Guest Opinions

Sex trafficking a serious Tri-City problem

There are two forms of the Not In My Backyard or NIMBY mentality.

The first is most commonly viewed as a protest, such as: “That sewage treatment plant will NOT be built within smelling distance of my house!”

Then there’s the head-in-the-sand denial form of NIMBY: “Sex trafficking only happens in big cities, not in the Tri Cities! Not in MY community!”

Sorry, but no matter how far you try to put your head in the sand, it can’t be denied: Sex trafficking is a serious problem here. In fact, the annual Boat Races are considered the Super Bowl of the Tri Cities where trafficking is very prevalent.

Ten years ago, in an effort to stem the growing problem of human trafficking in the Tri Cities, Richland Police Chief Jeff Taylor, with the support of other police departments and Homeland Security, formed a task force — Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC).

Their success has resulted in other law enforcement agencies throughout the Pacific Northwest turning to them for support and training. Since 2017, multiple stings have resulted in the arrest of over 40 individuals, including a cleric, an educator and a scientist.

Recognition of the need for community awareness of child sex trafficking led to the formation of the Tri-Cities Soroptimist Against Trafficking (TCSAT) in 2011.

TCSAT has held public forums, runs, and education and training events on child sex trafficking for educators, prosecutors and members of law enforcement agencies, health-care providers, and social-service organizations.

Presentations also have been made to service clubs and social and religious organizations. In 2012, a need for community-wide coordination among first responders resulted in the Tri-Cities Coalition Against Trafficking (TC-CAT).

Traffickers sometimes groom not only the victim but the family, the community, congregations, and coworkers to gain the trust of others to make it easier to get to the victim and easier to deny any allegations.

Forbes has declared human trafficking, a $150 billion industry, a pandemic of the 21st century. Washington was the first state to criminalize human trafficking. Eighty-four percent of trafficking victims were physically abused as children while 60-70 percent come through the foster care system or child social services

Theresa Flores was trafficked at 15. She lived in an upper class neighborhood of Detroit with both parents who were unaware that she was being sexually blackmailed and trafficked. She is now a bestselling author and advocate.

Her efforts have led to stop-trafficking legislation across the country. She created Save Our Adolescents from Prostitution (S.O.A.P), a nonprofit that has distributed more than a million bars of soap throughout the country with the National Human Trafficking Hotline printed on the bars.

TCSAT is bringing Flores to the Tri Cities to tell her story at a free-to-the-public Community Conversation on April 24 at 7:00 p.m. at the Columbia Center Rotary Event Center at 6222 John Day Avenue. Flores and local law enforcement will discuss the prevalence of sex trafficking, what is being done to combat it here and what citizens can do to stop sex trafficking of minors.

Marilyn Heasley has been a member of Soroptimist International of Three Rivers (SI3R) since 2006. She also serves on the boards of the Support, Advocacy and Resource Center (SARC) and Meadow Springs Country Club.

If you go to the sex trafficking forum:

When: Wednesday, April 24

Time: 7 p.m.

Where: The Columbia Center Rotary Event Center, 6222 John Day Ave., Kennewick

Cost: Free