PORT ANGELES — Human trafficking is a problem even on the North Olympic Peninsula, but it doesn’t look like what most people think it looks like, said Clallam County Prosecuting Attorney Mark Nichols.
Nichols spoke at Peninsula College’s Studium Generale on Thursday, saying January is National Human Trafficking Prevention Month.
The image of human trafficking that many have from the national news depicting people loaded into large trucks and driven across a border is not accurate, he said.
Human trafficking is about the trafficker’s conduct, not the victim’s, Nichols said.
The crime is about exploitation and coercion; movement is not required, and movement doesn’t have to be across a border.
“The United Nations describes human trafficking as the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of people through force, fraud or deception, with the aim of exploiting them for profit,” he said.
Federal law defines human trafficking as “the recruitment, transportation, harboring, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services through the use of force, fraud or coercion, for the purposes of subjecting that person to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage or slavery.”
“Washington state has a rich history of human trafficking,” Nichols said.
He said a 2008 attorney general’s report stated human trafficking had occurred in 18 Washington counties, while adding that is the minimum and the number is higher now.
Victims range from “mail-order” brides to sex workers to domestic workers and children, he said, adding local victims have come from Russia, the Philippines, China and Mexico.
Federal law focuses on three elements: the trafficker’s acts, means and purpose; the crime can include forced labor or domestic servitude, he said.
Washington was the first state to criminalize human trafficking after three immigrant women in the mid-1990s told their stories of being mail-order brides, he said.
House Bill 1175 was passed in 2003. It created two human trafficking crimes, both Class A felonies, and expanded the definition of criminal profiteering to include the crime of trafficking. All states soon followed.
Washington state, including Clallam County, is a hotbed for human trafficking due to several factors: an abundance of ports, vast rural areas, dependency on agricultural workers and an international border.
“It’s occurring outside the public eye, but all aspects are here in Clallam County,” Nichols said.
Nichols referred to the case of Patrick Callahan, 62, of Port Angeles who was sentenced Thursday afternoon to 20 years in prison for crimes including human trafficking with sexual motivation.
The case involved a father-daughter-type relationship and the power dynamic was a large element in the case, Nichols said.
The prison sentence reflected the ongoing pattern of sexual abuse and Callahan’s misuse of his position of trust, he said.
Reporter Brian Gawley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.