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Why sex trafficking is especially high in Seattle

Seattle is considered one of the top cities for human trafficking because of a large demand.

SEATTLE — A murder case in Spokane is drawing attention to the alarming amount of human trafficking happening in the Seattle area. 

A 60-year-old Spokane man is behind bars after he admitted to killing his daughter's ex-boyfriend. He claims the 19-year-old man sold his daughter to a sex-trafficking group in Seattle. However, the FBI and Washington State Patrol are investigating that claim. 

Seattle is known to be one of the top cities for sex trafficking. Statistics are hard to track, but the Port of Seattle, which has been working to fight human trafficking since 2007, says 500 to 700 minors in King County are forced into prostitution every year. 

"We've got young people who are being sold in the sex trades and adults who are being trafficked for labor," said Mar Brettmann, executive director and CEO of Businesses Ending Slavery and Trafficking. BEST provides training on the signs of sex trafficking to businesses in sectors like hospitality and tourism. "It's happening at even more alarming rates since the onset of COVID."

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Seattle is considered one of the top cities for human trafficking because there's a large demand. Experts say the typical buyer is a white, well-educated male, who has money to spend. 

"When you have an increase in demand for commercial sex, and a limited supply, traffickers will bring in victims to meet that demand. It's hugely profitable," said Ben Gauen, a deputy prosecutor with the King County Prosecuting Attorney's Office. 

Gauen said he exclusively works on sex trafficking and sex exploitation cases. He works with police to investigate crimes and make filing decisions.

There are a couple things very common in sex trafficking incidents. A person is often trafficked by someone they know and often love, like a boyfriend. The second, is the person is often underage or very young. 

"That seems to be what the demand is for, younger and younger people," said Brettmann. 

"We see family members trafficking each other, romantic partners or boyfriends, friends, drug dealers, people who have met online. There's usually some sort of connection or nexus between the trafficker and the victim," said Gauen. 

Brettmann believes the problem has gotten worse during the pandemic. She said working in sex trafficking is traumatic, but it also exposes many victims to violent situations. 

"It's usually at the hands of buyers. So many people think this is just the pimp or trafficker creating the violence, but it's actually the buyers," said Brettmann.

Both experts say the solution is stopping the demand. Gauen's experience working with victims, police and the courts has given him the opportunity to advocate for education and awareness with lawmakers and community groups. His outreach efforts involve convincing men not to engage in sex buying. He said criminal justice intervention is used as a "last resort." 

"No buyers, no business," said Gauen. 

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