RICHLAND -- Sarah Sweeney stopped in her tracks when she read how Christian singer Natalie Grant got involved in the fight against human trafficking after she saw a 5-year-old girl held in a cage while visiting Mumbai, India.
The girl was let out only when men paid to rape her, which happened as many as 20 times a day.
The article was Sweeney's introduction to the worldwide problem of human trafficking, which happens even in Washington.
And it led Sweeney, 65, of Everett, to volunteer as the Washington director for Not For Sale, a California-based nonprofit working to end slavery.
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That's some of what Sweeney will share today when she tells Tri-Citians about human trafficking and what they can do to help end the abuse of humans by sex and labor trafficking.
Sweeney said estimates are that 30 million people are enslaved worldwide.
Human trafficking can look like many things, Sweeney said. It can be someone forced into prostitution or someone who was promised a chance to earn money to send home to their family and instead was forced to work for little to nothing.
The U.S. Department of Justice estimates more than 15,000 people are trafficked into the country each year and forced into prostitution or manual labor.
Washington is believed to be one of the top human trafficking destinations. But Washington also is on the forefront of the fight against human trafficking, Sweeney said.
The state was the first to pass a law against human trafficking, she said. And since that law went into effect, the Legislature has passed other bills to strengthen the fight against trafficking.
This year the Legislature passed a bill that allows law enforcement to listen to and record conversations with people suspected of underage sex trafficking when the victim agrees.
The state also has a federal task force on human trafficking based in Seattle, Sweeney said.
In the U.S., trafficking happens most commonly in agriculture, manufacturing, domestic service and janitorial services, hotel, construction, health and elder care, hair and nail salons and strip clubs, according to the U.S. Government's Trafficking in Persons Report for 2010.
Sometimes victims' passports are confiscated, little to no wages are paid, their ability to travel is restricted, and they are isolated or sexually and physically abused, according to the report.
Sweeney said the problem is that human trafficking can be somewhat invisible.
That's why she hopes to have communities get together and brainstorm ways to stop trafficking in their area.
There are many ways people can help, from donating to support international projects to end human trafficking to finding information about trafficking within their community and helping educate neighbors, Sweeney said.
It can be as simple as making choices on what to purchase.
Not For Sale has a list of things people can do to help on its website.
Sweeney said she would like to see the Tri-Cities area join with the Western Washington Coalition Against Human Trafficking, a group Sweeney started that works with Not For Sale but sets its own agenda.
Sweeney said she doesn't think of herself as an activist, although one of the missions of Not for Sale is to empower activists. Instead, she thinks of it as being a catalyst for change.
"I'm like a private in an army and the army is fighting against injustice," she said.
If you go
* Sarah Sweeney's presentation is from 7 to 8:30 p.m. today at Bethel Church's fellowship hall, 600 Shockley Road, Richland.
* The free presentation is appropriate for children older than 13.