A Peek into Sex Trafficking in the Pacific Northwest

Dear Brett,

I researched the current state of human trafficking in the Pacific Northwest, and there is little good news to report. Can I write about something else this month? Something happier? Something more upbeat?



This is an email sandwiched between fiction and nonfiction that I sent/wanted to send to Brett last month. We agreed that this post would be about the condition of human trafficking in the Pacific Northwest. Once I started digging into articles and videos, I wanted to stop reading about it, and I was reluctant to write about it. Because a bleak story is certainly neither easily written nor easily read.

This reaction pinpoints why posts about human trafficking are important. A conversation about human trafficking is hard to start and hard to keep going because the content is heavy, saddening, uncomfortable. But the longer we hesitate to write about it, the longer it will continue to be. The more we discuss, the more palatable it will be. The conversation will lead to greater understanding as well as an opportunity to problem solve. And from there, the story can be read in an upbeat edition.

So, let’s get the conversation started.


  •  I-5, which hugs the coast and extends from Washington to California, is an express lane for human trafficking, with hotbed cities including Seattle, Portland, Tacoma, Los Angeles.
  • Human trafficking is also present inland. On 1-90, Anti-Trafficking signs in 7 different languages are posted. 7 different languages!!
  • Most of the sex trafficking occurs at large sporting events in the cities mentioned above: where there is a sea of men, there is a sea of profit.


  • Trafficking has become a cooperative gang business in these cities, rather than a construction of isolated, individual pimps.
  • Gangs target vulnerability; runaways seeking shelter and food, girls searching for attention, (empty) friendships, gifts, (empty) promises for success and fame.
  • Most interactions (gangs and girls, and gangs and customers) occur online. The most-used website for selling girls is Backpage.com


  • Spokane, Washington is one of the inland cities that is confronting sex trafficking. Watch this short clip to learn how a community organization is helping: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=l3uGNNvVask
  • In Oregon, HB 3040 is on the path to being signed into law. Considering that most saved victims of sex trafficking are unable to testify in court due to the traumatizing psychological and physical abuse they experience, the bill would create hearsay exception for human trafficking victims. Text messages, emails and other recorded statements from victims would be reliable, key pieces of evidence. Victims would have a voice. The bill recently passed in the House and is awaiting approval from the Senate.
    Read more here: http://openstates.org/or/bills/2015%20Regular%20Session/HB3040/
  • A Seattle journalist, Tim Matsui, recently published a film, The Lone Night. It’s a documentary about two young girls’ fall into the sex industry. http://www.thelongnightmovie.com/

Through this post, I discovered a lot about the current situation of sex trafficking in the Pacific Northwest (like, it exists). However, the primary lesson that I will have gleaned will not be about the Portland gangs, the thriving 1-5 sex business, the online recruitment, the 11-18 year-old victims, the drugs, the murders. The lesson is about my initial reflex to the information:

It makes sense that once encountering Bad, we diverge and seek Good. But to ameliorate the Bad and transform it into Good, we must confront it. Learn about it. Talk about it. Read about it. Study it. Taste it like a complex glass of wine. Notice its subtleties in order to critically think about the whole.

I will no longer shy away from the conversation, but instead take part.

***I wanted to provide hard numbers, but the most recent statistics I found quantifying sex trafficking in the PNW are from a 2007 report for the Inland Northwest region and a 2008 report for Seattle. I believe there is data recorded from the last 8 years, but it is troublesome that it is not easily searchable. Because the most recent data is seven years old, it gives the impression that sex trafficking in the Pacific Northwest is no longer an issue. But recent new articles give a different impression.

Interested in the 2007 & 2008 reports? Find them below.

2008 Seattle report: http://www.seattle.gov/humanservices/domesticviolence/report_youthinprostitution.pdf

2007 Inland Northwest report:

Below are recent news articles that shine a light on individuals’ personal sex trafficking stories: