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Originally published Wednesday, December 19, 2012 at 4:01 PM

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Op-ed: Put an end to sex trafficking

Human trafficking or modern slavery is not just in the movies. It’s closer than you think, writes guest columnist Karen Olcott.

Special to The Times

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MY dad told me to “remember the value of a backward glance” and to look forward while looking back. We would not want to be on the wrong side of history.

Way back in Mesopotamia, slavery was first practiced more than 10,000 years ago.

History has struggled with the issue and in 1863, President Lincoln abolished slavery in the United States. Today, these lessons of our underground history spring to widescreen digital life with blockbuster movies about ending slavery in “Lincoln,” “Les Miserables” and now the gritty and stark documentary about sex trafficking in Seattle called “Rape for Profit.”

Let’s not miss the point and sit idle on the wrong side of history: Human trafficking or modern slavery is not just in the movies. It’s closer than you think.

Human trafficking is a $32 billion business and the fastest-growing criminal enterprise in the world. It is tied with illegal arms as the second-largest illicit global operation after drug dealing, and is prohibited by international, national, state and local laws.

Yet there are 30 million slaves in the world today, more than at any other point in human history. It persists because of the high profit and low risk in the exploitation of human beings. Like water, human trafficking runs into the cracks and crevices of civil society.

Each year, 2 million children are exploited in the global commercial sex trade, with 100,000 to 300,000 American children at high risk for trafficking, where the average age is 13 years old.

Here in the Puget Sound, it is estimated that 300 to 500 girls are exploited every night. Their pimps earn roughly $400,000 per year.

The definition of human trafficking, as adopted by the United Nations in 2000, is the use of “force, fraud or coercion” on a woman, man or child for sex and labor exploitation. It’s not a trade that anyone ever signs up for. It’s something done to the unwilling, and unlike guns or drugs, a person can be used over and over, as the cunning businessperson rakes in an average 63 percent profit margin.

So how can we ignore this open wound on society?

In September at the Clinton Global Initiative, President Obama asked the U.S. and international community to step up efforts to help victims of human trafficking around the globe. Obama said he was not using the term “slavery” lightly, noting that it evoked a painful past for America. He called it an “injustice” and an “outrage.” Human trafficking, Obama said, “must be called by its true name: modern slavery.”

Washington state has been a forerunner of policy, legislation and civic engagement, with champions such as the Metropolitan King County Council, Seattle City Council, Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn, state Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles and former state Rep. Velma Veloria working with pioneering nonprofits and community organizations in our region.

As the recent president of the National Association of Attorneys General, Washington’s Rob McKenna launched a standing initiative across all 50 states. “Washington state lawmakers, Republican and Democrats alike, are national leaders on this important issue,” said McKenna. “This is not a partisan issue — it is a human-rights issue for the 21st century.”

This Northwest leadership is creating a huge spinnaker wind for the movement across the U.S. It is accelerating the conversation, the cultural change and the outcry that urges the heart to do something, anything, everything.

I urge you adopt a zero tolerancefor human trafficking. Join The Freedom Movement at, engage with leading organizations and experts, and turn the primal scream into a collective shout to end human trafficking.

Let’s get history right, Dad.

Karen Olcott of Partnerships for Global Impact is building alliances to end human trafficking. If you suspect trafficking, call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 888-373-7888.

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