, whose desperate circumstances make them particularly vulnerable to traffickers, and native American women and children who are trafficked well out of proportion to their population, panelists pointed out.

“We have a society where runaway children who, fleeing bad home situations, become prey because our society offers them no options and further victimizes them in their time of distress,” Chase said. “This is a heartless and destructive path that we must reverse and we must do so with every resource at our disposal and with utmost urgency. A society that throws away its children is a society in decline.”

Three first-person accounts from trafficking survivors on the panel touched on the magnitude of the problem.

Trafficking survivor Ethel Paat told how her poverty as a single parent in her native Philippines led to her being trafficked when she accepted an offer to relocate to the United States in an effort to seek a livable wage. Traffickers promised her a path to prosperity, for a steep price she was assured she would be able to quickly repay, only to leverage her unfamiliarity with her new country and language to force her into labor trafficking.

Khurshida Begum, another survivor, told of being lured with her siblings from a poor village in Bangladesh to Oakville by a well-heeled stranger who had persuaded her parents that he would assure them a better life in America. Instead, the man enslaved the children in labor and sexual abuse on a farm where Begum’s 14-year-old cousin committed suicide in an attempt to bring attention to their victimization. Even then, investigating authorities left the premises unconcerned until one law enforcement officer, unsettled by what he had seen, returned a week later and took all the non-English speaking children into his home to try to unwrap the puzzle. Though the children had been unable to communicate their distress, the officer had sensed something was wrong and it ate at him until he probed further.

Noel Gomez, a third survivor, was a Houston native who grew up in Seattle in a troubled home from which she was kicked out as a pregnant teen. Her circumstances made her easy prey for a pimp who flattered her and promised to help her but instead forced her into the commercial sex trade, repeatedly and severely beating her to make sure she did as he instructed. Along the way, Gomez found herself ignored and scorned by onlookers who disapproved of her actions and by hospital staff indifferent to the cause of her injuries. Frightened and powerless, she was sexually assaulted by hospital staff but was too fearful to report it, she said.

Others on the panel had equally grim reports to share.

Susan Balbas, executive director of Naha Ilahee Fund, spoke of the trafficking of native American women and children here in communities here in Washington.

Former state Rep. Velma Veloria and former congresswoman and state Sen. Linda Smith, who was instrumental in passing national trafficking law, tracked awareness of the problem in the 1990s as it evolved from concern for an isolated case to a realization that the problem was rife in her own Washington state.

Smith, who has written a book on the topic, noted that the average age girls first become prostituted is 12 to 14 years old, but many start at younger ages. The children are often enticed by traffickers who feign love or affection and then kidnapped and or sold into trafficking, where trading sex becomes their only means of survival. She said pimps strategically target youth who are especially vulnerable because they suffer family strife such as verbal, physical or sexual abuse. The pool of such targets is large, as one in four females and one in eight males are sexually abused before the age of 18.

Other panelists rounded out the discussion by focusing on other aspects of trafficking.

Kathleen Morris of the Washington Anti-trafficking Resource Network documented the prevalence of trafficking up and down the west coast as well as across the United States and the vulnerability of transgender people to trafficking.

Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes, who cited wage theft as a current focus of human trafficking, warned that sex trafficking is growing in Seattle compared to six other major cities where it is shrinking, and noted that Seattle has replaced the term “prostitution” with “prostituted” to properly reflect the victimization inherent in the activity.

Michelle Bart, National Women’s Collaboration Against Violence and Exploitation, spoke of the need for increased collaboration and partnerships between organizations that deal with human trafficking.

Participants included Sen. Karen Fraser, D-Olympia, who moderated the panel, and Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Kent, Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle, and Sen. Mike Padden, D-Spokane, all of whom are sponsors of new legislation to further curtail human trafficking.

You can watch the panel discussion here.

Senate adopts Chase resolution to reduce human trafficking

March 19th, 2015|

A resolution adopted today by the Senate calls for increased education along with stronger laws and enforcement to reduce the exploitation of all people, including especially women and children.

“This is a far-reaching, devastating criminal activity that hides in the shadows and destroys people,” said Sen. Maralyn Chase, D-Shoreline and the sponsor of Senate Resolution 8644. “It needs to be a top priority for our state and should receive all the resources we can bring to bear to protect people from exploitation and enslavement.”

While the Legislature enacted 36 anti-trafficking laws from 2002 to 2014 and has been recognized by Shared Hope International and the Polaris Project as being among the top states in the nation for anti-trafficking advocacy and legislation, Chase said a serious challenge remains.

“The Washington Anti-Trafficking Response Network has reported cases of young men and boys exploited in the construction industry, and immigrants and others exploited by restaurants, small businesses, agriculture, and the commercial sex industry,” she said. “Worldwide, 67 nations are not in compliance with international minimum standards for the elimination of human trafficking. This is a problem of tremendous scope and concern.”

Chase noted that the United Nations International Labor Organization estimates that 20.9 million people worldwide are trafficked, exploited, or enslaved as forced labor, bonded labor, forced child labor, sexual exploitation or servitude, or involuntary servitude.

In a related event, Chase is hosting a panel discussion on human trafficking from 6 to 8:30 p.m. tonight in Senate Hearing Room 1 in the John A. Cherberg Building at 304 15th Ave. SW in Olympia. “Ending Global Slavery” features a range of present and former public officials and advocates active in anti-human trafficking efforts.

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    Chase bill to protect ratepayers’ voting rights heads to House

Chase bill to protect ratepayers’ voting rights heads to House

March 18th, 2015|

A bill to ensure that voters in a water or sewer district retain ultimate control over whether a city or town can assume jurisdiction of their district has passed the Senate and awaits action in the House of Representatives.

“These special-purpose districts are created by a vote of the people, for the people. As such, 100 percent of the taxes we pay for our water and sewer systems should be dedicated to providing the services and maintaining the system,” said Sen. Maralyn Chase, D-Shoreline and the sponsor of Senate Bill 5048. “These funds should not be diverted, or ‘repurposed’ for other uses such as new developments or other non-water-sewer projects unless the voters approve.”

SB 5048 would let voters call for a referendum on any attempt by a city or town to assume jurisdiction of all or part of a water or sewer district. As with other special-service districts such as fire districts or school districts, rate payer revenue must be spent solely for the purposes of the special service districts. However, if a city assumes ownership of a water or sewer district, the city may levy taxes without limits, without restrictions on what the funds are used for, and without a vote of the citizens who voted to create the district. Water and sewer districts are the only special service districts that do not have a cap on the taxes that can be levied if these districts are assumed by a municipality.

“Across the state, in the wake of the Great Recession, municipalities are struggling to make ends meet — and are assuming control of water and sewer districts to increase their revenue flow for other programs and projects,” Chase said. “That’s not why people vote to create a water or sewer district. People want a reliable water and sewer system — not a funding mechanism outside of their control for projects they don’t approve.”

Utility taxes are among the most regressive taxes levied on citizens, Chase noted. Water and sewer are basic necessities and low-income rate payers have no choice in accepting or refusing service or paying the ever-increasing taxes.   For example, low-income working families pay 17 percent of their income in taxes compared to wealthy families who pay only 2.8 percent.

“This bill will ensure that the democratic process can work the way it was meant to work,” Chase said. “If it’s truly in the public’s best interest for a city to assume a water or sewer district, then the city rulers should have nothing to fear from a vote by the people who would be paying the tax.”