For residents in East Tacoma, City Councilman Marty Campbell might be one cape short of superhero status for taking a stand against human trafficking.
Campbell was the front man on a city ordinance that passed Tuesday barring massage parlors, most of which operate within a 2-mile radius of Lincoln High School, from operating between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.
Instituting a curfew on these dubious businesses will improve quality of life in the neighborhood and help code enforcement officers crack down on the ones that have operated under the cover of night.
But it’s a drop in the ocean when it comes to fighting a pervasive international problem.
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Because ours is a port community with easy access to the Interstate 5 corridor and Canadian border, the region is a target for human trafficking. The U.S. Department of Justice estimates between 14,500 and 17,500 people are trafficked into the country each year.
“Not acceptable in the city of Tacoma,” Campbell told TNT reporter Candice Ruud earlier this week.
Tacoma, like many cities, is a place where slavery is hidden in plain sight. Victims work in businesses such as construction, housekeeping, food service, agriculture and, yes, massage parlors.
Campbell introduced the proposal in September after police raided nine parlors in Tacoma and Lakewood. One woman suspected of prostitution told police she earned $10 a day and was allowed to keep half of what she received from her sexual acts.
Campbell described the parlors in his district as “human trafficking operations masquerading as massage parlors.”
If upstanding citizens are henceforth denied legitimate therapeutic massages at 3 a.m., it’s a small price to pay.
Tacoma council members are not the only ones fighting trafficking on the local front. YES to Hope, a program started in July as part of the Sexual Assault Center for Pierce County, has a drop-in center on East 26th Street near the Tacoma Dome.
The program provides therapists and runs a 24-hour crisis hotline. It also gives victims an advocate who will offer as much support as possible given limited resources. The city provides $50,000 a year to the program, but it costs twice that to run.
The center also goes into local middle and high schools and talks about ways young people are duped. Child victims are often runaways or homeless youth. Many commit suicide or abuse drugs and alcohol.
According to the United Nations’ International Labour Organization (ILO), 20.9 million people in 2012 were victims of forced labor, and almost all cases go unprosecuted. In 2003, Washington was the first state to criminalize human trafficking, but it took six years to win the first conviction.
In 2011, the U.S. Department of State documented 3,969 convictions against human traffickers worldwide but only 151 in the U.S.
Traditionally, victims have been classified as offenders and have been charged as such. Earlier this year, Washington lawmakers passed a bill allowing convictions such as prostitution to be vacated if the prostitute was a victim of trafficking.
There’s more work to be done. Laws should be strengthened to hold companies legally responsible for ensuring their labor supply is not trafficked. If employers, such as hotels, restaurants or massage parlors, knowingly hire trafficking victims, they should be accountable for their role in this modern system of slavery.
A report issued by the ILO showed human trafficking generates $150 billion per year globally. Victims are trapped and penniless.
Cape or no cape, more heroes are needed to stand up for the survivors.