Human trafficking may be closer to home than you think

Shawna Seals and Detective Harry James watch a video about human trafficking, Wednesday at City Hall. - Megan Stephenson/ Herald
Shawna Seals and Detective Harry James watch a video about human trafficking, Wednesday at City Hall.
— image credit: Megan Stephenson/ Herald

POULSBO — Those who work in the prevention of human trafficking want the public to see it as a broader problem that can affect men, women and children.

Human trafficking doesn’t just mean a young woman being sexually exploited. It can also mean a farm laborer or a cleaning woman being forced to work for little or no pay through fear or coercion.

People like Shawna Seals, a member of the North Kitsap Optimist Club and founder of Peninsula Lighthouse Ministries, want the public to know about this “modern-day slavery.” And for the first time, several organizations teamed up to present a plethora of seminars, films and events to educate Kitsap residents.

All this month, which was declared  National  Slavery  and Human  Trafficking  Prevention Month by President Obama, the series Breaking Free from Human Trafficking-Kitsap has been presenting on college campuses and in theaters, coffee shops and city halls. Earlier, Poulsbo Mayor Becky Erickson declared Jan. 11 Human Trafficking Awareness Day in the city.

Seals hosted a panel seminar on Jan. 25 at Poulsbo’s City Hall to an interactive crowd, many of whom could not help but gasp at some of the statistics.

Human trafficking is a $32 billion a year industry — tied with arms dealing and just behind drug trafficking. Ninety-five percent of the women in the sex industry are under age 24. Detective Harry James of the Seattle Police Department gave a presentation entitled “Somebody’s Daughter.”

Jacke Thayer of Poulsbo sat near the front, and said she was impressed with what James had to say.

“Law enforcement needs to be on top of things,” she said. “I know [trafficking] takes place in every city across the world.”

Thayer has been involved in combating sex trafficking for several years, and even visited India with Linda Smith, founder of trafficking prevention organization Shared Hope International, to see some of the conditions for herself.

James said trafficking comes in many forms and plagues even Seattle. In his 43 years as a police officer, he now works with the FBI on the Innocent Lost Task Force, a high-risk victims unit. He said in his line of work, it is critical to work with NGOs — non-governmental organizations — to not only track the perpetrators and pimps, but to rescue and counsel the victims.

Members of the Optimist Club, North Kitsap Soroptimist Club, and Bikers Against Child Abuse also gave presentations about Internet safety and advocating for children. Seals said she hopes to help host the same events next year.

“This is my passion,” she said.


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