FOX News talks to Judge Shaffer about jury bias

On August 21, FOX News reporter Dan Springer interviewed Judge Catherine Shaffer about a recent Washington State Supreme Court ruling on Jury Bias. Unfortunately, the story is behind a paywall so we can’t share. But here is a recap of Judge Shaffer’s interview.

The case

On July 19, 2019, the Washington State Supreme Court issued a decision in a murder and assault case involving a motion for a new trial because of allegations that the jury deliberations were tainted by racial bias.  The decision focused on the trial court’s responsibility to oversee the process of determining whether this occurred, including deciding whether to hold an evidentiary hearing and controlling how jurors are to be questioned about deliberations.

The case: State of Washington versus Tomas Mussie Berhe, 444 P.3d 1172, filed July 18 2019. 

Summary: A jury convicted petitioner Tomas Berhe of first degree murder and first degree assault. After the trial, juror 6, the only African-American juror came forward to the defense and to the court.  Juror 6 indicated to the defense that she was treated in an abusive and dismissive way that seemed to be based on her race.  The trial court denied Berhe’s motion for a new trial without an evidentiary hearing, instead relying solely on written declarations prepared with the aid of counsel on both sides.

The Ruling

The Washington Supreme Court ruled that the trial court failed to exercise sufficient oversight and conduct a sufficient inquiry before denying the defendant’s motion for new trial without an evidentiary hearing.   The court vacated the trial court’s order denying the new trial motion and remanded the case for further inquiry and other proceedings as necessary.

King County Superior Court Judge Catherine Shaffer, a co-chair of the King County Superior Court’s Jury Committee, interprets the ruling this way:

As the Washington Supreme Court pointed out, racial bias is a common and pervasive evil that causes systematic harm to the administration of justice.  And where explicit or implicit racial bias factors into a jury verdict, as the state Supreme Court said, “the defendant is deprived of their constitutional right to a fair trial by an impartial jury.”

Both because it is difficult for those who are racially biased to admit their bias, and because implicit racial bias is unconscious and can influence decision making without the decision maker recognizing that influence, the state Supreme Court held that trial courts must control the inquiry when it is alleged that racial bias in the jury influenced the jury’s verdict. 

This seems logical.  “If this were a group setting and someone asked, “Are you a racist?” do you really think you would get an honest answer?” posited Judge Shaffer.  

For trial courts, it is also very important that the information gathered from jurors is done on the record, under the oversight of the court, and in an open-ended way.  In the Berhe case, unfortunately, the prosecutors acted without court oversight and sent a two-question survey to the jurors which asked, “Did you personally do anything to Juror #6 which was motivated by racial bias during deliberations?” and “Did you observe any other juror do anything to Juror #6 which appeared to be motivated by racial bias?” This tended to lead the jurors into a response that supported the prosecutor’s opposition to the new trial motion and undermined the ability to find the facts.   

What is the guidance

The state Supreme Court asked trial courts to be more engaged in the process of assessing an allegation of racial bias tainting a verdict, from the start.  It said that as soon as defense counsel learned that juror 6 was alleging racial bias in deliberations, the court and prosecutors should have been notified, and the court should have instructed counsel to have no further communications with jurors about the alleged bias unless on the record and overseen by the court.

The state Supreme Court directed that a trial court should first decide if there is sufficient information, objectively viewed, to indicate race played a factor in the verdict.  If this evidence is unclear, the court should, on the record, make further inquiries, such as asking the juror alleging bias to provide more information or clarify their statements.  If it appears that there is information indicating racial bias did play a part in the verdict, then the court should hold an evidentiary hearing.

Judge Shaffer believes the state Supreme Court provided helpful guidance to trial courts that they must be more engaged, in cases involving allegations that racial bias affected a verdict, in gathering clarifying information about whether race played a role in the deliberations. 

This does not mean that trial courts will be investigating or breaching the secrecy of deliberations.  Instead, the Berhe decision creates a roadmap for courts looking at the specific question of whether racial bias influenced a verdict. 

We do this already

Trial courts are quite familiar with the process of talking to jurors, because they do it often in jury selection and occasionally during trial when there are allegations of misconduct.  For post-verdict inquiries into racial bias, the decision means trial courts use a similar approach and supervise the process.

If this happened in her courtroom, and inquiries of juror 6 on the record indicated racial bias had an impact on the verdict, Judge Shaffer said she would consult with counsel, on the record, in her court to develop open-ended questions for an evidentiary hearing such as, “Did you notice Juror 6 being treated in a different way? Why do you think that happened?” She would then have jurors questioned individually to get at the most honest answers.  This is very similar to the procedure that is used in many cases in jury selection to investigate potential issues of bias, for example in cases that have drawn pretrial publicity or that raise sensitive issues.

“We have questionnaires. For example, a sexual assault trial, you ask if the juror can be fair if the juror has been the victim of sexual assault or is close to someone who has. Then we listen carefully,” said Judge Shaffer.

“In the Ride the Ducks trial, we had a lot of questions to get to whether people could be fair: Do you have detailed information about the Ducks incident? Are you familiar with the Aurora Avenue Bridge? Have you or people close to you been in a serious vehicle accident?

“There are certainly times people aren’t forthcoming. When I was a prosecutor, I had a juror who remained silent on a particular issue during voir dire. We had the trial. During jury deliberations, she said based on a particular belief and experience she had not disclosed in voir dire, she absolutely would NOT agree to convict on a particular charge. So it was 11-1 on that charge, but we had other charges.”

Is this a groundbreaking ruling? Not particularly. This is the direction the county is going. “We take allegations of racial bias very seriously,” Judge Shaffer said, “That implicit and explicit bias can negatively affect the court system is well established.  Justice Yu referenced that problem in her decision. Other organizations that have published on this topic include the American Bar Association, Scientific American, and the National Center for State Courts.”

King County Drug Diversion Court: By the Numbers

The King County Drug Diversion Court (KCDDC) Program began in August 1994 as the twelfth drug court in the country. Currently, there are drug courts in every state and 3,100 nationwide.

The mission of King County Drug Diversion Court (KCDDC) is to ensure community safety and empower participants to rebuild their lives by combining the resources of the criminal justice system, substance use treatment and other community service providers.

Felony Dismissals: Successful completion of the KCDDC results in dismissal of felony(s). Since the program’s inception, there have been 2,516 graduates, representing more than 2,643 dismissed felonies. (Data on the number of cases dismissed by drug court graduation only goes back to 2002.) Like this dad. Hear from his proud son.

Property Crimes: KCDDC is responsive to the needs of the community. A 2017 Seattle Public Safety Survey identifies car prowls, residential burglary and property crimes as three of the top five public safety concerns. Many property crimes are committed to support an underlying substance use disorder (SUD). As property crimes have been an increasing focus of attention in Seattle/King County, the KCDDC program eligibility criteria has expanded to allow participants charged with residential burglary motivated by drug use to enter drug court. Additionally, KCDDC has increased the amount of restitution that can be owed on drug court cases, allowing more property crimes to enter KCDDC. Of the approximately 330 participants who are currently active, 61% are in KCDDC on felony property crimes, 22% are charged with delivery or possession with intent to deliver, and 16% have possession cases.

Cultural Responsiveness: KCDDC serves a racially and culturally diverse population. 47% of current KCDDC participants are people of color. In order to ensure culturally responsive treatment, KCDDC contracts with culturally specific agencies: Asian Counseling and Referral Service, Cowlitz Tribal Treatment, Consejo Counseling and Referral Service (serving Latinx / Spanish speaking participants), and Seattle Counseling Services (serving the LGBTQ community).

Co-Occurring Mental Health Disorders: At intake, 63% of current KCDDC participants endorsed mental health symptoms and 47% reported a formal diagnosis. Every participant is screened for mental health symptoms and referred to services, including mental health counseling, as appropriate. KCDDC has access to both outpatient and residential integrated co-occurring disorders treatment.

Young Adults: 28% of current drug court participants are young adults ages 18 to 26. KCDDC implemented a special treatment program for this age group in 2010 with an emphasis on setting goals, community involvement, and faster progression through the program. KCDDC contracts with the YMCA to provide specialized transitional housing for young adults with on-site case management through the Young Adults in Transition (YAIT) program.

Homelessness & Unemployment: 60% of current KCDDC participants were experiencing homelessness at program entry. On-site housing case managers assist participants with next step and permanent housing and access to move-in costs. KCDDC contracts with local housing providers to access 70 units of recovery-oriented transitional housing for participants, including a few units for families. Not including the 15% of participants who identify as being unable to work due to a disability, 61% of current participants were unemployed (and not in school) at program entry.

A resource specialist, who is also a graduate of the program, helps participants develop and enact an Empowerment Plan. The Empowerment Plan is created through a process in which participants identify strengths and needs and set specific goals in important life areas. Focused resources and support are provided by the housing case managers and resource specialist. KCDDC provides participants with tangible assistance such as hygiene supplies, alarm clocks, bus/rail passes, and ID vouchers. Through community partnerships, KCDDC provides expedited no-cost dental referrals, clothing vouchers, on-site Medicaid sign-ups, and access to paid vocational training programs.

Peer Support: Peer support (provided by trained individuals who have lived experience with substance use, mental illness and trauma) is considered a best practice in behavioral health recovery. KCDDC has two drug court graduates on-site who are Washington State Certified Peer Counselors and are dually trained in the Connecticut Community for Addiction Recovery (CCAR) model. Current participants meet with them for resources and encouragement, for help developing their own Empowerment Plan goals, and to complete continuing care plans focused on their lives after drug court graduation. Through a contract with Peer Seattle, a group of KCDDC graduates have been trained as Recovery Coaches to provide additional support to participants and others in the community.

Opioid Epidemic: 50% of current participants identify heroin or other opioids as their primary drug of choice. This represents a 127% increase since 2010. In response, KCDDC supplies participants with Narcan nasal spray (an opioid overdose reversal medication). Since the program’s inception, KCDDC has provided access to Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT), an evidence-based treatment for opioid use disorder. KCDDC has successfully advocated for MAT to be accepted at all drug court housing sites.

Best Practices / Continuous Improvement: Drug Courts utilize Contingency Management, an evidence-based approach to changing behaviors and treating SUDs. Decades of research inform the 10 “key components” of effective drug courts. As new research becomes available, KCDDC has continued to evolve and to develop the resources needed to serve emerging participant and community needs. KCDDC attempts to balance accountability with compassion, empowerment and an individualized approach. Recently, KCDDC introduced a “new model”, restructuring the phases and program requirements in order to address issues of stagnancy/momentum in the program, to foster a stronger connection between KCDDC participants and the community, and to focus the court on participants’ achievement of productivity and personal empowerment.

KCDDC Outcomes & Avoided Costs

Reductions in Crime / Recidivism:

A December 2018 analysis of Washington State Drug Court participation by Washington State Institute for Public Policy (WSIPP) found crime reductions translated into a net benefit to taxpayers of $9,149 per program participant.

A November 2018 DSHS analysis of KCDDC participants indicates 94% had prior convictions (with an average of 10.5 prior convictions) and 70% had prior felonies. At an 18-month follow-up after drug court enrollment, only 12% had new felony convictions and the majority – 71% – had no new convictions for any crime.

Reduced Jail / Prison Use:

Jail bookings were reduced by 49% over the long term for KCDDC participants, according to the most recent MIDD analysis.

Approximately 68% of KCDDC cases result in successful graduation/dismissal.5 Since the program’s inception, there have been 2,516 graduates, representing more than 2,643 dismissed felonies. (Data on the number of cases dismissed by drug court graduation only goes back to 2002.)

Housing: 85% of KCDDC participants who received housing case management services achieved temporary or permanent housing at KCDDC exit, according to a MIDD analysis.

Employment: A November 2018 DSHS analysis of KCDDC participants shows a 107% increase in employment 18 months after drug court enrollment.

King County names new Children and Family Justice Center after the late Judge Patricia Hall Clark

On July 24, 2019, the King County Council voted to name the new Children and Family Justice Center in honor of the late Judge Patricia Hall Clark.

Her family was on hand to speak of her commitment to our youth and the court.

The late Patricia H. Clark received her JD from the University of Washington in 1987, recognized for her outstanding abilities as an oral advocate.  She joined the King County Prosecutor’s Office Criminal Division before leaving to teach at the Seattle University Law Clinic. She joined the Superior Court bench in 1998.

Judge Patricia Clark (ret.) reflecting on all her work at King County Superior Court

Her real mark was on the Juvenile Court bench as Chief and Chief Advocate. She was innovative and worked tirelessly to build bridges with the community, always striving for fairness – telling anyone who would listen that we had to do better by our children. She was the most important advocate for the new, bright, and clean Children and Family Justice Center, adamant that people would be willing to tax themselves to get children out of the old sagging facility.

Even as her health failed her, she asked for updates on the new building.  She said she was proud of all that was done to ensure this building would serve the needs of youth AND families for decades to come.

We owe so much to Judge Patricia H. Clark.

Project Citizen Competition: Judge Andrea Darvas

Project Citizen is a Project Citizen is an interdisciplinary curricular program for middle, secondary, and post-secondary students, youth organizations, and adult groups that promotes competent and responsible participation in local and state government.

The program helps participants learn how to monitor and influence public policy. In the process, they develop support for democratic values and principles, tolerance, and feelings of political efficacy.

Every year, I participate in the state competition in Olympia. This year, I worked with middle school students.

Judge Andrea Darvas delivers opening remarks for Project Citizen’s Middle School competition in Olympia.

Opening ceremonies in the Senate Dome, complete with a Color Guard from JBLM, were lovely.  I delivered opening remarks, telling my immigrant story: why my parents chose to leave Hungary as refugees shortly after I was born and why they chose to come to the US.  We believed in freedom of thought, belief, and speech, as well as our freedom to choose, and, when necessary, to make changes to, our government. 

“This is the most diverse group of students I have ever seen” Judge Andrea Darvas

Many of the students in attendance were immigrants themselves or children or grandchildren of immigrants.  I spoke of Tikkun Olam – the Jewish concept of healing the world and why this work is so important.  I showed a wristband I received at the Loren Miller Bar dinner and explained who Loren Miller was and why he mattered.  The wristband says “Believe in Miracles” and I wear it now for Chief Justice Mary Fairhurst who continues to battle cancer.

Each one of you is capable of miracles – making the world a more just, good, and fairer place. You have power – even as middle school students – to exercise that power to make needed changes in your schools and your communities.

Judge Andrea Darvas

Each participating class of middle school students chose a project.  One class chose school security, another chose lead in drinking water at the school, another chose the issue of dress codes, and two classes chose student stress and mental health. 

Evergreen students in front of their storyboard

The students brought storyboards to present their issue. The first storyboard panel explained the issue and why they chose it. The second presented alternative ways to address the issue – the benefits and challenges. The third panel spelled out the solution. The fourth panel was an action plan to implement the solution.

The students also prepared a binder for sources of information that didn’t make it onto the storyboards. The binders included the research, the other solutions, and the experts they consulted. Each panel of judges rated the storyboards on various detailed criteria.  Judges included retired teachers, people from the business world, lawyers, doctors, and others.  I think I was the only sitting judge, but I may be mistaken. My fellow judges were a school librarian, and a consumer credit finance person.

After we rated the story boards, we saw the kids in the Cherberg hearing rooms, where a panel of students gave prepared oral presentations on each of the 4 panels of their storyboards, and we had an opportunity to ask them follow up questions.

We ate pizza then participated in closing ceremonies in the Senate dome.

The winning team was from Evergreen Middle School in the Lake Washington school district, which by chance, was one of the two classes I was assigned to judge.  They chose lead in drinking water. The other class I was assigned to judge was from Yelm, and their chosen topic was school security. 

The winning Evergreen team from Lake Washington School District

It was a fantastic event and one I look forward to every year. Learn more about Project Citizen and please consider participation!

eQuality is more than a word

FACTS: LGBTQ+ youth are disproportionally represented in the legal system, more likely to engage in self-harm, and less likely to connect to useful and effective LGBTQ+ programs in their community.

MORE FACTS: LGBTQ+ youth may not know about services; professionals in their life may not know how to communicate with them in safe, affirming ways; professionals may not be aware of LGBTQ+ focused resources or not know how to ask organizations about services specifically for LGBTQ youth.

Challenge: Connect youth with LGBTQ+ friendly and knowledgeable services in their area. Teaching professionals to help make that happen.

Data point

43% LGBTQ youth report experiencing homeless at some point compared to 27% of their non-LGBTQ peers.


Since 2017, the Center for Children & Youth Justice and King County Juvenile Court Services have participated in the eQuality Project. The project aims to get court-involved LGBTQ+ youth get the support they need. T

The 16-month pilot project, launched in both King and Spokane counties, supported by the Raikes Foundation, the Pride Foundation, Seattle Goodwill, QLaw and many private individuals, set out to identify then bridge gaps.

Given that no data had ever been collected on LGBTQ youth in juvenile justice systems in King and Spokane counties, that was the first hurdle. How do we know who needs services? Ask. How do we ask? That is a lot tougher. How do we talk to service providers about their options? All good questions. And this was the foundation for moving forward.

  • Step One: Gather data.
    • Develop a questionnaire/protocol for asking all court involved youth about their sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression.
  • Step Two: Speak their language.
    • Train staff to discuss identity in a safe and affirming way.
  • Step Three: Provide support
    • Connect youth to services designed to support LGBTQ youth.

Step One

The Questionnaire

Every youth entering the justice system is offered a short eight-question survey.

It includes age, ethnicity and several questions including: I consider myself to be (sexual orientation), I see myself as (gender including trans and questioning). Others see me as: more masculine, more feminine, don’t know, other.

These questions provide as close to a 360-degree view of the youth as possible.

Outcome: 296 youth participated. 10% reported as LGBTQ and 30% of those reported they did not know their gender expression (boy/girl/trans/non-conforming/queer/not-listed/don’t know/prefer not to answer).

Step Two


Train staff

Develop briefings and trainings for staff to offer this questionnaire and specific tools to engage in safe and affirming conversation.

The report shows staff report being least prepared to discuss sexual orientation and gender identity compared to other issues like abuse or neglect or homelessness.

Data point: I am comfortable asking all youth about their sexual orientation and gender identity – Before training 55% to after training 65%

Staff comment: “Loved it. Thank you for all the practice of pronouns and vocabulary words. It’s important to not just know that I should ask but how does it feel to ask? Loved the coming out activity. I have a whole new perspective on what some may be feeling”

Data point: 90% of trainees reported they were likely to use what they learned.  

Step Three

Learn about the variety and location of services throughout the county designed to support LGBTQ youth.  Connect youth to these services in a way in which they successfully use the services. Become more knowledgeable about laws and policies that protect LGBTQ youth (i.e. restroom laws by region or school district)

I am confident in my ability to provide appropriate services – pre-training 47% / post-training 67%

I understand the laws and policies that protect LGBTQ youth – pre-training 27% / post-training 60%

83% say they will assess a community organization for their acceptance of LBTBQ youth before referring a youth.

70% say they are likely or highly likely to ask youth about their sexual orientation and gender identity and expression.

Staff comment: “I used to think there were few resources available for working with LGBTQ+ youth which respected their individuality and personhood. Now I think there are a growing number of agencies/programs which service LGBTQ youth.”

Next Steps

King County Juvenile Court expands training, works toward a policy that integrates this training for all new JC employees and, eventually, identify a designated leader to ensure trainings and work continues. 

“From a leadership perspective, we now talk about diversity differently. It’s not just black and brown diversity. We have had some challenging conversations that make some people uncomfortable”

We sincerely thank CCJY and all the financial support that made this pilot project possible.

At the new Children and Family Justice Center, staff will be fully trained to connect our youth with the serves that best support them.

Rant & Rave: Widow receives jury summons for deceased husband

Here’s the Seattle Times “Rant & Rave” column.

We feel badly that this widow received a jury summons for her deceased husband of three years. That has to be tough especially after so long. Unfortunately, filing a death certificate with the Department of Health doesn’t automatically notify a county that an individual has passed. It can be frustrating that all government agencies don’t have a better mechanism for sharing information.

Here is how the rest of the process works:

WaTech (state agency) receives the Secretary of State (SOS) data for voter registration and the Department of Licensing data for licensed drivers and identicard holders.  WaTech merges the two databases to create the ‘merged’ jury source list.  WaTech then provides to Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC – state agency)  four files for each county:  merged, SOS alone, DOL alone, and a suspected duplicates file. 

The County Clerk or lead jury data coordinator for each county receives notice that the files are available for download via a secure web page.  These individuals receive access to the most current data in spring, and the data pull, merge, and post process happens once per year.  District courts or cities that need access to potential juror data contact the County Clerk or local jury source list lead for access to addresses that fall within their jurisdiction.  Some counties use a vendor to coordinate their jury pool activities.

We don’t know how long an individual may remain in the SOS data system or the DOL license & ident card holder databases.  It is not uncommon for deceased individuals to receive ballots, and the surviving spouse would need to contact SOS to report the passing of the individual.  Similarly, a driver’s license is valid for several years, so unless a surviving spouse notified DOL as well, the individual would remain in the DOL database that is passed to WaTech. 

Who is buying our children for sex?

Learn more at https://www.kingcountycsec.org/

KM: My name is Kelly Mangaracina and I am King County’s Commercially Sexually Exploited Children’s Task Force Coordinator and Program Manager. I attempt to keep everybody who is addressing the issue of sex trafficking of children at the table, talking to each other, coordinating our response so that we can provide a better continuum of care for our young people and hopefully not duplicate resources.

JH: Do we have a child sex trafficking problem in King County?

We have a child sex trafficking problem in Seattle, in King County, in Washington state, and in the United States. There is no community that is immune to this issue. if you look at the federal definition for purposes of kids, it’s a very simple definition.

You need to have a young person under the age of 18 and a commercial sex act and a commercial sex act is anytime there’s a sexual encounter in exchange for something of good or value. That goes up to a young person who is 17 and 364 days of age. As soon as the young person turns 18 we need to prove that they engaged in that commercial sex act because of force, fraud or coercion. But if they’re under the age of 18 we simply need to prove that there is a commercial sex act and that they are under the age of 18 and that is child sex trafficking. We don’t need to prove that there’s a third party pimp or trafficker simply that there is a commercial sex act and the individual is under the age of 18.

Anything of good or value is exchanged for a sexual encounter and that would be money, actual financial exchange for sexual intercourse. It would also be the exchange of drugs for that sexual encounter. It could be a sandwich in exchange for that sexual encounter. It could be a place to stay for that sexual encounter. So oftentimes what we have is youth who are experiencing homelessness, who are participating in what we could call survival sex. They’re doing what they need to do to survive and they are victims of child sex trafficking.

JH: Survival sex is a termed I’ve never heard before.

It is young people having sex in order to meet their basic survival needs, their needs for food, shelter, clothing, or I’d argue if there’s an addiction at play also for drugs.

For years we criminalized this behavior and called those young people prostitutes. We were charging them with prostitution for a crime that they couldn’t actually consent to do. We are charging 13- 14- 15-year-old children with prostitution. Fortunately we collectively have learned from our mistakes and we now see those children appropriately – as victims of commercial sexual exploitation, exploitation, victims of commercial sex trafficking. And those young people are seen as victims and no longer stigmatized or labeled as criminals in that way.

So here’s a little analogy that we like to use. If you have a 40-year-old soccer coach in 40-year-old soccer coach has a sexual relationship with 14-year-old on the soccer team and the 14-year-old says, but no, I love soccer coach. I want to be having sex with soccer coach. I’m down with this. This is what I want. Everybody universally as agreed that a crime has occurred that the soccer coach is the bad actor in this scenario and that Kiddo has done nothing wrong. Kiddo should not be charged with anything and all we should be doing is getting that young person connected to the services that they need.

 If we change that script a little, just a little bit, people get confused. Same 40-year-old soccer coach, same 14-year-old young person, exact same sex act occurring, but instead of the kid being on the soccer team, kid is now experiencing homelessness and at the end of the sex act kidded receives $50 in. Kid says, no, you don’t understand. I wanted to do it. I wanted the $50 I’m down with this. Historically, what we did is we said, oh, kid should be charged with prostitution. Kid should be put in juvenile detention. Kid is the bad actor in this scenario.

If kid on the soccer team can’t consent to this exploitation for love, why are you saying that kid who’s experiencing homelessness can consents of this exploitation for money? When in doubt, take the money out. If it’s exploitation, it’s exploitation. And we fortunately opened up our eyes and said, you know what? You’re right. A 14 year old cannot consent. They can’t consent for love. They cannot consent for money.

JH: Who are these men?

I like to say they’re not the creepy dude you cross the street to avoid. They look like everybody else. The data we have from the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office and men charged with the commercial sexual abuse of a minor are men you would see as you walk down the streets of downtown Seattle, there are men in suits. They’re men in ties. They are men who are in business. They are in travel, they’re in it. They are in the military. They look like everybody else.

The cases that we do see with our prosecutor’s office are oftentimes well educated, privileged men who are buying access to young people who are doing what they need to do to survive. And we have a disproportionate number of privileged individuals buying are more marginalized individuals and to put a very striking, shocking spin to it and when we have a real child being harmed in charged cases from the King County prosecuting attorney’s Office on commercial sexual abuse of a minor 52% of the time that child is African American. The African American population of King County is nowhere close to 52%. This is some radical disproportionality in which we have privileged disproportionately white men buying access to our marginalized youth of color.

JH: How does that happen?

I work with an amazing survivor and she is mixed race and she made a comment one time that the men purchased her because she didn’t look like their daughter. They were specifically targeting the “Other”. I don’t have actual data to back that up. That is one survivor story, but that narrative speaks volumes of truth to me.

JH: What don’t people know that you think they should?

It happens here and it’s harmful, but we can help, but now we need to look at the why it’s happening and how it’s happening and how we can interrupt it. In King County we have great free classes that are available for anyone who’s interested in taking them at our website, www.kingcounty.csec.org  We have five different trainings that are all free and all open to the public.

There are lots of myths and misconceptions about what sex trafficking is, and if we don’t have good information, we do ourselves a disservice.

We need people to be informed of what the actual issue is and once they know what it is, how to respond appropriately in a compassionate and judgment-free manner.

Here’s a question for you. Do LGBTQ youth experience homelessness at a disproportionately higher rate? Yes. Are homeless youth more likely to engage in things like survival sex and be more at risk for trafficking? Yes, so it makes sense that there’s a disproportionately high rate of LGBTQ youth who are trafficked and we really need to respond in a trauma informed, supportive, nonjudgmental way when we come across youth. Anyone can be exploited – boys, girls, trans youth, youth of all racial ethnicities, youth of all demographics, youth of all education levels, youth of all socioeconomic statuses. Any youth can be exploited.

When we ask the young people themselves, “Have you ever traded sex for money, drugs, food, shelter, or something you needed to survive?” And they say, yes. About half of our yesses come from girls and about half of our yesses come from boys. So if we’re only thinking that trafficking survivors, our girls were missing half of our victims who are in need of services. This happens to our boys, this happens to our trans youth, this happens to our gender nonconforming youth. We really need to open our eyes that this can happen to anyone.

There are some families where you grew up in, you’re expected to be a doctor. Some families where you grew up and you’re expected to be a lawyer. Some families you grew up in, you’re expected to be a teacher. There are some families where you grew up in, you’re expected to be in the sex trades. No judgment on that. That’s just the family business. There’s also family-based exploitation that happens when maybe mom or dad’s addiction is so extreme that they are sharing access to the young person for financial assistance to get those drugs. Or it might be that mom and dad need money for rent and so their trading access to their child for that purpose. People really haven’t looked into that and really thought about it much, but what we’re finding is that it is very prevalent in cases of sex trafficking, that there have been some family trafficking as well.

Poverty is a really great trafficker. When you do not have the means to make ends meet, you’ll do anything. We live in an area with very high-income inequality and we have people with access to lots of wealth and people who are barely scraping by and it is ripe for trafficking.

JH: Do you think it’s getting worse now that there’s that disparity in the greater Seattle area?

That is a great question and my answer is, I don’t know. Seattle is oftentimes ranked as one of the worst cases for traffic or were cities for trafficking. And could it be because it’s actually that bad? Maybe. We are a port city. We are near an international border. We’re on the I-5 corridor. We’re part of the circuit. You have Vancouver, BC, Seattle, Portland, and Las Vegas. We have high income disproportionality. All of those could be why we have a really bad problem.

The pushback I would give is in Seattle and in King County for the most part, comparatively speaking, we’re what we are relatively well aware of this issue through free training and fabulous organizations. So we have a more engaged community. We are identifying more cases, we’re prosecuting more cases and we’re connecting more survivors to services. So it looks like we have a really bad problem. I’d argue that there are cities out there who have no trafficking cases, not because they don’t have trafficking, but because they’re not aware and they’re not looking for it. So on one level, the fact that we are finding all of these cases, that’s a really good thing. It means we’re aware of it. And we’re connecting our survivors to much needed services. Now do we need more services? Yes, but we’re doing good with the what we have at the moment.