Blue Byline

A cop's perspective of the news and South Sound matters

AG’s stance on human trafficking is spot on

Post by Brian O'Neill on May 28, 2012 at 4:05 pm with 12 Comments »
May 29, 2012 10:58 am

On a warm evening a few weeks ago my partner and I were sitting in an unmarked car along Highway 99 near Seatac. From our vantage point we watched several young women walking the sidewalk, waving at passing cars and occasionally hopping in next to a male driver.

By all accounts, the sex trade on Highway 99 continues in much the same way since the Green River Killer stalked the strip’s most vulnerable prostitutes 25 years ago. With one exception.

Milling around the entrance to a fast food restaurant across the street were more than a dozen young men wearing bandanas and clothing in the colors of the area’s predominant gang. They were also keeping an eye on the working women, including one young man who detached himself from the group and crossed the street. He approached a scantily clad young woman talking with her girlfriends.

The body language of the conversation suggested nothing more than a subordinate being chewed out by the boss. When he was done yelling, the young man pointed her to the street. Crying, she continued to plead her case until he shoved her in the direction he wanted her to go. We jumped out and arrested him for the assault, and as we did I took note of the blue bandana around his head and the gang tattoo emblazoned on his forearm.

Criminal street gangs’ involvement in the human trafficking business is relatively new. Gang members have always been eager to commit crimes that hold less chance of an arrest or lengthy incarceration, and for that and other reasons their presence is now entrenched.

Gang members also brought their brand of violent and misogynistic behavior into the sex industry, making it that much more dangerous an environment for the girls and women caught in the lifestyle. That is especially true for those “recruited” by gang members using threats, enticements or physical force. These people are then sold on the street or on Internet sites such as the seedy Backpage.com.

Despite this revelation, prostitution is still perceived as a “victimless crime.” That erroneous view has been promoted by Hollywood movies and television shows for years – it is a misperception that was recently pointed out in an article written by Washington State Attorney General Rob McKenna and published in The Huffington Post.

Washington State Attorney General Rob McKenna/ AP Photo

In the article Mr. McKenna addresses the disparity between Hollywood’s glamorized notion of prostitution – resurrected by a new television series, Client List, starring Jennifer Love Hewitt – and the reality of women in thrall to the sex trade.

The back story for Client List is familiar: A young woman makes a conscious choice to enter the sex trade and is faced with few obstacles other than her own conscience. That same premise was used for Julia Roberts’ character in Pretty Woman, and it is an utter fallacy.

In reality, many prostitutes new to the sex trade are juvenile runaways caught in heavy-handed relationships with gang members. The few who willingly walk the strip find out quickly that independence is a myth. Sooner or later they will be confronted by  a gang member who (as in the incident described above) considers himself owner of the street and the women who walk its pavement.

When it comes to buying the illusion, however, the public is not alone. Few police agencies seem willing to expend dwindling resources enforcing state laws against promoting prostitution. This has been slow to change despite the legislature’s recent passage of RCW 9A.88.070, which makes promoting prostitution through threat or force a Class B felony. Those of us in law enforcement need to do more to protect these victims, who are both vulnerable and invisible.

Attorney General McKenna’s words should not be ignored. His office has delved into the increasingly violent crimes associated with criminal street gangs, and his depth of knowledge on the topic comes from engaging with affected communities, civic leaders and police agencies. He knows well that many young women are not willing participants in the sex trade – they are dehumanized commodities in the human trafficking market, locked in place by violent street thugs.

And unlike Gary Ridgway, these creeps are hiding in plain sight.

Leave a comment Comments → 12
  1. wyecoyote says:

    Gang involvement of prostitution has been going on for some time. Be it the “street gangs” of today or the old school Mafia gangs of old. Organized crime has always been involved in prostitution. While I agree getting the gang element out of it would we really stop it one way or another? Would legalization like they have in parts of Nevada really get rid of it? Obviously not since in Las Vegas it still happens. I have to think that if we did leagilze prosititution those wanting or needing to get into it leagaly would be able to get involved safer. While then police resources could then go after the street walkers and underlying criminal elements. Though that hasn’t worked well in Neveda but has worked better in other countries. It is to me something that will always be around no matter what we do one way or another. Question Brian, would unlimited police resources really put a stop to prostitution? Or would it drive it out of one area and to another?

  2. Brian O'Neill says:

    Thanks for your comment, wyecoyote. The point of the column was not to suggest ways of eradicating prostitution, a problem which has been tackled by much greater minds throughout history.My concern is for the girls and women (not to mention children and men) who are literal slaves in the sex trade. Much of the responsibility for their current condition can be laid at the feet of gang thugs, and that is the issue that needs to be understood and addressed.

  3. Brian, I was watching TVW for a couple minutes, There was a police officer testifying before a committee who stated that there wasn’t much in the way of resources to help these gals get out of prostitution.

    Do you know if anything was done by the legislature?

  4. Brian O'Neill says:

    I missed the interview, pawl, but I am unaware of any legislation or funding that has been earmarked for helping prostitutes escape the lifestyle and find other work. There is also the fact that not all of them either want to or are capable of making the leap. For those who do, our system should provide the means. I’ll have to check out the interview.

  5. BlaineCGarver says:

    Pick the girls up, and offer them fare out of town….if they refuse, note it, and ignore the problem. Why can’t the pimps be busted when you watch this happen? ACLU too tough?

  6. Brian O'Neill says:

    No matter how bad the crime – and human trafficking is low on the scale of depravity – the court still requires evidence. Promoting prostitution usually involves the pimp and the prostitute, neither of which are willing to offer up testimony (though the latter may be reluctant out of fear for her safety).

    If it were easy to solve this particular problem, it would have been done already. The ACLU has nothing to do with it.

  7. BlaineCGarver says:

    Even if you rounded up a bus full and let them go again, just to put a crimp in their plans?

  8. Chippert says:

    First, there is absolutely NOTHING that is going to stop prostitution! It has been around since humans first created the barter and monetary systems, and it will always been here. The challenge is not to eradicate it. You may as well try to fly to the moon by flapping your arms. The challenge is to take incentive to victimize the prostitutes. That can only be done by legalization and regulation. Would that completely stop the seedy elements? No, not as long as there are people willing to pay for cheap sex. But it would be a start in making it a respectable, clean and appropriate business who contributes to society And the tax money could be earmarked for sex trade enforcement. In short, if you can’t stop it, legalize it and make it pay.

  9. vickistired says:

    Why isn’t anybody talking about the johns? The customers? So long as it’s perceived as a victimless crime, men who use prostitutes will never truly see their actions as wrong – and they ARE WRONG. Go after the middle-aged man who buys sex with a 14 year old. There are programs in Illinois and in California similar to drunk driving programs, where after the first offense the men are sent to “john school,” where their eyes are opened to the consequences of their acts being it women who are trafficked (nobody really CHOOSES “the life”), the sexually transmitted diseases, the damage to their marriage – etc etc. The answer cannot always be to just legalize it – should we also legalize meth, since we can’t seem to control that either?

  10. brymarbuch says:

    Why can’t the pimps and johns be arrested for pedophilia if the prostitutes are so young? There should be a tv show just like “to catch a predator” that goes after those advertising young women on back page and craig’s list.

  11. Chippert says:

    vickistired, underage prostitution is always a crime with a victim. No one proposes legalizing prostitution with minors! And you are very wrong, there are many women who would choose a job (and career) in prostitution in places where it is legal. One of the goals of legalized prostitution is to address the health issues and prevent as far as possible the transmission of STDs.

    No, you can’t legalize meth, heroin or other life-threatening or personality-altering drugs that will present a danger to society, but legalized and controlled prostitution is nowhere in that category.

  12. ruledbysun says:

    Might as well say legalize a child that has been abused to go on doing the only thing she has felt worthy to do. That is not the solution. I believe in exposing those buying and selling these girls, shut down backpage.com, and prevention is the answer.

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