OLYMPIA, Wash — A bill that just passed the state Senate would require Washington students to learn how to identify sex trafficking and prevent themselves from becoming victims of sex trafficking beginning in the 2025-2026 school year.
The bill was written by Eastside Preparatory School senior Ria Bahadur, who wanted to empower students to protect themselves against and mitigate sex trafficking.
According to Senate Bill 5355, Washington state is currently the sixth largest epicenter of sex trafficking in the United States and more than 45% of all sex trafficking victims are minors attending school.
“12-18 is the most vulnerable age for a reason," Bahadur said. "It is this lack of education that sex traffickers have exploited since time immemorial to get youth into this crime, to physically, sexually and psychologically manipulate them into doing actions that violate their own bodies.”
It’s an issue Bahadur decided to take on when she was just 12 years old after reading the book “Girl Rising” by Tanya Lee Stone, which talks about barriers to girls' education across the world, including sex trafficking.
“That really spun me into this journey when I was 12 and dove me headfirst into wanting to eradicate this crime pretty much altogether,” Bahadur said.
Bahadur started working with State Senator Claire Wilson this summer, which is when she wrote the legislation that’s making its way through the statehouse.
“I think it was just the fact that we had such a huge violation of human rights on our hands, that wasn't being talked about or represented correctly, even if it was (talked about),” Bahadur said.
Bahadur created the curriculum and received a state grant to help fund the program.
The bill requires that students are provided with information related to race, gender and socioeconomic status in sex trafficking, as it relates to who is likely to be a victim or perpetrator of the crime. Statistics from King County show that 52% of all child sex trafficking victims are Black and 84% are female. In King County, 80% of sex traffickers are white men.
The curriculum would include medically and legally accurate definitions of sex trafficking and information about how stigma can lead to a lack of reporting and difficulties in detecting and prosecuting the crime. It would cover local, state and national organizations working to combat sex trafficking and basic identification training to determine if someone is at risk or has been sex trafficked.
“It just needs to be heard at one time between grades 7- 12, enough to just make a tiny, lasting impression," Bahadur said. "That impression could save 20 years of somebody's life."
Bahadur said the course is a step toward progress on an issue that can’t be ignored.
“I don't expect that every single student is going to walk out of there and try and reach out to the nearest nonprofit to stop sex trafficking but I do expect that it leaves such a mark on their minds where they can at least save themselves and members of their family or their community from it happening to them and that in itself is enough of a change," Bahadur said.
The bill will now move to the House for consideration.