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:



Finding Slave-Free Products without a Fair Trade logo

Last month we explored Fair Trade products and why they bring us closer to ending slavery. Certified Fair Trade items are produced in a slave-free, human rights-respecting environment and with an eco-friendly conscious. Does that mean all non-certified products are tainted with labor abuses and environmental degradation? Fortunately, no.

Many companies function under high & tight code of conduct standards that ensure each step of the manufacturing process respects both human rights and the environment. Unless boasting a Free Trade logo, it can be difficult to identify such products on shelves and among aisles. Thankfully, though, organizations are providing consumers with reliable information about companies’ supply chain and whether or not human trafficking is present.

The most well-known and perhaps densely-compiled site is Free2Work, which is a project of Not For Sale. Through self-reported data and public information, Free2Work ranks companies according to the absence of forced and child labor in their supply chains. You can find whose manufacturing practices are a-ok and whose are not in particular industries including Apparel, Coffee, Sports Equipment, Shoes, Chocolate, Electronics, Jewelry and more.
Companies are “graded” in four different categories. For a busy consumer who quickly wants to know which companies have great practices and which do not, a simple scroll through the listings will show each company and its color-coded grade.

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The ratings are based on a company’s performance related to workers’ rights, monitoring, policies and transparency. Each company is given a score card; we can, in detail, compare why it’s a better choice to shop at H&M rather than Forever 21.

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It was through Free2Work that I learned to what extent my sponsor, Brooks, addresses labor rights. I am overwhelmingly proud to represent a company that values workers’ rights – in the supply chain’s every step! To be supported by a brand that offers high-quality products is wonderful. To be supported by a brand that offers high-quality products AND respects its suppliers, workers and environment, now that’s striking gold.

imageBrooks is not the sole running apparel company to score well; Champion, Adidas, Reebok, Nike, and New Balance received B- or better. I hope that instills pride in the entire running community! Major running brands are among those leading the fight against human trafficking.

Explore Free2Work and learn which of your favorite companies are also raising a hand against slavery.  You may be surprised by how many brands are doing good in their industries. Below are links to additional resources related to slave-free brands.




Fair Trade: What is it? And why should we care?

Recap: Over 28 million people are enslaved. Modern-day slavery ranges from forced labor to child labor to domestic servitude to sex trafficking to bonded labor. And it permeates the world’s every corner, from our hometowns to faraway Lebanese cities. Slavery is not dead.

Ok, so how can I help?

Uncompromising schedules often times stalls us from quickly answering this question. Mine did, at least. Light on social issues and human rights movements and simply global news is at our fingertips after an effortless “scroll down to refresh”. Accessing information is easy – digesting and converting it into action is not, especially when we have a finite amount of energy and an infinite amount of outlets in which to partition it. It’s an inverse buffet experience. Rather than having endless items that must fit into one fist-sized stomach, we’re working with a fist-sized amount of energy that can be consumed by a limitless number of hungry outlets. And with the hungriest of all being fed first: work, the kiddo’s activities, home projects, practices, hobbies, volunteering, community events, chill time to maintain one’s sanity, we certainly can’t commit more of Us to entities on our peripheral, can we?
We can by making small adjustments in the areas to which energy is already committed.


I will help end slavery by adjusting how I shop.

I found this to be a perfect opportunity to “feed” two outlets – weekly grocery shopping & slavery activism – with one spoonful of energy. It’s an easy way to transform a frequent activity into a rewarding contribution. And it remedies a guilty feeling of not helping to ameliorate a vast and deadly issue. As consumers, we can contribute to the end of slavery by buying Fair Trade and supporting companies with commendable labor practices. With a little conscious effort and a slight move to the right or left of that bag of Hershey’s kisses, we can kick slavery’s butt with each shopping trip.


First, what is Fair Trade and how does buying Fair Trade bring us closer to Slavery’s end?
In its simplest form, Fair Trade is a social movement that is powered by many independent organizations committed to establishing fair, humane and equal trading partnerships. Although there is no single Fair Trade authority, many organizations operate with this definition:

Fair Trade is a “trading partnership, based on dialogue, transparency, and respect, that seeks greater equity in international trade. It contributes to sustainable development by offering better trading conditions to, and securing the rights of, disadvantaged producers and workers—especially in the South” (FINE, 1998).

Fair Trade products include much more than just coffee and chocolate. Wine, linens, lotion, soccer balls are also a handful of products we can buy Fair Trade. Curious to discover more? Check out this list here: http://fairtradeusa.org/products-partners
Because there is no single Fair Trade authority, there is no one Fair Trade logo.

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Each logo represents a different Fair Trade organization with a different set of criteria for determining which products are and are not Fair Trade certified. Interested in learning about Fair Trade USA’s criteria?  Or World Fair Trade Organization’s principles? And Fair Trade International’s standards? (To name a few).

Regardless of a package’s logo, when we buy Fair Trade, we are supporting producers that obey labor laws, ensure safe, comfortable working conditions and fairly pay employees. When we buy Fair Trade, we are strengthening equal trade partnerships. When we buy Fair Trade, we are protecting the environment from degradation. When we buy Fair Trade, we are NOT supporting companies that mistreat and abuse (read: enslave) workers. Bam.


Fortunately Fair Trade products are becoming more and more ubiquitous. I choose to buy Fair Trade when purchasing kitchen staples (like rice, tea, chocolate, cocoa, sugar) and bath essentials such as soap and lotion.  Even if my budget doesn’t allow for or the local store doesn’t carry all Fair Trade options, I still feel great about the choices and impact I CAN make.

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Every time I am back home, I’ll make a handful of trips to Winans in downtown Troy. The owners, Joe and Laurie, work directly with farmers to ensure their beans are coming from safe and fair sources. A plug for my favorites: a large cup of Maine Blueberry coffee & a bag of dark chocolate espresso beans.

It was easy to call out Hershey’s earlier in this post because the chocolate  (and coffee) industry has taken hot heat in recent media.  If you are interested in why companies like Hershey’s are often and strongly criticized, read more here.  Additionally, if you would like to see how your favorite chocolate companies stack up in the Fair Trade world, check out this detailed list.

Combatting slavery through consumerism is not limited to buying only certified Fair Trade products. Companies are tightening, revising and raising their code of conduct standards; some of our favorite items are produced sans slavery, but do not wear a slave-free logo.  How can we identify these products, as well as their culpable counterparts?  That’s what we’ll explore next month.

Until then, I challenge you to discover opportunities in your schedules that allow for slight modification and powerful amelioration of social issues such as human trafficking and slavery.  It can be done!

A Reflection on Slavery

Beatrice Fernando is in a Sri Lankan airport hugging her 3-year-old son goodbye.
She is 23, divorced and is leaving him, for him.

An agency offered housemaid employment opportunities in Lebanon, and as a young single mother, she is desperate to find a way to support herself and her growing son.
She does not know that the flight from her home in Sri Lanka to the agency’s office in Lebanon will lead her into hell.

Her passport is taken away.

Her workdays last 20 hours.

Her dinner is found in trash cans.

The apartment in which she works quickly becomes a prison; she is locked inside, unable to leave.

Her cheeks are slapped. Her head is thrown against a wall. A broom and feet crash into her back.
She endures the hunger, the fatigue, the abuse day

after day

after day

after day,


Hunger, Fatigue, Abuse lead her to the fourth-floor apartment balcony.

She stands on the railing, thinking of the prison she cannot escape, thinking of her son she cannot see, thinking of the freedom she cannot grasp, and jumps.


“Property of Salem” is tattooed on Jennifer Kempton’s groin. This is one of several tattoos found on her body, all of which are disgusting marks designed by dope gang leaders and pimps.

Her childhood was abusive.

Her relationships were destructive.

The abuse and destruction, along with her work in downtown Columbus, Ohio, led her into drug addiction and street prostitution:

Sex trafficking.

Pimp after pimp have marked her as HIS property.

Groin, breast, neck, back.

Belonging to everyone but herself, she looped a noose around her neck.


These two stories tell the frightening tale of modern-day slavery.

Before my partnership with the Free to Run Foundation, I would instantly think “Underground Railroad”, “Dutch West India Company” and “13th Amendment” upon hearing the word slavery; my slavery timeline ended 149 years ago with its abolition in the United States.

I wouldn’t have thought about Jennifer’s spiral into sex trafficking, nor would I have considered Beatrice’s blind step into domestic servitude. But with a few noteworthy links, and Google at my fingertips, I quickly discovered how expansive and complex and alive slavery is. Slavery is just as much a local issue as it is an international one. And slavery takes on many identities, including forced labor, child labor, domestic servitude, sex trafficking and bonded labor.

Beatrice jumped from the apartment’s fourth-floor balcony because she wanted to escape domestic servitude. She did escape, but not by taking her life. She now lives in Massachusetts and provides financial assistance for the education of trafficked women’s children through the Nivasa Foundation.

The noose around Jennifer’s neck broke; she also escaped.

The pimps, the dope gangs, the drugs.

But not the haunting tattoos, until an artist in Lancaster, Ohio transformed her scars into portraits of color and flowers and hope. This change from scar to art inspired Jennifer to found Survivor’s Ink, which is a non-profit that offers full scholarships to survivors of human trafficking and sexual exploitation to have their branding tattoo’s covered or removed.

Jennifer’s and Beatrice’s stories are two of 28 million. Through awareness and dialogue, we can help write more beautiful endings like these women’s. And through persistence and conscious effort, we can halt every bad beginning from ever being written. Slavery did not end in 1865; it’s time that it finds a place in museums, next to historical artifacts like dinosaurs and carrier pigeons and dial-up internet modems.

What are some of the steps we can take toward eliminating modern slavery? I will share one way I am making a difference in next month’s post.
Sources: endslaverynow.org         http://gracehaven.me