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Originally published Tuesday, April 17, 2012 at 3:34 PM

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On the front lines in the battle against human trafficking

State lawmakers, local law enforcement and advocates fighting sex trafficking are doing the Lord's work. But they need resources and a public willing to shed its image of prostitution as something from the movie "Pretty Woman."

Seattle Times Editorial Columnist

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More information on the Genesis Project can be found at:

http://www.gpseattle.org/

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D'Marco Mobley pimped out three young women, including a 17-year-old. To keep them on the "job," he regularly beat and sexually assaulted them, locking one in a car trunk for 28 hours.

A King County Superior Court jury convicted Mobley of eight counts of robbery, kidnapping, rape, promoting prostitution and commercial sexual abuse of a minor. On Friday, the criminal who once aspired to be the "biggest gangster in Seattle" is expected to receive the biggest sentence in a human trafficking case in Washington state.

As America nears the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation and the end of legal slavery, it's important to draw a connection with modern-day slavery — selling someone's body or labor through use of force, fear or coercion.

Human trafficking is a $32 billion global industry, the fastest-growing and second-largest criminal activity in the world — tied with arms dealing and after drug dealing. A welcome convergence of attention and political will has pushed Washington state to the front lines of the battle. State Attorney General Rob McKenna leads the National Association of Attorneys General's anti-trafficking campaign. His focus on this issue will be missed after his leadership term ends in June.

Sustained energy in the battle came from the Legislature, which passed a dozen anti-trafficking bills in a single session. Gov. Chris Gregoire signed them.

The U.S. ambassador for human trafficking, Luis CdeBaca, is impressed by this region's efforts, because to win, the fight must be waged at the local level with local resources and public support. CdeBaca cites hate crimes as an example of federal efforts picked up and sustained by local law enforcement.

"That's what we'd like to see happen with human slavery," he says. "If the local sheriff makes it clear that this is his priority, you'll see everyone respond to that."

It so happens Steve Strachan, appointed King County's interim sheriff earlier this month, is positioning his department to be a "significant player on the team" fighting trafficking. The Seattle Police Department has garnered well-deserved attention for cracking down on pimps and rescuing underaged prostitutes, but King County sheriff's deputies are doing good work with fewer resources. A worthy example is Deputy Andy Conner, founder of the Genesis Project, a place with food, shelter and services for young girls rescued from the streets.

An aggressive mix of law enforcement and social services is the right approach. Add a vigorous push against the Internet's profitable online sex-advertising market. According to law enforcement, Mobley carried a laptop so he could advertise a 17-year-old girl and two other women at a moment's notice. He'd rent a motel room and then place an ad, often on Backpage.com — an ugly version of hanging out a shingle. A recently passed state law makes it a felony to knowingly sell or publish ads for commercial sex featuring a minor. That helps to get at commercial entities enabling guys like Mobley.

Pressure on Backpage.com continues. Religious leaders — representing Jews, Sikhs, Baptists, Hindus and Muslims nationwide — last month delivered more than 230,000 signatures to Village Voice Media, owners of Backpage.com, demanding the company shut down the adult advertising section on its website.

Law enforcement, state lawmakers and local advocates fighting sex trafficking are doing the Lord's work. The focus ought to remain a priority of local governments and law-enforcement agencies. Part of the challenge will be changing the public's perception of prostitution as a victimless crime. Girls as young as 14 are forced into a life that doesn't come close to the life depicted by actress Julia Roberts in "Pretty Woman."

Finding resources in tough economic times is another challenge. Higher fines against those who pay for sex helps, with half the money supporting law enforcement and half going to a victims' fund. The Legislature tightened civil forfeiture laws in the last session. The law didn't come in time to affect Mobley, who was driving a $78,000 Mercedes-Benz when he was nabbed by cops. But apprehending the next Mobley could fund an awful lot of law enforcement and services for young girls.

Lynne K. Varner's column appears regularly on editorial pages of The Times. Email: lvarner@seattletimes.com

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