By: Subha Ali
Support Becoming Available For Victims From The Trauma Of Trafficking
Adults with lived experiences of sex trafficking will get support and transition services to reduce the trauma, violence and impact as part of a new law that goes into effect on July 23.
Washington state is ranked 10th in the nation for reported cases of human trafficking as of 2021. The trauma of sex trafficking often starts in childhood and continues into adulthood; 89% of victims are children when they are first exploited. People of color and members of the LGBTQ+ community are trafficked more than others. Within King County, 45% of children involved in sex trafficking are Black, according to the National Human Trafficking Hotline.
Senate Bill 5114 was brought by survivors of sex trafficking themselves, with the WASE Forward team playing a major part in constructing the bill, along with the team from Aileen’s. WASE Forward is an initiative that promotes policies and practices in support of people with lived experiences of sex trafficking and sexual exploitation. Aileen’s is a hospitality space located in Federal Way for women working along Pacific Highway. The group provides resources and support.
“It was a big deal to think people are finally starting to understand about not victimizing the victim," said Sen. Claire Wilson (D-Auburn), the bill’s primary sponsor. “It was also important not to villainize people who are in an industry that one might look at negatively, when all are victims and have been victimized.”
Sen. Claire Wilson (D-Auburn) has been an advocate in the Washington State Legislature for people with lived experience of sex trafficking. (Photo courtesy of Sen. Claire Wilson)
Sex trafficking is defined in the bill as any person forced or coerced to perform a commercial sex act, or being a victim of other offenses related to trafficking, prostitution and sexual abuse.
Often people who are being sex trafficked don’t realize it. Mary Williams, a person with lived experiences of trafficking and a member of WASE Forward, says she didn’t even look at it that way, because she didn’t understand what sex trafficking meant and didn’t recognize it in her situation.
“There was nothing like this when I got out of it in 1991,” she said, speaking of the benefits from the new legislation. “I was tired of all of it and needed a way out, but there was nothing like this. There wasn’t even anything for domestic violence.”
The support and transition services include advocacy, housing/relocation, substance use disorder treatment, medical and behavioral health services, legal advocacy, employment support and emergency financial assistance.
Wilson said the bill provides $11 million in funding for about 11 different centers, which will offer healing support and transition services. They will be located in different parts of the state. The funding carries through the 2029 fiscal year. The centers will be put in marginalized communities and other locations to maximize access by people in need of the services.
Of The Bill
The bill also focuses on training law enforcement, prosecutors and first responders about risk factors for sex trafficking, and how to engage and refer individuals to the services.
Nobody has to show identification or prove they have been a victim; people decide what they need from the menu of services and support, according to Wilson.
“We want to make sure that they’re culturally, developmentally, linguistically relevant and that they meet the needs of the individual, because it’s not a one size fits all,” Wilson stated. She said areas and regions with the most need will be prioritized.
According to Robin Miller, a survivor of sex trafficking: “I’ve been doing case manager advocacy work for nine years and I am also a survivor of the commercial sex trade, and we don’t have many resources. We need support, and it is going to change a lot of lives." -- "People with lived experiences and who are out of the trade understand the harms. Our voices are so important because we exited. But because of the trauma, everything is a little harder.”
About 20 organizations provide services across the state for victims of sex trafficking. However, they do not have a lot of money so they are not able to provide support to the extent it is needed. The new law will help.
Williams adds, “There’s a part of you that needs to buy into it to be able to make that money, which is another dilemma. You need to be really grounded to get out of it, finally. We are providing this support so people who want to get out can get out. So, people can see a light and hear our stories and realize they are being exploited.”
The biggest difficulty people face is getting out of their situation. “They’re mental chains that make you buy into a new way of thinking to even get to a point that makes you ready to do it,” Williams says. “You also have to go through, like, a debriefing to realize you deserve to get up and leave.”
When it comes to prevention, Williams says educating people is the place to start. SB 5355, entitled Sex Trafficking Awareness and Education, was introduced this year by a senior at Eastside Preparatory School in Kirkland, and was eventually passed into law. The bill requires that all students as early as the seventh grade but no later than the 12th grade receive curriculum on sex trafficking awareness and prevention.