Washington state is an opportune location to be a human trafficker, said Kris Camenzind, executive director of The Human Response Network, and despite its certain presence in Lewis County, it remains an under-reported crime, she added.
“I think it’s something, as a community, we’re not really aware of what to look for, and human trafficking victims have the inability to seek services,” she said, adding that in January — which happens to be Human Trafficking Awareness Month — they’ve made contact with four victims of human trafficking.
Federal law defines human trafficking as: “The recruitment, transportation, harboring, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud or coercion, for the purposes of subjecting that person to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage or slavery.”
Often, Camenzind said, such reports are from individuals who live out of the county, and are on the run from whoever is keeping them in their situation. One of the individuals, Camenzind said, was a woman in her 60s being forced to appear in pornographic videos.
Another client kept running away from traffickers, but was repeatedly found. She likely had some sort of tracking device hidden on her vehicle, Camenzind said, resulting in her always being located. The woman told some of her experiences to Human Response Network workers, but kept some to herself, saying she didn’t want to traumatize the staff with her stories.
Clients are allowed to share as much as they feel comfortable sharing, said Camenzind.
According to Camenzind and information from the state Attorney General’s office, Washington’s border with Canada, many ports, expanses of rural land and need for agricultural workers are all factors making it a hotspot for trafficking.
The Washington State Patrol has conducted five stings under the name “Operation Human Freight” to locate victims of human trafficking and prostitution and to arrest the actual traffickers.
WSP Lt. James Mjor told The Chronicle that WSP’s concentrated investigation into human trafficking in the state started Jan. 1, 2018, with only a staff of three individuals. With such minimal resources, he said the five stings were a good “bang for our buck.” He believes more stings with more devoted personnel and planning will occur in the future.
In April 2018, several people were arrested in Lewis County as part of Operation Human Freight, with three people booked on suspicion of second-degree promoting prostitution. Mjor said arrested were: David Campagnola, 37, of Spanaway; Landen Alexander, 26, of Tacoma; and Shawn Wilson, 56, of Lacey.
A search of Lewis County’s court database only yields results for Campagnola’s case. A representative from the Lewis County Prosecutor’s Office didn’t immediately return a phone call to discuss the status or outcome of the other two cases.
Campagnola was sentenced to 60 months in the Department of Corrections for an incident in which authorities say an undercover trooper responded to an online advertisement for prostitution. Campagnola drove a woman to the designated meeting place — a truck stop in Lewis County just off I-5. He was arrested after the undercover officer exchanged $200 for what he was told would be “full sex.”
All other arrests were netted that same day at the truck stop as well. The point of the sting was to charge the individuals promoting prostitution, rather than the actual sex workers.
“I have yet to meet a survivor who says, ‘Yeah I want to be a prostitute,’” Mjor told The Chronicle at the time, noting that he and others involved in the operation challenge the perception that prostitution is a victimless crime. “A lot of people will tell you they want to be there when their pimp just dropped them off.”
And while I-5 allows for easy travel between jurisdictions, Camenzind said Lewis County almost certainly serves as the scene of its own instances of human trafficking, due its rural expanses and easy access to the freeway.
She said some signs of possible human trafficking are individuals who are never left alone, or when someone else handles their forms of identification.
The Human Response Network is relatively new to offering services to trafficking victims. Primarily, the agency focuses on victims of domestic and sexual violence.
When trafficking victims do come to the office seeking resources, Camenzind said they have things they can do to help, and will eventually refer them to state organizations that focus entirely on helping human trafficking victims.
She said they will seek further training on the topic.
Recently, Human Response Network was the recipient of $22,000 in cash donations from citizen donors. Camenzind said she was struck by the amount, because they hadn’t been actively fundraising at the time, and all donations were received between Dec. 1, 2018 and a few days ago.
The Human Response Network will be the recipient of 90 percent of donations gathered at a Feb. 12 production of “The Vagina Monologues” at Kirk Library on the Centralia College campus. The production starts at 6:30 p.m., and there’s a suggested $5 donation at the door.