King County will soon have yet another line of defense against sex trafficking, thanks to a measure passed by the King County Council.
The council on Wednesday approved legislation that will lead to a requirement that for-hire drivers, including those with Uber and Lyft, receive sex trafficking awareness training as part of their county licensing process.
Sponsored by Councilmembers Jeanne Kohl-Welles, District 4, Reagan Dunn, District 9, and Claudia Balducci, District 6, the motion asks that the King County Executive create a training program that will teach drivers not only to spot potential sex trafficking victims and survivors but also how to report such instances and provide victims with information about support services.
“Rideshare and taxi drivers are often on the front lines of the human trafficking trade,” Kohl-Welles said. “By providing them with training about this horrific practice, they will be better able to recognize when someone is being trafficked and know what steps to take in response to connect potential victims to information to get them help and to safety.”
The training would impact thousands of drivers. In 2017, 2,453 taxi and for-hire drivers were licensed in King County, along with 27,842 transportation network company (app-based rideshare) drivers who had permits from the county.
“For-hire and taxi drivers are in a unique position to be allies in the fight against human trafficking,” Dunn said. “This training will ensure that more victims and survivors of trafficking are seen and offered help when they need it most.”
King County has undertaken a broad approach to raising awareness around human trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation, an issue deemed by the FBI to be the second-largest and fastest-growing black market in the world. In 2011, the county designated King County Metro buses as a National Safe Space Partner, part of a national program to provide outreach and support services for youth in crisis. A year later, the King County Council led efforts to develop an anti-human trafficking public awareness campaign across Metro buses and properties, which expanded through partnerships both with private organizations and with the city of Seattle. The campaign included signs on Metro buses and billboards along roads in the county.
The council has more recently called for further expansion of this awareness campaign.
“People who are trafficked against their will are some of the most vulnerable in our community,” Balducci said. “With proper training, drivers can act as our eyes and ears, identifying and reporting trafficking to stop this exploitation.”
Wednesday’s approval sets a deadline of April 2020 for a report detailing what the training program might look like.