A measure that would allow the Washington State Department of Transportation to place informational posters about human trafficking in rest stops on state highways was passed unanimously Wednesday by the Washington Senate.
The posters encourage those who need help or those who see a possible victim to call the authorities. Senate Bill 6330 now moves to the House.
Bill sponsor Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle, said the WSDOT has already been working with community groups to put the posters inside rest stops along Interstate 5, a prominent trafficking route.
The fear is that hundreds of victims could be transported through Washington state on their way to Vancouver, B.C., for the Winter Olympics.
Kohl-Welles said that while it isn’t possible to get the bill signed into law by Friday, the start of the Olympics, the measure would help address the problem in the future. Advocacy groups have indicated a willingness to pay for the posters.
A preliminary copy handed out at an anti-trafficking lobbying day event last month reads: “Need Help?” in seven languages, and contains the image of two hands chained together and the number to an anti-trafficking hot line.
“This is a growing problem,” said Sen. Dan Swecker, R-Rochester. “It’s affecting underage children. It’s affecting many young women and some young men’s lives. It’s a pox on our society. This is just one more tiny step in getting the message out that help is available.”
Victim advocacy groups say that at least 100,000 domestic minors, or children born in the U.S., are among those coerced into the sex industry, which includes prostitution, stripping, exotic dancing and pornography.
Pre-teen and adolescent girls are the most susceptible.
“We know that human trafficking is on the rise and young girls are being brought across borders into the state of Washington, through the state of Washington, as well as from abroad,” Kohl-Welles said. “We’re talking about American citizens, we’re talking as well about people coming in illegally and lured into prostitution.”