Alene Moris Women’s Center

The birth of anti-human trafficking in Washington state, which led to the national movement

The movement began after countless stories of mail order brides being beaten, exploited and murdered started to surface in the mid-1990s, i.e. the devastating cases of Susana Remerata Blackwell, Helen Clemente and Anastasia King. Then State Representative Velma Veloria, Dr. Sutapa Basu, Executive Director of the UW Women’s Center, and Emma Catague, Community Organizing Program Manager at Asian & Pacific Islander (API) CHAYA (formerly Women and Family Safety Center), together set out to examine and end this emerging pattern, which no one else in the state was addressing.

In 2001, under Dr. Basu’s leadership, the UW Women’s Center hosted the first-ever anti-human trafficking conference in the state, which was attended by over 300 participants and where the issues around human trafficking within Washington state were brought forth, including the recognition of bride trafficking. Because of Dr. Basu’s anti-human trafficking work in India, at this pioneering conference, human trafficking was framed as a public health issue. Since then, health has become one of the major frameworks for contextualizing human trafficking. Building on the momentum from the first conference, the Women’s Center hosted the second conference with various campus and community partners that focused on the feminization of migration, human trafficking, public health and labor rights. Acting on these groundbreaking assessments, in 2003, then Representative Velma Veloria sponsored the historic House Bill (HB) 1175. With the support of her colleagues in both Chambers of the State Legislature, Washington set the stage for the local and national anti-trafficking movement by becoming the first State in the nation to criminalize human trafficking. Since then, all 50 States have enacted criminal penalties for traffickers.

Since the 2001 conference, the Women’s Center has hosted many workshops, forums, and conferences dedicated to anti-human trafficking issues.  Additionally, the Women’s Center hosts an anti-human trafficking task force comprised of University faculty and staff, local legislators, NGOs, and other community leaders working to eradicate the trade of human beings.  The task force is focused on increasing community awareness through education, policy development, and researching the contexts and consequences of forced labor.

Most recently, the Women’s Center lead a research project to study human trafficking within public and private supply chains. The study analyzed the impact of corporate sourcing practices, researched best practices and lessons learned from various ethical sourcing policies, and offered recommendations on how the states can design legislation on global ethical sourcing practices to divest from human trafficked labor.

Additionally, the Center is collaborating with the healthcare community to help establish a training model inspired by the voices of human trafficking victims and survivors.  Healthcare providers are in a unique and powerful position to affect change— an intervention in healthcare settings is the next step in the anti-human trafficking movement.  

Sutapa Basu requests that we ask ourselves, “Why is it that despite numerous and concerted efforts to eliminate the trade, human trafficking continues to be the second largest and fastest growing illegal industry in the world?  We must address the root causes in order to abolish human trafficking”