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State Department ambassador addresses sex trafficking

Luis CdeBaca, U.S. ambassador to monitor and combat human trafficking, visited Seattle last week to address the National Association of Attorney Generals. - COURTESY PHOTO
Luis CdeBaca, U.S. ambassador to monitor and combat human trafficking, visited Seattle last week to address the National Association of Attorney Generals.
— image credit: COURTESY PHOTO

Sex trafficking continues to be a growing problem in Kent and the rest of the nation.

Luis CdeBaca, U.S. ambassador to monitor and combat human trafficking, spoke at the National Association of Attorney Generals conference last week in Seattle as part of the group's year-long initiative to fight human trafficking.

CdeBaca, who works for the State Department, spoke by phone to the Kent Reporter during his visit to address the growing industry of human trafficking.

"The larger percentage is in the sex industry and prostitution," said CdeBaca, appointed ambassador by President Obama in 2009. "A lot of them are minors, with some girls as young as 12."

Kent Police have worked several sex trafficking cases that have resulted in arrests over the last couple of years. Detectives especially target investigations that involve juvenile girls.

Ronnie Leon Tramble, 29, of SeaTac, was sentenced March 16 in U.S. District Court in Seattle to 15 years in prison and 15 years of supervised release for sex trafficking through force, fraud and coercion. He will also have to pay restitution to five women he forced to work as prostitutes.

Tramble first came to the attention of law enforcement in 2010 when Kent Police officers encountered a juvenile girl working as a prostitute. The girl told police how Tramble beat and coerced her, and how he advertised her as a prostitute on Backpage.com.

"Sometimes it's organized crime or it can be one guy who uses brutality to keep the young women working for him," CdeBaca said.

The underage prostitutes come from all walks of life.

"The stereotype is the girls are from broken homes," CdeBaca said. "But there also are middle class girls. It's not just one socio-economic class or one racial group."

CdeBaca supports new state laws that target sex trafficking, including a bill signed last week by Gov. Chris Gregoire that targets publishers who run advertisements that feature young girls seeking to meet up with men for sex.

The law goes after classified advertising companies that do not demand proper identification of women in the ads to verify minors are not being sold for sex on the websites or in publications. The law makes it illegal to knowingly publish an escort ad involving a minor, under the age of 18.

"It makes sense to me to have those in advertising have some type of proof that people are over age," CdeBaca said. "We need innovative solutions and that's one that's pretty innovative and can be very helpful."

Congressman Dave Reichert, R-Auburn and U.S. Senators Mark Kirk, R-Illinois and Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut last month voiced their support of others who are trying to get Backpage.com to stop running ads for escorts and other fronts for prostitution.

So far, Village Voice Media, which runs Backpage.com, continues to run the ads. In a posting on its website, Village Voice Media responded to New York Times columnist Nicholas D. Kristof, who in March called for readers to boycott the company because of its role in sex trafficking.

"Backpage dedicates hundreds of staff to screen adult classifieds in order to keep juveniles off the site and to work proactively with law enforcement in their efforts to locate victims," according to Village Voice Media. "When the authorities have concerns, we share paperwork and records and help them make cases."

CdeBaca, a former federal prosecutor, said he's unsure of how many people are victims of human trafficking.

"The raw number is hard to get to the bottom of," he said.

But more and more states continue to pass laws to fight sex trafficking. Just last month in Boston, four people were arrested under a new Massachusetts law passed in February against sex trafficking.

"We've seen in every jurisdiction that passes laws that we are uncovering more cases," CdeBaca said.

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