by Agueda Pacheco Flores
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Jeri Moomaw doesn’t hesitate to say she’s a survivor of child sex trafficking. At 19 years old, she escaped her trafficker but was then faced with a new life where she had little to no support. Now, as the executive director at Innovation Human Trafficking Collaborative, she dedicates her life to advocating for survivors of human trafficking.
Last week, she joined leaders from across Washington State to launch the Not Alone anti-human-trafficking campaign to kick off Human Trafficking Awareness Month. With the help of a combined 26 municipalities, transit, and port authorities, multilingual posters across the state will line the surfaces of transit facilities, bus stops, airports, and seaports to provide victims and survivors of human trafficking ways to get help and services.
“Doing direct client services has really highlighted to me that this is not only an urban problem; this happens in every part of our state and every part of our world,” said Moomaw, who is an enrolled member of the Shoshone/Cree tribe. “Over and over again I hear ‘I didn’t know there were people like you guys that cared about people like us.’ In society, we really made it where there’s a segment that feels they are the throwaways.”
It is estimated that across King County alone there are at least 500 to 700 children that are commercially sexually exploited. Globally, more than 24 million people are victims of human trafficking. Coupled with the pandemic, human trafficking has only gotten worse; the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children saw a 97.5% increase in online youth coercion.
The campaign is one of the first-ever statewide efforts by Washington State to join a national initiative. The Not Alone campaign was created by Rebekah Covington, the corporate relations manager at Businesses Ending Slavery and Trafficking (BEST) and a human trafficking survivor.
“I created the Not Alone campaign because as a survivor of human trafficking, I know how it feels to be in a situation where you feel like there’s no way out or there’s no one to talk to or truly understand what happens to you,” Covington said.
According to Polaris, a global nonprofit organization that works to end human trafficking, there is not one single way human trafficking can occur. Usually, victims are under the power and control of their trafficker who can use a variety of ways to coerce their victim, whether that’s intimidation, social isolation, or limiting access to economic resources.
Since 2018, the Port of Seattle has made efforts to reach out to victims of human trafficking via the human trafficking hotline. In 2019, the national hotline received more than 22,300 calls, with the eighth highest call volume coming from the state of Washington.
During the press conference for the campaign launch, Port of Seattle Commissioner Sam Cho said a survey of human trafficking survivors showed 26% of victims reported that in at least one of their attempts to escape, public and mass transportation played some kind of role.
“It’s why the Port of Seattle is doubling down on our commitment to end human trafficking,” Cho added. “Displaying these posters at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and the port’s maritime facilities helps to ensure anyone who looks up and sees them knows there is help for them.”
The posters help victims self-identify and, hopefully, encourage them to call the national hotline at 1-888-373-7888, text 233733 (BeFree), or chat online.
Agueda Pacheco Flores is a journalist focusing on Latinx culture and Mexican American identity. Originally from Querétaro, Mexico, Pacheco Flores is inspired by her own bicultural upbringing as an undocumented immigrant and proud Washingtonian.
📸 Featured image is of posters produced in multiple languages being placed in airports, seaports, and mass transit terminals in Washington reaching out to victims and survivors of human trafficking. Images are courtesy of Businesses Ending Slavery and Trafficking (BEST).
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