by Ronnie Estoque
On Thursday, the Port of Seattle hosted a virtual media briefing to update the community about their efforts in support of a regional public awareness campaign around human trafficking prevention. The event was timely as Human Trafficking Prevention Month is in January, and the campaign has led to higher call volumes to the National Trafficking Hotline from Washington State.
“In January of 2019 we began a public awareness campaign with the Port of Seattle, King County, City of Seattle, Sound Transit, and the airlines to encourage victims and survivors to call the National Trafficking Hotline for help,” Port of Seattle Commissioner Sam Cho said.
Cho believes the higher call volume is a positive outcome, as there are more people reaching out for help and resources. To raise awareness about their efforts, the Port of Seattle has installed human trafficking awareness signs in various languages at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, Port of Seattle parks, and Fisherman’s Terminal.
“Poverty is the biggest exploiter of people, especially the marginalized populations: Native, Hispanic, and Black, descendants of slaves, are most affected,” a human trafficking survivor shared at the briefing.
The Port of Seattle has also partnered with Businesses Ending Slavery and Trafficking (BEST) to develop and implement employee training to combat human trafficking, which 81% of their workforce has completed in 2020.
It has been reported that traffickers use violence, threats, deception, debt bondage, and other manipulative tactics to force people to engage in commercial sex or to provide labor or services against their will. It is estimated that human trafficking generates billions of dollars of profit per year – second only to drug trafficking as the most profitable form of transnational crime.
“The Port of Seattle’s training is the first proprietary anti-human trafficking training module developed by a port authority in the United States,” Port of Seattle Commissioner Sam Cho said. “It ensures that our staff have the knowledge and the resources to recognize and respond to instances of human trafficking.”
BEST was awarded nearly a $100,00 in grant funding from the Port of Seattle to serve human trafficking survivors and at-risk youth living in South King County. The funding is intended to go toward employment readiness training, and the creation of paid internships and jobs in Port-related industries.
“The economic ramifications of the pandemic, furloughed, and laid-off employees, strained social services and heightened food and housing insecurities, those are contributing factors that exacerbate the potential for exploitation,” said Seattle-Tacoma International Airport Managing Director Lance Lyttle. “The goal is simple, end human trafficking here and everywhere.”
BEST CEO Mar Brettmann also believes that the pandemic has heightened exploitation due to more families facing economic hardship across the state due to the pandemic.
Young people of color are being exploited in the sex trades at even higher rates, the pandemic has had a disproportionately negative impact on the economic well-being of Black and Hispanic people, as well as Indigenous people,” she said.
The Port of Seattle supports employment initiatives for human trafficking survivors through the Safe Jobs Collaborative.
Ronnie Estoque is a Seattle-based storyteller and aspiring documentarian. He is driven to uplift marginalized voices in the South Seattle community through his writing, photography, and videography. You can keep up with his work by following his Twitter and Instagram.
Featured Image: Human trafficking prevention awareness sign in multiple languages posted at SeaTac International Airport. Courtesy of Port of Seattle.