Official: Human trafficking cases often don’t make it to court

PORT ANGELES — Human trafficking cases go unprosecuted in many instances, Kathleen Morris, program director for the Washington Anti-Trafficking Response Network, told students at Peninsula College’s recent Studium Generale.

There are also a lot of misconceptions about human trafficking, she told the group of a few dozen last Thursday.

Most not sex related

She said many people believe most human trafficking cases are sex related, which isn’t true.

Of the estimated 21 million human trafficking victims around the world, 21 percent are sex related and about 69 percent are forced labor.

“If you look at what the media reports, you’ll see the opposite,” she said.

In both cases, traffickers use many of the same strategies to control victims, she said. That includes taking away identification, vague threats, instilling a fear of law enforcement and other interpersonal violence and abuse.

She said it’s important for people to know exactly what human trafficking is.

“Human trafficking is the use of force, fraud or coercion to compel a person into any form of work against his or her will,” she said.

She said in Western Washington many of the cases she sees are of domestic servitude and in agriculture.

Morris, who said WARN is involved mostly in the Seattle area and other parts of Western Washington, said she hasn’t done much work on the Olympic Peninsula.

She said she has participated in a two-day training with the Forks Police Department and other law enforcement agencies.

There have been cases on the Olympic Peninsula where people are allegedly forced into salal picking, an industry that attracts migrant workers to harvest the foliage plant used in the floral industry, she said.

“More often than not, they are forced by someone else to go do that work,” she said, adding that it’s not always the employer forcing them to do the work. In some cases it could be someone who is providing housing to the victim.

Rarely prosecuted

She told the group that human trafficking cases are rarely prosecuted. WARN has served many victims, but not all cases go to court, she said.

“Law enforcement and prosecutors have tremendous discretion in the cases they pursue,” she said. “There just aren’t a lot of law enforcement that are specialized or well trained in this area.”

Victims don’t always want to prosecute and it can be difficult for law enforcement to find the evidence needed that would lead to a conviction, she said.

WARN helps victims

Though criminal charges might never be filed in many cases, WARN still works to help victims.

WARN helps people with immigration status, medical and mental health care, housing and financial assistance for basic needs, she said.

The program also provides emotional and moral support for survivors.

“The people we work with are incredibly resilient,” she said.

“They usually have much more specific dreams for themselves than we do.

“We let their own goals drive the work we do to support them.”

She told the group if they know of someone they fear is the victim of human trafficking, they should not intervene.

Instead, they should call law enforcement or the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888.

“Don’t be a hero,” she said. “Remember, your intervention is not responsible nor helpful.”

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Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at jmajor@peninsuladailynews.com.

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