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Originally published Friday, January 11, 2013 at 8:14 PM

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Ad campaign targets human trafficking, sex exploitation

King County is launching a campaign to raise awareness about human trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation that includes ads in six languages that will be posted on 200 Metro buses.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Yasmin Christopher's father was wealthy, earned a doctorate from the University of Washington and had ties that took him around the world.

He also forced his wife and immigrant relatives into working from dawn to dusk at a 65-acre farm in Oakville, Grays Harbor County.

"My father was a trafficker, and my mother was a child bride," Christopher, a Seattle University law student, said Friday at a news conference to announce King County's new campaign to raise awareness about human trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation.

The campaign will include posting ads in six languages on 200 Metro buses. The ads are intended to reach potential victims as well as the general public.

The ad campaign, which was donated and will be posted for free on county buses, will cost taxpayers next to nothing, Metropolitan King County Executive Dow Constantine said at the news conference.

Human trafficking, as defined under federal law, includes children involved in the commercial sex trade, adults 18 or older who are coerced or deceived into commercial sex acts, and anyone forced into different forms of labor or services against their will or under threat.

It is lucrative and fast-growing enterprise, with an estimated 32 million victims worldwide, of which half are children, Constantine said.

In addition to the sex industry, trafficked people can be found among domestic workers, restaurant employees and farm hands, as well as other fields.

"This is a form of modern-day slavery," said County Councilmember Reagan Dunn.

While Washington became the first state in the nation to criminalize human trafficking in 2003, it remains a focal point for traffickers because of its ports, proximity to an international border and its dependency on agricultural workers, Dunn said.

In addition to the ads, the county has partnered with other organizations to provide some of the social services that exploited people most need, including access to stable and safe housing, immigration lawyers and other assistance.

Victims, as well as people who suspect that someone is being victimized, are urged to call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline at 888-373-7888 to report a tip or to seek help.

Among the signs that someone could be a victim of human traffickers are workers who are not allowed to come and go as they please; have been stripped of their documentation; or show signs of physical or emotional abuse, according to King County officials.

Christopher said her mother, as well as other relatives, were brought from Bangladesh to the U.S. to work on the farm. Their situation was discovered when a tenacious detective with the Gray's Harbor Sheriff's Office was called out to investigate her aunt's suicide and sensed something was wrong, she said.

Before that, she said, "nobody seemed to question anything."

She didn't discuss the family's plight, or how they were forced to work on the farm, at length. But she said her father, who now lives in Eastern Washington, was convicted of indecent liberties in Grays Harbor County and served 18 months of a four-year sentence, she said.

Christopher said there are no simple or absolute answers for dealing with human trafficking or its victims, and she understands people might feel a little funny about calling a number to report their suspicions.

"It might seem nosy," she said. ... "But if you were right, you might allow somebody else to be up here speaking in a year or 10 years, or allow their children the same thing."

Christine Clarridge: 206-464-8983 or cclarridge@seattletimes.com

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