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UW conference examines human trafficking

Dana Raigrodski, assistant director at the UW School of Law, moderates a panel during the human trafficking conference on campus.

Photo by Elliot Suhr

The broad definition of human trafficking has continued to grow with the work of a UW task force. This weekend the definition was examined in a public conference.

The two-day conference at the UW addressed the issues and causes of the human trafficking industry. The conference, hosted by the UW Women’s Center in the HUB, featured a variety of speakers who focused on preventing and eradicating trading, as well as redefining the work as more than sex work.

“For me it’s an issue of peace and social and economic justice,” said Velma Veloria, co-chair of the UW Women’s Center task force against human trafficking. “It’s part of a long struggle for human rights, to be treated like a person, not a commodity.” 

The conference was presented in a joint effort by the UW Women’s Center, the UW School of Law, and the Seattle University School of Law. It was co-chaired by Veloria and Sutapa Basu, executive director of the UW Women’s Center. 

The previous human trafficking conference, held by the Women’s Center in 2001, framed the issue of human trafficking as a public health issue. 

As a former Washington state representative for the 11th District, Veloria sponsored House Bill 1175 in 2003, making human trafficking a crime in Washington state. Since then, 47 other states have instituted similar bills.

This year’s conference focused on how to make law enforcement’s approach more productive for the victims. 

“In the city of Seattle, we are committed to addressing the issue,” said Mayor Mike McGinn, one of the speakers at the conference. “We choose to treat young women who are being sexually exploited as victims, not criminals. That’s a huge shift in thinking about how to address the problem.” 

The conference discussed human trafficking as more than a public health issue and included panels of a variety of speakers discussing topics like forced migration and labor rights, international trade agreements, and tools of social change. 

“Since the topics are contextualized to address things like trade policy and globalization, it really helps get at the root cause and helps people understand why it happens,” attendee Christa Hillstrom said. 

Globally, human trafficking earns more than $35 billion a year, with an estimated 1 million people being trafficked each year. Basu said human trafficking was the world’s second-largest and fastest-growing illegal industry.

Johnna White, the programs manager at the UW Women’s Center, advised students who wanted to help with the fight against human trafficking to get involved with the Women’s Center or any number of the student groups and organizations that focus on trafficking, both on campus and in our communities. “A lot of nonprofits need volunteers, [and] the Women’s Center will have a lot of events going on in the coming months,” White said. “Generally just keeping students aware [is good]. The more students that are aware the more our future generations can help.”

Reach reporter Zosha Millman at news@dailyuw.com. Twitter: @zosham

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