Puyallup reservation ‘a prime location’ for human trafficking

‘Wear Blue’ campaign Saturday meant to show support for victims


With an international border, an abundance of ports and an economy that relies on migrant workers, Washington state is a hotbed for human trafficking.


It’s a serious criminal issue on the Puyallup reservation, too.


“We’re a prime location,” said Carolyn DeFord with the Puyallup Tribe’s Community Domestic Violence Advocacy Program. “We have jurisdictional challenges, and we’re on the main route, the circuit from Vancouver to Mexico.”


What is human trafficking? It’s a form of modern-day slavery, which occurs when someone uses force, fraud or coercion to get another person to commit sex acts or labor or services against their will.


Every year, millions of men, women and children are trafficked worldwide.


According to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children : Of more than 23,500 U.S. runaways reported in 2019, one in six were likely victims of child sex trafficking. The average age of a child sex trafficking victim is 15.


A statistic that’s difficult to track

DeFord said it often goes under reported because people don’t want to share their stories, or open up about their experience, often out of fear of retaliation and the intense stigma in the community.


In addition, prostitution is often viewed as something that’s done by choice, even though the person is usually being forced to sell sex acts by a pimp, DeFord said.


“We’re blind – we don’t see it,” she added. “We see prostitutes. We don’t see trafficking survivors and victims.”


Trafficked survivors themselves may identify with other crimes such as sexual assault or domestic violence, but not human trafficking.


Two years ago, the CDVAP organized its first Human Trafficking Awareness campaign, which included some fliers, social media posts and a few outreach events.


“I was really surprised at the end of the month and the next following month, how many people came up and shared their stories and how trafficking affected their family and loved ones,” DeFord said.


Wear blue on Jan. 11, and donate a bag

This year, the program is encouraging people to participate in the “Wear Blue” campaign on Saturday, Jan. 11. Participation is easy: Wear something that’s blue, and you’ll be showing your support for Human Trafficking Awareness Day.


CDVAP is also collecting purses, bags and backpacks throughout the month. (Collection boxes are planned for several locations, including the Administration Building, Grandview Early Learning Center and Kwawachee Center.)