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Originally published Tuesday, May 13, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Study sounds alarm on human trafficking in Spokane area

Human trafficking is a "considerable concern" in the Spokane area, contributing to teenage prostitution, forced labor and other ills, according...

SPOKANE — Human trafficking is a "considerable concern" in the Spokane area, contributing to teenage prostitution, forced labor and other ills, according to a new study.

"Trafficking victims work on our streets, are often held captive in residents' homes and hotels and travel over our highways to other destinations, where they will experience further exploitation and abuse," according to the report prepared by Debbie R. DuPey for the Western Regional Institute for Community Oriented Public Safety.

Such "victimization is of considerable concern for this region," DuPey wrote. "There is a wide spectrum of trafficking activities that include sex slavery, forced prostitution, forced panhandling, farm labor, janitorial work and domestic servitude."

25 agencies surveyed

The study consisted of a written survey and interviews with 25 service agencies last year.

Human trafficking "is a new issue for our region, and we are only beginning to assess the nature and extent of the problem," DuPey said.

Law-enforcement agencies "frequently fail to understand the severe human-rights abuses and suffering occurring through the exploitation of vulnerable humans of all types," said former Spokane County Sheriff John Goldman, institute director.

Washington state adopted the first anti-human-trafficking law in the nation, but few cases are prosecuted under that statute or the Federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act, partly "due to perception and misunderstanding," Goldman said.

"Too often, the victims are viewed first as criminals, and enforcement is aimed at the low-hanging fruit — prostitutes and illegal immigrants," he added.

First responders

Goldman said police, ambulance crews and other first responders need better training on the problem, which was broken into six categories in the study: gangs and organized crime, the prostitution industry, minors in prostitution, mail-order brides, labor exploitation and "other trafficking situations."

Prostitution accounts for the largest form of human trafficking in the region with an estimated 500 adult women and an unknown number of men and underage boys and girls providing sex for money through escort businesses, massage parlors, drug houses and on the streets, the study found.

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One of those surveyed in the study said about a third of those selling sex had been sold into prostitution by their mothers.

Male prostitution is "much hidden" and those involved "are especially vulnerable," DuPey wrote.

"Spokane has a significant teen prostitution problem and is considered an entry area for child prostitutes," the study found. The youngsters "are initiated here and then moved into larger metro areas."

The study also reported problems with mail-order brides, who frequently are divorced with children in their country of origin and disowned by their native families.

At least one man in the Spokane area has had five or six such brides, DuPey wrote.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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