Washington’s Ending Exploitation Collaborative is Addressing the Problem of Sex Trafficking at its Root

It is estimated that 300-500 children are exploited by sex trafficking in Seattle, annually.
September 12, 2019

By: Justin Shan

It is estimated that 300-500 children are exploited by sex trafficking in Seattle, annually. But it’s not just children. Vulnerable adults are also subjected to the severe trauma of being sold by traffickers and abused by buyers each day. The truth is that no one is immune to the threat of human trafficking; commercial sexual exploitation will not end until sex buyers stop driving the demand.

Sex trafficking is fueled by the law of supply and demand. The constant demand for commercial sex means the need for an endless supply of human victims. Therefore, to truly end the crime of sex buying in a community, it is crucial to start with demand reduction.

This is where the Ending Exploitation Collaborative (EEC) comes in. The EEC is a leading-edge multisector partnership between two government agencies and three non-profit organizations that have been nationally recognized for their innovative demand reduction strategies in the fight against human trafficking in Washington State. The collaborative includes the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, the Washington State Office of the Attorney General, Businesses Ending Slavery and Trafficking (BEST), the Organization for Prostitution Survivors (OPS), and Seattle Against Slavery (SAS). With one collective vision, this group is working tirelessly toward ending the commercial sexual exploitation of vulnerable people in Washington State.

BEST’s role in the EEC is to work with business leaders to help build healthy workplace culture and create workplace policies that help prevent sex-buying. This is important because a large portion of sex buyers are actually corporate employees. These buyers use work phones and computers to surf the illicit sex market during the workday, then arrange meet-ups with traffickers and victims on business properties or through business services such as hotels or massage parlors. BEST’s training program shows business employees that sex buying is not inconsequential. In fact, it’s harmful to victims, and harmful to employees if they are caught by law enforcement or their employers. “That awareness and that implementation show a sex buyer that you will lose your job if you do this,” explains Charlotte Lapp, the EEC’s Statewide Manager.

Moreover, the EEC also works with the criminal justice system in Washington to shift the focus away from arresting trafficking victims, and onto capturing and prosecuting the sex buyers. This is because ultimately, buyers are the ones doing the harm by fueling the demand for sex trafficking. They are responsible for the recruitment of new sex trafficking victims.

In order to help hold buyers accountable, SAS created an artificial intelligence (AI) program that poses as a sex trafficking victim and “chats” with potential buyers online. After the AI gathers enough information on when, where, and how a person is going to purchase sex, it then passes on that information to the police, so the buyer can be busted by law enforcement for their crime.

The EEC works to educate prosecutors on the legislation in Washington State that ensures a portion of the fines and fees associated with human trafficking cases are used to help support direct services for survivors and prevention work in that community.

​Survivor service organizations like OPS help provide resources and assistance to help human trafficking survivors have an opportunity to return to a life that’s free from exploitation.

The EEC’s multisector anti-trafficking tactics have been proven to deter many sex buyers. However, to truly eradicate sex trafficking from its root, there has to be a positive change in social attitude. Since ultimately, demand is developed and maintained from toxic social norms.

Changing social attitudes is a complex process that requires everyone in a community to work together in collaboration. This is why the EEC is bringing different organizations together to work towards one shared goal—to prevent the exploitation of vulnerable people through sex trafficking. “It is not just the government, or just private sector, or just non-profits,” Lapp emphasizes. “But it needs to really be everybody doing their part to create that cultural shift to reduce the amount of sexual exploitation that happens.”

Justin Shan is a communication and psychology major at the University of Washington who recently completed an internship with BEST. He is interested in entering a career in public relations and marketing after his anticipated graduation in June 2020. He can be reached at yuehs@uw.edu.