'In plain sight every single day:' Feds crackdown on human trafficking in King County

Homeland Security Investigations are working to crack down on human trafficking in King County, not just by making arrests, but also by making connections.

In King County alone, it is estimated that 500 to 700 children are forced into sex work every year.

Victims can be as young as nine years old.

On average, officials with Homeland Security Investigations say 300 people buy sex along Aurora Avenue in King County every day.

"Unfortunately, I think our community is getting desensitized to it. And, you know, that’s concerning. We should never be desensitized to the fact that our population, our community members, are being trafficked right in front of us," said Special Agent Jayme McFarland with Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Seattle.

McFarland and a small team are walking along problem spots in King County, like Aurora Avenue, handing out bags to women who may be victims of trafficking.

Inside the bags are daily essentials like lotion and mouth wash, but the bags also include resources and contact information to help victims escape.

"These women can’t get out. And a lot of times, people aren’t thinking, either, about the fact that a lot of people on this street, or online that are having ads posted of them, are minors. They're children," said McFarland

For HSI, trafficking has been a focus for a while, but just within the last year this dedicated team has been working solely on the issue.

"There is no such thing as a juvenile prostitute there is only a human trafficking victim," said Robert Hammer.

Hammer is the special agent in charge for Homeland Security Investigations across the Pacific Northwest.

He says so far this year HSI has made 70 trafficking arrests.

"We’ve almost doubled the number of arrests that we’ve made, because we’re uncovering turn, after turn, these organizations that are exploiting and profiting off of the trafficking victims," he said.

By cracking down on the traffickers, and the people paying for sex work, as well as offering resources to the victims, HSI hopes they are shining a light on this very real issue in our community.

"It’s imperative that the community really understand what human trafficking is and the impacts it’s having on the community every single day," said Hammer 

For more information and resources on Human Trafficking click here.

Anyone who is in need can also call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1 (888) 373-7888.