PASCO -- Former child trafficking victim Khurshida Begum wonders how many people saw her during the years she lived in slavery south of Olympia and wondered about her, but did nothing.
Begum and eight of her family members were bought by a man who visited her impoverished village in Bangladesh when she was 3 and convinced her father that he would be selling her into a better life in the United States.
But rather than the American education promised, she and her siblings were tortured, beaten, raped and forced to work on an isolated farm day and night, she told more than 100 people at Columbia Basin College in Pasco at a Friday event sponsored by the Tri-Cities Coalition to Stop Human Trafficking.
They repeatedly were taken to emergency rooms for injuries that doctors and nurses were told were "accidental," but that Begum said were the result of abuse.
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No one ever reported this man with nine Bangladeshi children who didn't speak English, and who suffered frequent injuries, she said.
It took the suicide of her 14-year-old cousin -- after Begum had been captive for more than a decade -- to bring official attention to the situation and set them free.
And her captor served only 18 months in jail, she said.
That was in the early 1990s, well before Washington had anti-human trafficking laws.
Human trafficking is in effect modern day slavery, in which people -- including children -- are sold into forced labor, prostitution, debt bondage, or forced marriages through fraud or coercion.
It has been a crime in Washington since 2003, and the Legislature gradually has added more and more teeth.
But Attorney General Rob McKenna said there is more work yet to be done.
The state needs stiffer penalties and stronger tools for tackling the use of the internet in the human trafficking trade.
McKenna, as president of the National Association of Attorneys General, has made it a mission to go after the backpage.com website, which he said is used to advertise for the sex trade.
"The attitude from backpage.com's owners brought to my office is that these ads are from hardworking entrepreneurs who have chosen to sell their bodies," McKenna said.
"What we have learned about human trafficking is there are very few volunteers. They are not prostitutes. They are people who have been prostituted. We need to understand this basic fact and realign our thinking."
Begum said we also need to be willing to stand up for victims and take action -- even if it's as simple as making a phone call -- if we think something is wrong.
"If you see something, if you suspect something, do something," she said. "Take some action."
The Tri-Cities Coalition to Stop Human Trafficking next meets at 6 p.m. Nov. 15 at the Richland Public Library.