Written by: Laura Place
Washington Assistant Attorney General Farshad Talebi addressed a roomful of Fairhaven students Monday afternoon to talk about the industry he deals with. Worth $150 billion, the net profits of this industry are worth more than Microsoft, BP, Samsung and Exon combined.
This industry is sex trafficking, and Talebi, along with others in state government, has been working to advance legislation to take on this issue in Washington.
“We’re a part of what we call the West Coast circuit,” Talebi said. “When it comes to both domestic and international trafficking, you have the product, the victim, moved from place to place in order to avoid law enforcement.”
As well as being Assistant Attorney General, Talebi is leader of the Human Trafficking and Child Exploitation Unit, a multidisciplinary team dedicated to furthering law enforcement and developing policies regarding sex trafficking in the state.
One example Talebi gave was in understanding how to bust common prostitution fronts such as massage parlors and other salons.
He discussed how undercover detectives managed to make 204 arrests in eight days in the Seattle university district by tracking the large network of pimps and customers, or ‘johns,’ who were driving the business.
“The more we learn about the dynamics of these, the more we’re realizing they’re not mom and pop shops…..these are large, very organized, coordinated criminal organizations,” he said.
Talebi said part of his focus has been on not only finding pimps and breaking up prostitution fronts, but also catching those who promote prostitution on the internet.
“It promotes, encourages, assists and facilitates [trafficking],” Talebi said. ”This normalizes it and gives way to more transactions, essentially doing advertising for these places.”
Specifically, law enforcement has been directing their focus to members who are most active on review boards, or online forums where johns can go for further information. Catching johns at the demand side of the issue, rather than those at the supply side, helps to “disrupt the market,” Talebi said.
Technology goes on to play a further role in this issue.
Talebi pointed out the demand hubs in the region, which are areas where the demand for prostitution services are especially high. The military base in Kitsap County and tech industries in the greater Seattle area have shown these especially high demands, Talebi said.
“Technology has really isolated people,” Talebi said. “Especially at the tech industry, it’s a lot of males, isolated and working long hours, and their way of having sex is essentially buying it.”
Talebi said a larger body of work within the state is still needed to provide proper resources to combat this problem. Currently, there are disparities between state-funded programs for sex trafficking compared to other issues.
There are 26 different drug task forces in the state, each with around 10-15 people, Talebi said. There is only one task force dedicated to trafficking, specifically regarding exploitation of children, with three detectives.
In spite of lower levels of resources, the Human Trafficking and Child Exploitation Unit has been orchestral in passing three bills regarding sex trafficking this year.
One of the bills broadens the definition of promoting sex trafficking in order to crack down on perpetrators. Another provides an extension for a state committee that investigates child sex trafficking.
In addition, the unit is working on outreach within the local and international community to further training among law officials and criminal justice organizations. Talebi hopes this will include coordination between various counties in the state.
“We’re trying to get it so prosecutors and law enforcement are sharing information,” Talebi said. “We need to show that it’s not just in Seattle, it’s not just in Pierce County, this is all over the state.” Talebi said.