Val Richey, King County senior deputy prosecuting
attorney, has been working with local law enforcement over the past year
to solve the problem of human trafficking — an issue he said the
prosecutor’s office has handled incorrectly.
“We were arresting the prostitutes, but
still seeing increases in prostitution cases throughout the county,”
Richey said. “We realized the problem wasn’t the prostitutes, but the
men out there buying them. The true problem of human trafficking is the
high demand for buying sex in our area.”
Richey spoke about how the prosecutor’s
office is working to solve the issue of the demand for soliciting sex at
a community forum held Jan. 8 at Federal Way City Hall. The event was
put on by the Federal Way Coalition Against Trafficking, a local group
that educates the Federal Way community and students on the issues of
“The women being sold for sex are usually
not there by choice, they have suffered greatly in their life and need
help,” Richey said. “They are out there because there are men wanting to
buy sex and exploiters take advantage of this.”
In a 2008 survey Richey’s office
conducted, they found that at any time, there is an estimated 300-500
prostituted children around 12-14 years old in King County each year.
The study found more than 27,000 men are actively soliciting sex online
at one of 100 websites in King County per day.
“Sexual exploitation is frequently
thought of as a woman’s issue, however, we believe that all people have a
role to play in ending human trafficking and sexual exploitation and
that it is essential for men to play a primary role in the solution to
the problem,” said Brenda Oliver, executive director of the Federal Way
Coalition Against Trafficking. “Violence against women is a human rights
The prosecutor’s office is now focusing
on arresting buyers, giving them harsh penalties when they are caught
and promoting the consequences of buying sex through various media
“The best way we can get rid of this
problem is to talk about it,” Richey said. “We want to make it a
socially unacceptable thing to do and to tell our buyers, ‘hey, you are
going to get caught.’”
One way the prosecutor’s office is doing that is by posting memes about how buying sex is wrong.
“We have found that these memes are
reaching the audience we want, which are younger men ages 18-24,” Richey
said. “That culture is heavily into social media and if we can make
them laugh and then stop and think about the message on this meme, it
will at least get the conversation going.”
Richey also partnered with organizations
such as the Organization for Prostitution Survivors and Real Escape from
the Sex Trade. These organizations are available to help men
considering buying or who have bought sex in the past.
“The men that buy sex don’t do it a
little, they do it quite a bit,” Richey said. “It’s important not only
to punish these men, but to spend time with them and provide them with
the resources they need so they don’t do it again.”
One requirement for buyers who are caught
is to go through a 10 week treatment program. Peter Qualliotine,
director of men’s accountability for Organization for Prostitution
Survivors, said men who buy sex often feel shamed by their actions.
“Deep down, they feel that is wrong,” he
said. “But there are various reasons they do that. Some have been
sexually hurt before and some are filling a void inside of them because
their ‘manhood’ has been compromised in some way.”
Qualliotine pointed out society places
harsh expectations on how men and women are supposed to act that is
impossible for anyone to meet.
“Men are raised to be unemotional, to be
aggressors, to fight and to get women,” Qualliotine said. “This is a
terrible thing to teach our young men because when we take away their
compassion and their feelings, the cost is their humanity.”
Qualliotine said women are taught that
good girls dress conservative, are quiet and respectful. Bad girls are
loud, rebellious and wear short skirts.
“This is a huge problem as well because
we are placing this responsibility of how women are treated on social
constructs,” he said. “There are no good girls or bad girls, there are
girls that are each very different and should all be treated with
respect by men. Social change and a shift in cultural norms are needed
to end the demand for commercial sexual exploitation.”
Richey is also working with law
enforcement to get them to send prostituted people to treatment centers
and work on arresting buyers.
“The Federal Way Police Department has
been one of our local departments that has been incredibly responsive
and interested in helping us solve this issue,” Richey said.
Federal Way Coalition Against Trafficking
is working with the Federal Way community on this issue by hosting a 5K
walk/run fundraising event May 16 at the Federal Way Farmer’s Market.
They are teaming up with local schools, parents, families and community
partners and sponsors for the third annual event. The goal of the event
is to raise money for local organizations supporting the cause and to
raise awareness of the issue.
Those interested can register online starting Jan. 15 at www.fwcat.org.
“We all have a role to play in helping
end human trafficking in our city,” said Edward Sumner, director of
development at Real Escape from the Sex Trade. “To defer that
responsibility to organizations and our police department is convenient
and altogether insufficient.”