SPOKANE, Wash. - Human trafficking is the fastest growing criminal industry in the world, and ties with arms dealing as the second largest international criminal industry.
"I had it pictured as something that happens in movies or Eastern Europe or far away," said Aaron Tilbury, the executive director and founder of the Jonah Project.
That was his view three years ago, before he heard the story of a young victim, one of two who inspired him to found the Jonah Project. He now works with over 140 victims of human trafficking on a daily basis and joins the Spokane Police Chief Meidl in noting that the industry is gaining momentum here in Spokane.
"Human trafficking is exploding across the country and Spokane is no different," said Meidl.
The stories from victims are heartbreaking and all too common if you ask Tilbury.
"I've been told horrific stories, like being tied to a water heater in basement and not being given food or water for a week," he said. "Two young women told me they had been scratching lines on a wall because they were in a room with no windows and they were trying to keep track of how old they were."
He says law enforcement does everything they can given the resources they have, but it's not enough.
Law enforcement focuses on the online aspect of human trafficking where a large majority of human trafficking is done. The US Congress is taking note and just passed legislation that would hold websites like Craigslist and Backpage liable for their intentional or unintentional participation in trafficking.
Craigslist has already taken down its personals section.
Tilbury says the issue goes beyond just online trafficking however.
"This is an economics issue for the bad guys, to you and me its human beings, but its not that for the bad guys," he said.
He says the homeless issue here in Spokane contributes to the growing trafficking problem, especially for children.
"Statistics tell us that 1 in 5 homeless children will be trafficked and that 1 in 3 will be solicited within 48 hours of being homeless," he said.
But the threat can be present for children that aren't homeless as well. He said they can be recruited for trafficking at school, from gangs and even sold by family members.
Resources for trafficked individuals include the Jonah Project and Lutheran Community Services Northwest locally. The National Human Trafficking Resource Center has a 24-hotline that victims can call at 1-888-373-7888.
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