Human-trafficking laws take effect

Olympia, WA|Sex-Trafficking|Add Comment
By: BRAD SHANNON , The Olympian
Jeanne Kohl-Welles
Washington State Senator

A slew of new laws designed to counter human-trafficking took effect Thursday in Washington, including penalties as high as $10,000 for promoting prostitution and $5,000 for paying customers.

They were among the roughly 220 laws added to the books this week after their adoption by lawmakers earlier this year.

A federal judge has put the sex-trafficking legislation’s controversial centerpiece – targeting online want ads for sexual services – in limbo. But other pieces taking effect give hope to activists and bill sponsors that a dent can be made in the human-trafficking business.

Among them is a law letting authorities seize and obtain a forfeiture of property used by offenders to further their sex-trafficking crimes, including automobiles. Another lets people convicted of prostitution clear their names if they can prove they were forced into it by sex-traffickers.

“I think we have the best laws in the nation. … It will make a difference if our law enforcement enforces them,” said Rose Gundersen of Thurston County, who leads Engage Washington and, along with other activists, helped support action this year. “It will take (community) organizing to get police to recognize it is a problem.’’

Gundersen said her group is now working with others in a Thurston County alliance that will try to raise public awareness of the law and the need for enforcement. It plans a meeting June 21 in Lacey to start the work.

“Human trafficking is a billion-dollar industry that exploits the most vulnerable, especially minors,” Democratic Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles of Seattle said. “I hope other states can follow Washington’s lead.’’

Kohl-Welles co-sponsored with Republican Sen. Jerome Delvin of Richland the centerpiece of the trafficking reform, which makes it illegal to advertise sex services involving a minor.

Backpage.com, which operates an online clearinghouse for escorts, is challenging that piece of the package, arguing that it is trumped by federal statute.

Federal Judge Ricardo Martinez issued a temporary restraining order earlier this week that keeps that law from taking effect, spokesman Dan Sytman of the state Attorney General’s Office said. A preliminary injunction could be considered June 15, delaying the law even longer, Sytman said.

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