Prostitution and Trafficking

Trailblazing State Law on Human-Traffic Bogs Down

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Washington was the first state to pass a law against human trafficking in 2003, but so far there are only two convictions. "Where we are with human trafficking today is where we were with domestic violence 30 or 40 years ago," say a top law enforcer.

SEATTLE (WOMENSENEWS)--King County prosecutors here in Seattle partnered with the U.S. Attorney's Office of the Western District in 2009 to charge 10 members of a violent street gang with recruiting and forcing female teens into organized prostitution.

One of those charged, 19-year-old DeShawn Cash Money Clark, wound up being convicted on two counts of human trafficking. He is now serving a 17-year prison sentence.

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For anti-trafficking activists the conviction--the first brought under the state's pioneering human trafficking statute--marked a milestone. But it also offered a measure of disappointment.

In 2000 federal legislation criminalized human trafficking for the first time and in 2003 Washington became the first state to pass a similar law. The key provision of the legislation was that it criminalized human trafficking just as the 2000 federal legislation had done. A series of laws since then have addressed restrictions on sex tourism, along with confidentiality and benefits for victims.

There are some good reasons for the state to have led the way, given some inviting physical features for traffickers: an international border with Canada, two major ports, an interstate highway connecting from Seattle to south California and considerable rural areas.

Since Washington passed its law, other states followed suit. Today only nine states lack laws criminalizing human trafficking.

It took six years for the first conviction, Clark's two counts, in Washington though. In a more recent case, Baruti Hopson, a 32-year-old Seattle man, was convicted in January 2011 of beating, raping and prostituting a 15-year-old runaway girl from Auburn. Hopson was sentenced to more than 26 years in prison in March under enhanced penalties for pimping out a juvenile.

Besides these two convictions, it's hard to track down any others prosecuted at the state level.

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