Monthly Archives: February 2020

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    Senate passes Dhingra bill to establish first-in-the-nation firearm violence prevention office

Senate passes Dhingra bill to establish first-in-the-nation firearm violence prevention office

February 18th, 2020|

Today, the Senate passed legislation to collect statewide data on firearm violence and fund innovative prevention programs in local communities.

Senate Bill 6288 would establish the first-in-the-nation Washington Office of Firearm Safety and Violence Prevention, which would work with law enforcement agencies and others to collect and centralize data on firearm violence, including suicide.

In addition, the office would administer the Washington Firearm Violence Intervention and Prevention Grant Program, a competitive process to fund evidence-based initiatives undertaken by cities and community-based organizations in Washington.

“This bill is about understanding where violence occurs in our communities and how we can intervene to address it—and making sure that we are helping victims of violence,” said Sen. Manka Dhingra (D-Redmond), the bill’s prime sponsor.

The office’s approach is modeled on King County’s Shots Fired project. Every year, 155 King County residents die from gunshots, and another 150 are hospitalized, according to a report from the project presented at a work session of the Senate Law & Justice Committee last fall. This violence also causes lifelong trauma for survivors. The Shots Fired project brings a public health approach to firearm violence, with an emphasis on early intervention and prevention. SB 6288 applies the approach statewide.

“In the Legislature, we have been taking meaningful steps to transform our criminal justice system from a crisis response model to an early intervention and prevention model,” Dhingra said. “This bill is an important addition to that work.”

Having passed the Senate on a vote of 25-23, SB 6288 now moves to the House of Representatives.

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    Washington needs more sexual trauma nurses, but who trains them becomes a statewide debate

Washington needs more sexual trauma nurses, but who trains them becomes a statewide debate

February 17th, 2020|

A 2019 Department of Commerce report found that nine counties across the state have no hospitals with Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANEs). Nineteen counties have only one hospital each with SANEs. There are 290 SANEs practicing in the state, but rural counties, many of which are in Eastern Washington, continue to be underserved.

Now, state lawmakers are attempting to fund the training of more SANEs in rural communities.

Advocates say a program should be created and funded at Washington State University. But the UW’s Harborview Medical Center is balking at the idea, arguing that they should remain the sole training program, and that an additional program would jeopardize its already unstable funding.

Rep. Gina Mosbrucker, R-Goldendale, introduced a bill last year to fund a SANE training program at WSU, and is pushing for the funding again this year in the form of a budget proviso, as lawmakers are halfway through their 60-day session.

“There’s been pushback from Harborview Medical Center, which is very frustrating,” Mosbrucker said.

This is not the first time the UW has opposed an expansion in WSU’s medical education. In 2015, the Legislature approved the creation of WSU’s medical school, which had intense opposition from the UW, which had previously monopolized medical education in the state. Some lawmakers who had to mediate the spat saw it as a territorial feud.

“Us or them”

In Washington, 45% of women and 22% of men experience sexual violence in their lifetime, according to the Commerce report. But just a fraction of victims report their assaults, often citing, among other factors, how re-traumatizing the process can be.

Administering a rape kit involves performing an invasive forensic exam that can take hours. Yet, they are recognized as being vitally important in helping preserve DNA evidence in sexual assault cases that land in court.

As part of Harborview’s training, nurses undergo five days of trauma-informed training, learning how to administer the multistep forensic exams. Nurses are given in-field experience and are trained on how to testify effectively when a rape kit is introduced as evidence in court.

Some advocates say Harborview’s monopoly on SANE training has led to the regional disparity in access to SANEs.

Once or twice a year, Harborview’s SANE program travels to a rural community to provide training, but the trainings are abbreviated and less in-depth.

“These are rural, small hospitals that don’t have the ability to call in another nurse and to send you to Harborview,” Mosbrucker said. “Plus, they have to take care of daycare, plus they have to pay for a hotel … we can just do so much better as a state.”

Because of these barriers, some rural nurses are administering rape kits with informal and inadequate training, according to the Washington State Nursing Association. The association says these nurses fear losing their licenses, but administer rape kits anyway so that rape survivors aren’t turned away.

WSU’s College of Nursing has been pushing to start its own pilot training program with the eventual goal of getting accredited by the International Association of Forensic Nurses (IAFN) — something Harborview’s program doesn’t have.

According to Kim Day, grant projects director at IAFN,  there is no reason why a state, especially one as geographically divided as Washington, could not have multiple training programs.

Terri Stewart, Harborview’s SANE program director, argued that a second training program may not be up to Harborview’s standards, and that the programs are “exceptionally expensive.”

Stewart said there should only be one program — “us or them.”

However, Wendy Williams-Gilbert, program director for the WSU College of Nursing, says other kinds of nurses are trained in different nursing schools throughout the state and country.

“Just think about how many nursing programs we have, and they all produce good nurses,” Williams-Gilbert said. “That argument is a weak argument.”

Stewart would not disclose the cost of Harborview’s program, but the Department of Commerce estimated that a more “robust, reliable state-level training,” with more frequent trainings, more locations, and scholarships to cover travel expenses would cost $375,000 annually.

Williams-Gilbert said WSU would need $50,000 from the state to start its pilot program.

Lawmakers are currently working on a supplemental budget, which would adjust the current $52.4-billion, two-year state operating budget they passed last year.

Williams-Gilbert said the college already has the community support, with volunteers offering to help start the program. She added that the college has reached out to Harborview in order to collaborate, to no avail.

“I was shocked,” Williams-Gilbert said. “I assumed we would all just work together because it’s so important for our communities to have these hospitals.”

Moving forward

Last year, lawmakers passed a bill limiting the amount of time hospitals can delay telling a sexual assault victim that they cannot, in fact, administer a rape kit. Untested or destroyed rape kits have also been a topic of discussion.

But the issue of hospitals being able to administer kits in the first place remains unresolved.

Last year, Commerce report concluded that in order to address the lack of SANE availability and access, Washington needs a “more robust, state-wide approach.”

It cites Massachusetts, which has a state-wide SANE program funded with $3.8 million from the state budget. The state has 178 SANEs and 29 hospitals staffed with SANEs, according to Joan Meunier-Sham, director of Massachusetts’ SANE program.

Although Massachusetts only has one training location, Meunier-Sham said it’s not an issue in the relatively small state, as nurses rarely have to drive more than two hours for training.

“Our program often gets looked at as a golden standard across the country,” Meunier-Sham said.

Oregon has a statewide certification system and multiple training locations. But its sexual assault forensic task force says there’s still a lack of SANE-trained medical staff.

Without a statewide system, Washington is struggling to get hospitals to coordinate sexual assault care. Currently, SANEs can only administer rape kits at hospitals they have been contracted with, Stewart said.

“We can’t even send a nurse to the UW without a contract,” said Stewart about Harborview.

Sen. Manka Dhingra, D-Redmond, is sponsoring a bill that would require the Office of the Attorney General to create a task force with the ultimate goal of developing protocols for hospitals to have “coordinated community” responses when rape victims present.

Dhingra said the hope is that every hospital, whether they can administer a rape kit or not, will have a plan to help victims in a timely and trauma-informed way, letting victims know their resources and helping them get to a facility that can provide proper care.

Andrea Piper-Wentland, executive director of the King County Sexual Assault Resource Center, expressed support for the bill, saying hospitals’ responses to victims is a “critical point” where individuals need to be connected to all of their resources.

While testifying in favor of the legislation last month, one woman told lawmakers that after being raped, the closest emergency room “shrugged their shoulders and said ‘we don’t do rape kits here,’” telling her instead to go to Harborview.

“I was drugged and was in no position to drive, and I could not afford an ambulance, so I went home,” she said.

Another survivor testified that the emergency room she went to after being raped couldn’t administer a rape kit, and sent her “on her way as if I was asking for brunch reservations.”

“I sat in front of her (ER staffer) sobbing,” she said. “You’re left to figure it out alone in trauma.”

Senate Bill 6158 has passed the senate and is scheduled for a public hearing in the House Feb. 20.

By Claudia Yaw

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    Improved data could help Washington state get ahead of gun violence, says bill sponsor

Improved data could help Washington state get ahead of gun violence, says bill sponsor

February 10th, 2020|

From The Seattle Times

For nearly two decades, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was effectively barred from conducting research on gun violence, making nationwide data difficult to gather, and forcing local governments or smaller research organizations to pick up the slack.

The result was significant gaps in data that could inform policymakers on how to effectively address gun violence.

Now, Democratic state lawmakers are pushing to create an office on firearm-violence prevention in order to improve data sources, collection methods and sharing mechanisms statewide. Senate Bill 6288 would also help fund local evidence-based violence-reduction initiatives. SB 6288 passed its committee vote in January, and is currently in the Senate Ways & Means Committee.

King County is home to many of these initiatives, which work with community partners to intervene in the lives of young people who may be headed toward violence or crime.

Proponents of the bill say it would allow communities to decide how to best address their unique experience with gun violence. For example, some rural communities may face more gun-related suicides than interpersonal violence.

“This is a way of getting ahead of gun violence in our state,” prime sponsor Sen. Manka Dhingra, D-Redmond, said. Dhingra is a senior deputy prosecuting attorney in King County, and hopes that improved data can help jurisdictions understand the root causes of gun violence in communities.

But some Republicans say the bill is simply another partisan push for gun control. Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, argues that creating another state office is unnecessary, and is skeptical as to whether the proposed office would act as an advocacy group for gun restrictions. Senate Minority Leader Mark Schoesler said he doubts there will be any support among the Republican caucus.

Although emotional testimony regarding mass shootings and other forms of gun violence is being heard by state lawmakers, Sen. Jamie Pedersen, chair of the Committee on Law & Justice, said that legislation needs to be data-driven rather than “anecdote-driven or emotions-driven.”

Currently, there is gun-violence research happening in the state, although there is no statewide infrastructure to merge data.

Last year, Washington became the third state to fund firearms-related research, giving Harborview’s Firearm Injury & Policy Research Program (FIPRP) $1 million to study how firearm violence can be reduced. But Ali Rowhani-Rahbar, an epidemiologist who helps collect such data, says there are still significant gaps.

The key to a deeper understanding of gun violence, Rowhani-Rahbar said, is merging data, which is difficult when some data doesn’t exist, and others aren’t reliable. For example, emergency rooms across the state have not been consistently collecting data on gun-related injuries.

“If you link data from multiple different sectors, you learn something new that you didn’t know before,” Rowhani-Rahbar said. FIPRP has already researched connections between factors like beer taxation and firearm homicide, firearm access and suicide, and mental illness and risk of firearm-related injury.

One significant finding of Rowhani-Rahbar’s research is that individuals who are hospitalized from firearm-related injuries are significantly more likely to be the victim of, or the perpetrator of, another firearm crime. The finding suggests that violence-reduction strategies should be hyper-focused on individuals.

The King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office has taken a similar approach, adopting a public health model and acknowledging that gun violence is concentrated within “small, identifiable social networks.”

Dan Carew, who works with the office’s Shots Fired data-collection program, said data is difficult to collect in King County, which has roughly 40 law enforcement agencies, each with their own data-collection methods. Carew also noted that while those agencies are required to report gun-related deaths, nonfatal injuries are often not documented.

In testifying for the bill, Carew discussed how the program uses data to pinpoint specific communities that are most likely to experience gun violence.

Rowhani-Rahbar says FIPRP’s research indicates that communities need to be involved in firearm-violence prevention, as different communities experience gun violence in their own ways.

In addition to collecting data, SB 6288 would create a grant program to fund community-based intervention programs.

Leaders of the agency Choose 180, a youth diversion program in South Seattle, say they could benefit from the funding. Choose 180 intervenes in the lives of young people who have been charged with a crime, and offers them an alternative to the criminal justice system. According to Executive Director Sean Goode, 90% of 12- to 24-year-olds who participated in the program did not return to the criminal justice system in the year after their intervention.

Goode said the key to Choose 180’s success is intervening early, and helping young people develop meaningful relationships within their own community that can address some root causes of their behavior. He also noted that additional funding, along with improved data, would benefit the program.

“Violence is a disease,” Goode said. “And if you’re not tracking the spread of the disease, or the hot spots where people are most likely to be infected, then it doesn’t reflect a strong intention to stop the spread of that disease.”

By Claudia Yaw

Bill Would Create Office to Collect Firearm Violence Data

February 10th, 2020|

From the AP

Democratic state lawmakers are pushing to create an office on firearm-violence prevention in order to improve data sources, collection methods and sharing mechanisms statewide.

The Seattle Times reports that Senate Bill 6288 would also help fund local evidence-based violence-reduction initiatives. The measure passed its committee vote in January, and is currently in the Senate Ways & Means Committee.

King County is home to many of these initiatives, which work with community partners to intervene in the lives of young people who may be headed toward violence or crime.

Proponents of the bill say it would allow communities to decide how to best address their unique experience with gun violence. For example, some rural communities may face more gun-related suicides than interpersonal violence.

“This is a way of getting ahead of gun violence in our state,” prime sponsor Sen. Manka Dhingra, D-Redmond, said. Dhingra is a senior deputy prosecuting attorney in King County.

But some Republicans say the bill is a partisan push for gun control. Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, argues that creating another state office is unnecessary, and is skeptical as to whether the proposed office would act as an advocacy group for gun restrictions.

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    More drug offenders would be sentenced to treatment instead of prison under proposed law

More drug offenders would be sentenced to treatment instead of prison under proposed law

February 10th, 2020|

From The Peninsula Daily News

Proposals moving through the Legislature would expand the eligibility of incarcerated people to receive treatment for substance abuse in lieu of, or concurrently with, prison sentences.

Senate Bill 6211 was heard by the Law and Justice Committee in an executive session Thursday. Its companion, House Bill 2334, was considered Saturday in House Appropriations.

Both bills expand the eligibility for the state’s existing drug offender sentencing alternative to people convicted of crimes, such as certain sex offenses, that make them ineligible presently.

For example, the Senate version would extend the alternative to those who “have been convicted of a sex offense, so long as the offender is no longer required to register; and have been convicted of robbery in the second degree, if the conviction did not involve the use of a firearm and the charge was not reduced from robbery in the first degree within seven years before conviction of the current offense,” according to the bill report.

“We all know that access to substance abuse disorder treatment is something we all need to work on and provide more of,” said Sen. Manka Dhingra, D-Redmond, the Senate version’s primary sponsor.

“This bill takes a look at some of the barriers that individuals have in accessing that treatment and helps address those barriers.”

The bill also broadens the eligibility of an offender to receive a residential-based sentencing, as opposed to a prison-based one.

“Current law unnecessarily shuts the door on many offenders who want that treatment, without which they would be susceptible to committing crime to support their addiction,” said Joel Merkel, King County deputy prosecuting attorney, during a Thursday public hearing on the Senate bill.

“This bill will allow more non-violent offenders who want treatment to choose treatment over incarceration,” Merkel said.

Under the bill, the court will be authorized to sentence in-patient treatment lasting up to six months for the prisoner, which may include confinement in jail for up to 30 days for the purpose of facilitating a direct transfer to the treatment.

The Department of Corrections is also required to submit a report on the effectiveness of the alternative treatment program on the offender every five years.

Corrections officials raised concerns over the expansion of residential patients to the jail population.

“You do see in the governor’s budget an expansion of DOSA beds,” said Melena Thompson, Corrections executive policy director.

“We believe that expansion will only address our current wait list.”

By Leona Vaughn

Senate passes Dhingra bill to help sexual assault survivors

February 5th, 2020|

OLYMPIA — A bill passed unanimously today by the Senate would improve the state’s medical and legal response in sexual assault cases.

Senate Bill 6158, sponsored by Sen. Manka Dhingra (D-Redmond), creates a task force to develop model protocols for hospitals and clinics across the state that would ensure a coordinated community response for sexual assault survivors.

“Sexual assault does more than just physical harm,” said Dhingra. “Survivors of these crimes are often dealing with an array of emotional as well as physical traumas that make the aftermath of a sexual assault a particularly vulnerable time. We have to make sure that their experience when they seek help does not continue to inflict more trauma.”

This bill will ensure that Washington state provides a set of evidence-based best practices for hospitals and clinics where sexual assault survivors are treated. The task force will bring together a broad range of groups to provide input and will be composed of legislators, sexual assault survivors, medical providers, judges, representatives of law enforcement, and local government officials, among others.

This is a further step in the Senate Democrats’ extended, multi-year effort to improve Washington state’s medical and legal response to sexual assault. Last year, the Legislature passed laws that extended the statute of limitations for sexual assault (SB 5649) and required hospitals that do not provide rape kits to inform survivors immediately so they can seek a kit at another hospital (HB 1016/SB 5910).

Having passed the Senate by a vote of 49-0, the bill now moves to the House of Representatives.

Washington state lawmakers back down from flavored vape ban

February 5th, 2020|

From The Seattle Times

Lawmakers have backed down from their proposal to ban flavored vape products and address the epidemic of youth vaping and nicotine addiction.

Originally, Senate Bill 6254, introduced at the request of Gov. Jay Inslee, would have made permanent the emergency ban on flavored vape products that was approved by the Board of Health in October. But the legislation was drastically amended Monday in the Senate, and now allows for the sale of such products  to those 21 and older — in line with Washington’s new tobacco and vapor law.

Inslee’s senior public health policy adviser Molly Voris says the governor is “disappointed” with the amendment, and that they are still pushing for a broad ban on flavors. Voris also noted that although the amendment excludes menthol and tobacco from the definition of “flavored” vape products, Centers for Disease Control data shows that youths are still using those products.

According to Voris, the emergency ban will not be extended, despite the weeks-long gap between the end of the ban and the implementation of any potential legislation. Flavored products could be back on store shelves by Friday.

The 120-day statewide ban, which expires Thursday, came last year after the U.S. Surgeon General proclaimed youth vapor use an epidemic. In 2019, more than 5 million youths vaped — an increase of about 1.4 million since 2018.

Sen. Annette Cleveland, D-Vancouver, who introduced the amendment, said the emergency ban was appropriate at the time, but officials have since identified Vitamin E acetate as the cause of the mysterious vape-related deaths last year. She said her amended version of the bill still bans vape products with that chemical, limits nicotine levels, and puts a 37% excise tax on flavored vape products. Cleveland said the bill “continues to meet primary goals,” like preventing vape-related deaths.

However, the CDC says even legal products are harmful to young people, and the high levels of nicotine can hinder brain development and impact learning, memory, and attention span. The CDC has also said that young people who vape are more likely to smoke regular cigarettes in the future.

In a health impact review of the bill, Caitlin Lang-Perez, a health policy analyst at the state Board of Health, told lawmakers that there is “very strong evidence” that a flavor ban would decrease initiation and use of vape among young people.

To those who argue that flavored vapor products helped them quit smoking, Kathy Lofy, of the Department of Health, said there is no definitive science to back that up.

“We wish that we had definitive science around the effectiveness of e-cigarettes as a cessation device or as a harm reduction strategy, but we do not have that science,” Lofy said. She noted that many adults who vape are also smoking cigarettes, increasing their nicotine intake and making it harder to quit.

Public school students have also showed support for the ban, telling lawmakers that their bathrooms have been turned into “juulrooms” — a reference to the Juul brand of vaping products — by intensely addicted kids.

Sen. Manka Dhingra, D-Redmond, chair of the committee on Health & Long Term Care, did not sign on to the original bill, but signed the amended version. Coming up on the first cut-off date, when bills must be out of committee, Dhingra says the amendment “simply gets it out of committee, but this is not the final wording.”

Sen. Patty Kuderer, D-Bellevue, introduced the bill but is not on the Health & Long Term Care Committee. Kuderer said she did not know of the specific amendment beforehand, but was aware that lawmakers had concerns about the impact on vape shops, adults who vape in order to quit smoking, and the black-market.

House Democratic Speaker Laurie Jinkins said any legislation should be based on the CDC’s research and recommendations.

“I’m not going to judge my colleagues,” Kuderer said, noting that she is hopeful that the House will change the legislation back to its original intent. “But I’m going to work very hard to make sure that flavors are banned.”

By Claudia Yaw

Senate could toughen penalties for crimes involving threats, guns

February 4th, 2020|

From The Spokesman-Review

Washington laws could soon crack down on a person threatening mass violence and on those who try to harass someone by making a false report to 911.

Bills considered by the Senate Law and Justice Committee on Monday could also increase the penalties for felons trying to buy guns when they aren’t legally allowed to and lengthen the wait for felons to have those rights restored after completing their sentence.

More than half of all mass shootings are preceded by verbal or written threats from the shooter, the committee was told. But while current laws cover threats made by one person against another, or a person against a racial or religious group, there’s a gap in what it covers, prosecutors said.

“We do not specifically have a crime based on mass violence,” King County Deputy Prosecutor Pat Lavin told the committee.

A bill under consideration would make issuing a threat of mass violence a felony, punishable by as many as five years in prison, and allow law enforcement officers who respond to the threat to seize firearms, ammunition and any concealed carry permit if they have probable cause to believe they would be used in a threatened incident.

Jane Weiss, whose niece was killed by a mass shooter who issued a manifesto before murdering seven people, called it “a tool to intervene before it’s too late.”

But Vitaliy Kerchen, of the Washington Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, said the proposal isn’t needed because there are already crimes that cover harassment, stalking, cyberstalking and bomb threats.

“This bill criminalizes something that is already criminal,” Kerchen said.

Another proposal would increase penalties for “swatting” or making a false 911 call, sometimes with a false name or masked phone number, resulting in a response by a SWAT team or other large law enforcement presence and leading to injury or death.

Under current law, making a false 911 report is a gross misdemeanor. But some prosecutors won’t pursue it because they don’t believe it’s worth the time it would take for a charge that carries no more than a year in jail.

Roxana Gomez, of the American Civil Liberties Union, said it’s an important issue but argued a new felony isn’t the answer. Instead, the Legislature should focus on the “militarization” of police and better training techniques.

New penalties could also be levied on felons who try to purchase a firearm when not legally permitted. Under current law, they can be charged with illegal possession of a gun, which is a felony, if they manage to buy one.

But that law doesn’t cover trying to purchase a firearm and being rejected during the background check. Instead, they can be charged with “false swearing” for submitting the application, which is a misdemeanor. Under the proposal, an illegal purchase or attempted purchase would be a felony with as many as five years in prison.

Felons who were convicted of a crime in which they used a gun could have to wait between three and 10 years to have those rights restored under another proposal. The wait would depend on the seriousness of that crime, and they couldn’t have been charged with a new crime during that waiting period but have completed all the conditions in their sentence from that original conviction. They also couldn’t have a protection order issued against them in the previous five years.

Sen. Manka Dhingra, D-Redmond, called it a “cleanup bill” to fix inconsistencies among different jurisdictions in restoring firearms rights.

But Sharyn Hinchcliffe, of the Pink Pistols gun-rights organization, said it was too strict. Felons who “do their time” should have their rights to own a firearm restored when they have their voting rights restored, she said.

The committee is scheduled to decide on Thursday whether to send the bills to the full Senate.

By Jim Camden

Shift policies to treat trafficked girls as victims

February 2nd, 2020|

From the Seattle Times

In Washington state, however, we continue to arrest and charge minors for prostitution, even though they are victims of sex trafficking. To bring Washington in line with federal law — and join the states that have eliminated criminal liability — we should exempt minors from charges of prostitution and create therapeutic alternatives.

Most girls get involved in sex trafficking when they run away from chaotic, unhealthy and abusive situations. More often than not, they are crime victims themselves. Yet we arrest girls on charges of prostitution, which is the result of a long history of treating girls and women who are victims of exploitation as criminals.

Nationally, and here in Washington state, the exact number of girls who are victims of domestic sexual exploitation and sex trafficking is unknown. Precise counts of the number of children and young adults who are commercially sexually exploited are challenging. Dr. Debra Boyer’s 2019 work is our best estimate of commercially sexually exploited children. Generally, anti-trafficking groups use missing children statistics to estimate the number of trafficked youth. However, estimates are inferred from data on runaway and homeless youth populations. Though these estimates are based on a method that is imperfect, they are the best at hand.

What we do know is there are more than 13,000 unaccompanied youth and young adults in Washington state. We also know that commercial sexual exploitation is closely linked to childhood trauma: The majority of sexually exploited youth experienced childhood victimization or sexual abuse, and between 60% and 85% have histories with the child-welfare system.

A recent Covenant House report suggests that approximately one fifth of homeless youth are victims of human trafficking, and a 2016 Administration on Children, Youth and Families report suggests that 60% of homeless youth experience some degree of victimization on the street. What we also know is that, although trafficking affects all youth, the vast majority of youth arrests for prostitution — 76%— involve girls.

Washington state currently offers some protections for girls who are trafficked. For instance, in 2010, Washington state strengthened our Safe Harbor law. Before the change, diversion of minors charged with prostitution was discretionary. Now, prosecutors are required to divert cases involving minors for the first offense (diversion remains discretionary for subsequent offenses). In Seattle and King County, minors are not charged with prostitution. However, this is a policy decision by the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.

Still, we must take additional measures to expand protections for girls and all youth. According to Shared Hope International’s 2019 update, many states have decriminalized “prostitution” for minors, recognizing that minors charged with the offense have been exploited and victimized, that it is an indication of social-service needs, and that youth should not be held responsible due to their age and development.

This legislative session, state Rep. Tina Orwall, D-Des Moines, is sponsoring House Bill 1775, and state Sen. Manka Dhingra, D-Redmond, is sponsoring companion bill SB 5744 in the Senate seeking to strengthen protections for commercially sexually exploited children. The legislation, if passed, would limit the crime of prostitution to individuals 18 years or older and create two therapeutic receiving centers, one in Eastern Washington, the other in Western Washington. Youth would receive assessment and referrals for mental-health and substance-use disorder. Law enforcement, service providers or guardians would be able to refer youth who are victims of sexual exploitation to a receiving center or allow youth to self-refer. And what is especially promising? The legislation creates dedicated liaisons within the Department of Children, Youth and Families to assist with system navigation, service delivery and cross-sector investigations. Both bills were voted out of their respective policy committees and await action in their fiscal committees.

Many advocates who work directly with youth impacted by the practice are closely following this legislation. We are hoping for a legislative fix that is worthy of the challenges these youth face.

Let’s build on the momentum and treat the symptoms of how girls become victims of sex trafficking in the first place. Let’s join the growing cries to stop criminalizing girls for the trauma they have experienced.

Washington state senator unveils bill to aid people who refuse treatment for drug addiction or mental-health issues

February 1st, 2020|

From The Seattle Times

When her 33-year-old son leaves jail or a treatment center after a mental-health and drug-addiction crisis, Theresa Yates says, there’s nothing to keep him from winding up back on the streets.

After an episode, he’ll be taken to jail and then involuntarily detained at a hospital or treatment center, said Yates, 54, of Tacoma.

“They’ll let him back on the street with a plan, and his plan is to go to the shelter,” she said. But, she added, “He won’t go to the shelter. Nobody can make him, because he has rights.”

That’s what brought Yates to a committee hearing Friday to speak in favor of a bill by Sen. Steve O’Ban, R-University Place, intended to provide treatment for adults suffering from mental illness or drug addiction who won’t or can’t help themselves but aren’t in bad enough shape to be detained.

Senate Bill 6109 would create a four-year trial run for a new executor program in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties. Under the bill, someone who has been involuntarily detained at least five times in a 12-month period could have an executor appointed to them to help oversee treatment.

The bill would also create requirements to make available treatment, supportive housing and vocational rehabilitation for those in the program.

O’Ban called the bill an attempt to bridge the gap between treatment that people get voluntarily and the high threshold that needs to be met in order for officials to detain someone under Washington’s Involuntary Treatment Act.

Under that law, someone “in imminent danger because of being gravely disabled” or who “presents an imminent likelihood of serious harm” can be detained and given involuntary treatment.

At a news conference before Friday’s hearing, O’Ban said his legislation was geared toward “those who consistently refuse care and shelter, but suffer crippling addictions and mental illness.”

“Unless government intervenes, their conditions harden, the likelihood of recovery lessens, and many will perish,” he said. “We owe them and their parents more, a lot more.”

Steve Strachan, executive director of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, also spoke at the news conference in favor of SB 6109.

“This will increase the safety of the public, it will increase the safety of law enforcement, and very importantly it will increase the safety of the people involved,” said Strachan.

Standing nearby was Jerri Clark, founder of the advocacy group Mothers of the Mentally Ill, who  talked about her son’s long struggle with mental illness. She recounted a story of the last time he was released from involuntary treatment in a hospital.

“I pleaded with the staff to make sure he was released into appropriate housing,” Clark said of her son, who died by suicide last year. Instead, he was sent to an emergency shelter.

He discarded his medication, according to Clark and “spent six days running around Seattle in psychosis with no fewer than five interactions with law enforcement.”

“But none of those experiences led to a level of imminent threat or criminality that would allow public officials to do anything to help him,” said Clark. “He didn’t get help until he broke into a residence and was arrested on felony charges and thrown in King County Jail, where he immediately tried to kill himself …”

Lawmakers are seeking other ways to make it easier for officials to intervene with people needing mental-health treatment.

Senate Bill 5720, sponsored by Sen. Manka Dhingra, D-Redmond, would make several changes to the Involuntary Treatment Act, including changing the threshold for someone to be detained.

For example, the definition of “serious harm” would be expanded to “include a risk of physical harm evidenced by harm, substantial pain, or which places a person in reasonable fear of harm to themselves or others,” according to a legislative analysis.

Dhingra’s bill passed the Senate last year but stalled in the House. Last week, Senate lawmakers passed it again, and she said she hopes it will get to the governor’s desk this year.

By Joe O’Sullivan