Richard Smaby

On Feb. 19 the City Club of Tacoma hosted a panel on human trafficking. While there are various purposes for human trafficking, e.g., cheap labor, this panel focused on sex trafficking involving teenagers. Sex trafficking is a multibillion dollar a year industry. The audience heard presentations from national and local leaders and personal testimonials from a victim and the mother of a girl who went missing after getting involved in sex trafficking. No one could have walked out of the room without a profound sadness at the abuse the victims of sex trafficking are experiencing. The panel also provided information on how to learn more and take action against this terrible practice.

Jo Lembo is Awareness Ambassador with Shared Hope International, a worldwide organization that battles sex trafficking. She writes and speaks about sex trafficking with minors. She described in detail the organizational structure of sex traffickers and the ways in which they entrap young people into prostitution. There are classes of traffickers. A spotter earns $400 to $600 for identifying a girl or boy to target. A recruiter’s job is to provide as much information about the target as possible. The pimp grooms the target, say a girl. He will work on the target through her vulnerabilities to convince her that he loves her and create the illusion of a relationship. He then will ask her to perform sex with a friend as a way for them to earn some money or he might have her raped by a group and videotape the rape and use the tape to blackmail her into staying with him. A single girl will earn between $500 and $1000 a night and a pimp will run three or four girls. Drivers deliver girls to hotels up and down the I-5 corridor. Each girl represents a significant investment and is a serious source of income. Here is a detailed outline of this culture.

Nick Lembo is director and chairman of the Defenders USA, a branch of Shared Hope International that focuses on changing men’s behavior. Men are the primary customers of sex trafficking. They are typically ordinary citizens: businessmen, lawyers and lonely men. Traffickers, overwhelmingly male, are themselves often manipulated, e.g., starting out just driving a girl and her pimp somewhere.

Dianne Zoro is a Federal Way mother and the Law Enforcement Chair of the Federal Way Coalition Against Trafficking. The Coalition works with the police in Federal Way to arrest the traffickers instead of the victims. She told the City Club that she hasn’t seen her daughter, Danica, in six years. Danica disappeared from a South Sound motel after being manipulated into becoming a prostitute. Since then Dianne has joined the battle against sex trafficking and learned that every high school in Federal Way has encountered trafficking issues in one form or another.

Rose Gundersen, Executive J.D., is co-founder and Executive Director of Washington Engage. She described how Washington Engage brings together various anti-trafficking organizations in Washington State. They also formulate legislation to combat sex trafficking. There currently is a memorial in the Washington State legislature, SJM 8003, which asks Congress to update the Communications Decency Act to to authorize states to enact and enforce laws holding Internet service providers responsible when they knowingly facilitate child sex trafficking through the sale of adult escort advertisements. Write, call and visit the offices of your representatives and senators. Read about the role of the Internet.

Danielle is a six year survivor of prostitution as a result of sex trafficking. She was prostituted from 10 to 14 years old, because she just wanted to be loved. She was given drugs and alcohol to make her more compliant; was arrested and thrown into jail; and had children during this time. Her children were placed in protective custody. She worked hard to get clean, motivated by her desire to get her children back, and in 2009 she graduated from dependency court. She is now married, has been reunited with her children, and has a job, a difficult challenge for a person with a record like hers.

Read a detailed report on sex trafficking.

Shared Hope International will present a free short documentary film screening and follow-up discussion at the Wilson High School auditorium, 1202 N. Orchard St., Tacoma, March 5 at 7 p.m.  Here is the link to the promo from the Tacoma Public Schools website. The 20-minute video tells the true story of two All-American girls tricked into the sex trade. Eighteen-year-old Brianna was an honor-roll student and cheerleader, and worked at a local cafe. Thirteen-year-old Lacy was an active member of her youth group, and a volunteer in her community. The video aims to equip preteens and teens to protect themselves and others from being trapped in the horrific and violent sex industry. In addition, Shared Hope International has resources to help educators and school counselors on the front lines understand the warning signs of sex trafficking.