When Western Washington University junior Diana Ash shared her experience with human trafficking in a presentation at Western last year, she felt released because it was the first time she was able to talk about it without being afraid of repercussion. Ash is studying at Western as a human services major because she wants to help people, interact with them and help them out of bad situations.
People can move between Seattle and Bellingham very quickly, said Arianna Cane, training advocate for Access Freedom, an organization that fights sex trafficking in Whatcom County. “Human trafficking is any situation where someone is being forced to do something that they don’t want to, and someone else is profiting from that,” Cane said. This definition includes prostitution, pornography and erotic entertainment. “When I tell people it happens in Whatcom County, they can’t believe it,” Cane said. “People are just shocked, because you don’t see it.”
“We sat down at McDonald’s, and there are girls with very short skirts standing over at a bus stop,” Cane said. “You’ll see a guy on a phone, he meets up with another guy and he goes and picks up that girl. If you don’t sit there very long, you’re not going to see it, but if you sit there long enough, you can be like, ‘Oh yeah, yep, that’s what’s happening.’ It’s right in the middle of everything and no one sees it.”
In 2011 more juveniles were arrested for prostitution in Washington than any other state for the third year in a row, according to the Seattle division of the FBI. At least one prostitution case per month was reported in Bellingham in the last two years, according to Bellingham Police logs. Washington has 12 laws that Governor Chris Gregoire signed in the last year relating to trafficking. The laws are strict on pimps, and there are laws excusing the victims for crimes committed during their period of trafficking. “If they are considered a sex-trafficking victim, they are not guilty of prostitution,” Cane said.
Ash does street outreach every other Saturday, checking in with kids on the street and asking them if they are safe. A lot of the time they put their heads down and walk away. “Most of the kids I see are 17 to 25,” Ash said.
“My passion is mostly for the global [problem] – for the women who had no choice getting into it,” Cane said. “But when you realize it happens here, how can we go abroad and help anyone when we are not taking care of our own problems in our own backyard?”
Learn more at Rachel Brown’s The Western Front article: Western student shares thoughts on human trafficking in Washington state.