Campaign targets human trafficking

Ads aim to educate victims and the public

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Yasmin Christopher’s father was wealthy, earned a doctorate from the University of Washington and had ties around the world.

He also forced his wife and immigrant relatives to work from dawn to dusk at a 65-acre farm in Oakville, Grays Harbor County.

“My father was a trafficker, and my mother was a child bride,” Christopher, a Seattle University law student, said Friday at a news conference to announce King County’s new campaign to raise awareness about human trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation.

The campaign will advertise in six languages on 200 Metro buses, intended to reach victims as well as the general public.

The donated ad campaign, which will be posted free on county buses, will cost taxpayers next to nothing, said Metropolitan King County Executive Dow Constantine.

Human trafficking is a lucrative and fast-growing enterprise with an estimated 32 million victims worldwide, half of them children, Constantine said. Trafficked people are enslaved as domestic workers, restaurant employees, sex workers and farm hands, as well as in other fields.

Washington became the first state to criminalize human trafficking in 2003, but remains a focal point for traffickers because of its ports, proximity to an international border and dependency on agricultural workers, said County Councilmember Reagan Dunn.

Victims, as well as people who suspect that someone is being victimized, are urged to call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline at 888-373-7888 to report a tip or to seek help.

Among the signs of human traffickers are workers who are not allowed to come and go as they please; have been stripped of their documentation; or show signs of physical or emotional abuse, according to King County officials.

Christopher said her relatives were brought from Bangladesh to work on the farm. Their situation was discovered when a tenacious Gray’s Harbor Sheriff’s detective was called out to investigate her aunt’s suicide and sensed something was wrong, she said.

Before that, she said, “nobody seemed to question anything.”

She didn’t discuss the family’s plight at length. But she said her father, who now lives in Eastern Washington, was convicted of indecent liberties in Grays Harbor County and served 18 months of a four-year sentence, she said.

Christopher said there are no simple or absolute answers for dealing with human trafficking or its victims, and she understands people might feel a little funny about calling a number to report their suspicions.

“It might seem nosy,” she said. “… But if you were right, you might allow somebody else to be up here speaking in a year or 10 years, or allow their children the same thing.”