In Issaquah stop, Rob McKenna highlights fight against human trafficking

November 3, 2011

By Warren Kagarise

NEW — 6 a.m. Nov. 3, 2011

In a speech to Issaquah business and nonprofit leaders Wednesday, gubernatorial candidate and state Attorney General Rob McKenna highlighted efforts to combat human trafficking — a global pipeline into forced labor and the sex trade.

McKenna, as the top legal officer in Washington and president of the National Association of Attorneys General, launched a nationwide initiative in June to combat human trafficking.

“Human trafficking is now a $32 billion global criminal enterprise in our world,” he said at a Nonprofit Leadership & Civic Service Summit organized by the Issaquah Chamber of Commerce.

The attorney general and Republican candidate for governor served as the keynote speaker. U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee is the Democrat in the 2012 gubernatorial race.

Criminals smuggle 14,000 to 17,000 people into the United States each year for forced labor, McKenna said. In addition, rough figures indicate smugglers traffic 100,000 to 300,000 people each year inside the country, although the problem could be larger.

“What we don’t know is how people are being trafficked within countries — from one part of India to another, from one part of China to another or from one part of the United States to another,” he added.

In the anti-human trafficking effort, McKenna and more than 40 other attorneys general also targeted escort ads on backpage.com, a classifieds service owned by Seattle Weekly parent Village Voice Media Holdings. The legal officials said such ads routinely include underage girls and possible human trafficking victims.

“I often am asked, ‘Well, you know, if they could show you that there were no children, no teenagers, no one under 18 being marketed, would that be adequate?’” McKenna said. “My answer to that is no, because there are many, many adult victims of human trafficking being trafficked into the sex trade as well.”

In response to pressure from McKenna and other officials, backpage.com administrators said the service has enacted steps to curb human trafficking. Still, McKenna said, more action is needed.

“Our whole conception of prostitution has been wrong. We have bought, as a society and maybe as a world, we have bought into this Hollywood mythology about ‘Pretty Woman,’ ‘The Happy Hooker,’ etc.,” he said. “We now know from the research that most prostitutes — well over 90 percent — are prostituted. It is done to them. They are trafficking victims. They are not volunteers.”

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