Nationally, human trafficking is the second-fastest growing crime, and this proves true in Pierce County. The Prosecutor’s Office’s Human Trafficking Unit prosecutes defendants charged with human trafficking, commercial sexual abuse of a minor and promoting prostitution. Most of these cases involve underage girls being sold for sex.
In recent years, street gangs have moved into human trafficking because it is safer and more lucrative than selling drugs. Unlike their drug supply, gangs view prostitutes as a renewable resource that can be sold over and over again. In response, the Human Trafficking Unit works closely with our office’s Gang Unitto pursue those who seek to sexually exploit women and girls in the sex trafficking underground.
Many of the underage victims come from low-income or broken families and were sexually abused as children. As a result, they have low self-esteem and are defiant. In search of acceptance, the girls run away from home.
It’s not long before the girls are under the control of pimps, who convince, or often force, them to become prostitutes. The pimps are coercive, controlling and violent. They control all of the money, and the girls see little, if any, of what they earn.
A significant portion of prostitution transactions now take place online, on sites like Backpage.com. Pimps take photos of the young girls and then create online ads for clients to browse.
Human trafficking cases are complex and difficult to prosecute because victims are afraid of the pimps. This makes them reluctant to participate in the legal process and they sometimes defend the pimp’s actions.
The penalties for human trafficking in Washington State are severe. The sentence for first degree human trafficking is equivalent to that of second degree murder. A convicted pimp is looking at spending approximately 25 years in prison.