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WASE Forward recognized by Seattle HRC

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Image courtesy of WASE Forward
Image courtesy of WASE Forward

In 2012, a team of dedicated individuals set out to do the impossible: end human trafficking. After realizing that labor trafficking affects nearly every industry in the world, the team decided to create a program that would educate employers of local businesses on the best ways to recognize and prevent human trafficking in their lines of work. The team also planned to connect survivors with safe spaces where they could find employment and begin rebuilding their lives. Businesses Ending Slavery and Trafficking, or BEST, was born.

Organizers met with survivors to plot the most effective ways to prevent trafficking in Seattle, and by 2013 the Inhospitable to Human Trafficking course was launched. BEST began working with local hotel chains, restaurants, and other businesses to promote its classes, but the organization quickly realized that if it wanted to make a bigger difference, it would need to break into the political sphere.

In 2014, BEST successfully joined forces with the King County Prosecuting Attorney Office to launch the Ending Exploitation Collaborative, bringing more attention to the issue of human trafficking. BEST continued working with the City of Seattle, and in 2019 BEST launched King County's first awareness campaign in partnership with public transit.

Launching WASE Forward
In 2021, BEST took an even bigger step toward ending trafficking with WASE Forward. This new program is a collaboration with policymakers and 34 local agencies to help modify BEST's prevention training into future laws that could help punish traffickers and protect survivors. "WASE works to advocate for policies and human services that support people with lived experiences of trafficking and reduce sex trafficking in Washington state. WASE Forward educates policy makers, service providers, and the public about needs of diverse people with lived experiences of sex trafficking," said BEST CEO and Executive Director, Mar Brettmann. 

WASE Forward is unique in that it is the only coalition in the state of Washington that is led by survivors. Those who have experienced sexual exploitation are now at the helm of creating new state-wide policies that can help others stay safe. Although the coalition was launched fairly recently, it is already hard at work. "We are working with Representative Tina Orwell on a bill that will create a network of healing, support, and transition services for adult survivors of sex trafficking," said a co-founder of WASE Forward, Nature Carter. "Through this work, we are centering the voices of trafficking survivors, and prioritizing the needs of the communities most disproportionately impacted."

WASE hopes this bill will further help to establish services for adult survivors. "We want to ensure that our most marginalized communities are prioritized for services that are culturally competent and gender-inclusive, including people who identify as LGBTQ2IA+, Black and African American, Indigenous, Asian and Pacific Islander, and Latine," Brettmann said.

While the State Legislative session has come to an end, WASE Forward has not stopped working. It is currently preparing a bill that will increase services for adult sex trafficking survivors and provide funds for a statewide study on the effects of sex trafficking on Black women and girls. This bill will be especially important as the average age of a person who enters into sex trafficking is just 14. Of these victims, 43% are Black girls. "The study will provide a report that makes culturally-informed and survivor-informed recommendations on policies and services," Brettmann added. 

Over the last ten years, BEST has trained 116,642 people in human trafficking prevention tactics and helped to employ nearly 500 survivors with safe jobs. Because of their training, BEST has also helped identify over 213 victims in the last year. The organization has also found connections between human trafficking and the LGBTQ+ community. "WASE recently collected data from sex service providers in Washington that serve adults with lived experiences of sex trafficking. In 2020-2021, these providers served over 350 clients who identified as LGBTQ2IA+," Brettmann said. "While this number may contain some duplicates if clients sought services from multiple providers, it indicates that as many as 14% of people seeking services to recover from sex trafficking and exploitation have diverse gender and sexual identities. This human rights abuse toward vulnerable LGBTQ2IA+ individuals is something our whole community needs to understand more fully."

Now the hard-working women behind this successful program are receiving the recognition they deserve. Their policy-making program, WASE Forward, was recognized at a special Seattle Town Hall event on December 6, 2022, where the group received the award for outstanding Organizational Human Rights Leader from the Seattle Human Rights Commission.

The Seattle Human Rights Commission is an organization made up of 21 Seattle-appointed representatives who advise the Mayor, City Council, Seattle Office for Civil Rights, and City departments. Recognition from the commission will mean a higher profile for WASE Forward, both for the Seattle public and for policymakers who can help pass more legislation to help finally end human trafficking in Washington State. "Sex trafficking is one of the worst human rights abuses of our day, happening right here in Washington and disproportionately harming our most vulnerable and marginalized neighbors who identify as LGBTQ2IA+ and Black, Indigenous, and People of Color," Brettman said. "As a young organization led by Black and Indigenous survivors of sex trafficking and exploitation and allies, WASE Forward is absolutely thrilled that we've received this recognition from the Seattle Human Rights Commission for our work to prioritize the voices of survivors in both policy and in delivery of services for our communities."