Collaboration in Civic Spheres

U.S. Report: Seattle Can Model Next Steps Against Trafficking

by April 15th, 2011

SUMMARY: A recently released report by the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Wash. posits that Seattle and Western Washington partners in the battle against human trafficking would be well-suited to demonstrate new methods of information-sharing and innovative networked surveillance tools to combat the problem, which includes forced prostitution of domestic minors, and forced labor and domestic servitude of foreign nationals in the U.S., often at the behest of organized crime networks. To combat human trafficking, the report details recommendations for a multi-city high-tech West Coast vehicle surveillance network in known street prostitution corridors; a new, secure Web-based human trafficking data portal for law enforcement agencies; better standardization and sharing of information among myriad agencies involved; and better utilization of data from visa applications to identify potential victims of forced labor. It also proposes how to capture for law enforcement the valuable lessons learned by the U.S. intelligence community on the operations and tactics of far-reaching global networks involved in human trafficking, narcotics, weapons and terrorism; and accents the need for more shelter facilities in Seattle and Western Washington specifically for adult women victims of human trafficking.


  • The U.S. Department of Homeland Security asked the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Wash. to report on technology, research and intelligence-sharing improvements that would help law enforcement and non-profit efforts better identify, prevent, treat and prosecute human trafficking in Pacific Northwest. Human trafficking includes forced prostitution and forced labor, often of foreign nationals by criminal organizations.
  • The Pacific Northwest region was chosen as a test bed for the analysis partly because of the high-level of interagency cooperation among members of the Washington Advisory Committee on Trafficking (WashACT), which is co-chaired by the Seattle Police Department, the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Western District of Washington, and the Washington Anti-trafficking Response Network. There are 38 other similar anti-trafficking task forces nationwide funded by the U.S. Department of Justice, to which experience testing the study’s recommendations for Western Washington could later be applied.

KEY LINK: “Technology And Research Requirements For Combatting Human Trafficking: Enhancing Communication, Analysis, Reporting And Information Sharing,” Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, U.S. Department of Energy, March, 2011


  • There’s no way now to gauge the full extent of Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking (DMST). A pilot sensor platform should be developed and deployed in major West Coast cities including Seattle and Portland, using Automated License Plate Readers in specific prostitution corridors to identify johns, victims and pimps – who are all discernible through their presence at certain locations at abnormal times and frequencies. Data from online prostitution sites and photos of suspected DMST victims would be integrated at a central server with the automated license plate surveillance of vehicles in targeted prostitution corridors. The PNNL report states, “this offers the possibility of a never before attempted analysis of human trafficking networks, their operation and scale.”
  • Because data on human trafficking is being collected from ever-wider sources and not systematically shared, it’s important to develop more uniform definitions of what constitutes trafficking, plus more-standardized information categories for use in shared databases, and more consistent techniques of analysis. It will be crucial to “ïdentify an emerging industry standard for federated search” capabilities of databases on human trafficking, supported by development of “ä secure and trusted Web-based portal for information-sharing and collaboration between federal, state, local, tribal and law enforcement partners…”
  • The U.S. intelligence community has a large body of knowledge on human trafficking and smuggling but that knowledge is not easily accessed by law enforcement. PNNL suggests that based on its longstanding relationships with intelligence and law enforcement communities, it can broker the sharing of declassified intelligence agency information to help law enforcement sources identify and combat human trafficking. An initial step would be conducting research to be transmitted of lessons learned by the intelligence community on human trafficking in connection with related networks engaged in the narcotics and weapons trades, smuggling, and terrorism.
  • Despite greatly heightened attention to human trafficking in Washington state, there has not been an increase here in identifying and prosecuting human trafficking cases involving forced labor and domestic servitude of foreign nationals. To address this, potential victims should be identified through a “protective triage” process based on analysis of visa applications.
  • Nationally, only 30 percent of human trafficking cases initiated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in 2009 resulted in criminal convictions. This is not a significant improvement over recent years despite a growing national emphasis on the problem. A “lessons learned” study should be conducted to highlight what factors most greatly contribute to successful prosecutions for human trafficking.
  • To successfully investigate and prosecute human traffickers, victims need safe respite in shelters with services geared to their special needs and experiences. The biggest need seen by the leaders of WashACT is for more such shelters in Western Washington and elsewhere in the state. There are no shelters specifically for adult women victims of human trafficking, so they must stay at more general women’s shelters, domestic violence shelters, transitional housing and rented apartments. Some domestic violence shelters will not permit them because funding conditions require “ïntimate partner violence” to have occured as a precondition for temporary residence.

RELATED: U.S. State Department: 2010 Trafficking In Persons Report, Public Data Ferret, June 14, 2010.

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