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Federal Way fights sex trafficking

A photo from the Federal Way Coalition Against Trafficking website. The organization is dedicated to raising awareness and reducing demand for sex trafficking in Federal Way and South King County. - Courtesy of fwcat.org
A photo from the Federal Way Coalition Against Trafficking website. The organization is dedicated to raising awareness and reducing demand for sex trafficking in Federal Way and South King County.
— image credit: Courtesy of fwcat.org

With a dense population near 90,000 and a spectrum of socioeconomic conditions, Federal Way provides the perfect storm for human trafficking.

Victims defy stereotypes. They come from foster homes and so-called “normal” homes. Vulnerable young women with self-esteem issues typically fall for the romantic advances of pimps, who then manipulate victims into a sordid life of forced prostitution and labor.

“Just drive up from 320th Street to 272nd Street,” said Det. Brian Taylor of the King County Sheriff’s Office, referring to the prostitutes who walk that stretch of Highway 99.

Taylor is also a Federal Way resident who works with the FBI’s Innocence Lost Task Force. He co-founded the Genesis Project to rescue young women from sex trafficking in the South King County area and help rebuild their lives. The Seattle area ranks among the top in the world for sexual exploitation of minors.

“It can happen to any girl,” said Taylor, adding that a large number of juvenile prostitution victims come from Federal Way.

In recent years, Washington state has adopted tougher penalties for pimps and sex traffickers. Taylor pointed to last year’s sentencing of D’Marco Mobley, a notorious pimp who received 37 years in prison, as a milestone in the effort to deter such crimes.

“What the pimps are doing to these young girls is akin to murder because they’re murdering their spirit,” said Taylor, himself a father of a teenage daughter. “It ends up in a vicious cycle and their life goes down the tube.”

The movement to end human trafficking is gaining momentum. The Federal Way Coalition Against Trafficking (FWCAT) was established in 2011 by local volunteers to eliminate a problem that affects all ages and backgrounds.

Awareness is key to reducing the number of victims. FWCAT volunteers have worked in Federal Way schools — including Thomas Jefferson High School and Sacajawea Middle School — with a program called “Deceptions.” FWCAT co-founder Brenda Oliver is on a mission to extend the organization’s reach to parents across the city. Another goal is to involve Federal Way businesses in spreading awareness of a problem that can happen to anyone.

“It’s a start with students to keep our kids safe,” Oliver said. “I was surprised how many of our youth didn’t realize it wasn’t an issue.”

Oliver lauded several Federal Way entities that have joined FWCAT’s fight. On Tuesday, the city issued a proclamation to declare Jan. 10 as Human Trafficking Awareness Day, with a similar designation for the month of January. The proclamation was signed by Mayor Skip Priest, Federal Way Police Chief Brian Wilson and the Federal Way City Council.

For its service project this spring, the Advancing Leadership class of 2013 has selected FWCAT. Advancing Leadership (AL) is part of the Federal Way Chamber of Commerce and will add the muscle of 30 volunteers to assist FWCAT in its efforts.

“Our team just wants to help elevate their message,” said AL director Teri Hickel. “(FWCAT is) just so passionate about really making a difference for kids.”

Jan. 9 forum

The second annual human trafficking forum runs 7 to 9 p.m. Jan. 9 at City Hall. Guest speakers include Wilson, who will discuss the department’s strategy to combat human trafficking. Other speakers include Peter Qualliotine, co-founder of Organization for Prostitution Survivors, and Nick Lembo from Defenders and Shared Hope International.

To learn more about the Federal Way Coalition Against Trafficking (FWCAT), visit www.fwcat.org.

FYI

In one high-profile local case, eight people were indicted in January 2012 for allegedly operating an interstate prostitution ring at Blue Moon, a Korean nightclub in Federal Way. Organizers of the scheme sought Korean females to work as "bar girls." The women entertained male clients and set up meetings for paid sex, according to the U.S. Attorney's office. Many of the women were recruited overseas and worked as “hostesses” at the club to repay their travel and living expenses.

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