The Chronicle, Centralia, Wash.
April 18—The Washington State Patrol, in a partnership with the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office, arrested several as-yet unnamed suspects and contacted possible victims in a sting targeting human trafficking Tuesday afternoon at a Twin Cities location along Interstate 5, said WSP Lt. James Mjor.
During “Operation Human Freight, five women were identified as victims of forced prostitution and human trafficking, according to the state patrol.
“This is a positive collaborative effort to end the vicious cycle of human trafficking,” WSP Chief John R. Batiste said in a press release. “This operation not only helps protect the victims of human trafficking but also safeguards our communities from criminal activity.”
This is the second state patrol operation this year targeting not prostitutes or their clients, but those who promote prostitution, Mjor said, commonly referred to as pimps.
“That’s the people we want to get,” he said.
The operation also sought to intercept and rescue victims of human trafficking, including children or women trapped in a lifestyle of prostitution without their consent, Mjor said. Advocates from the Federal Bureau of Investigation were on the scene Tuesday to provide food, water and services for victims.
“I have yet to meet a survivor who says, ‘Yeah I want to be a prostitute,’ ” Mjor told The Chronicle Wednesday, 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.”
Undercover officers set up Tuesday afternoon at a truck stop along Interstate 5 in the Centralia and Chehalis Area. Mjor said he couldn’t give a more exact location because of the undercover nature of the operation and an ongoing investigation.
However, the state patrol announced Wednesday that, during the six-hour operation, several people were arrested on suspicion of second-degree promoting prostitution, possession of methamphetamine and local warrants.
Names of those arrested have not been released due to the ongoing investigation.
The location in the Centralia/Chehalis area was chosen because it is a “high-traffic” area, according to the state patrol.
“This successful operation to impact human trafficking in our community is an example of the great working partnerships among law enforcement in our area,” said Lewis County Sheriff Rob Snaza. “This operation allowed us the ability to reach out and offer support and resources to victims, and hold those who facilitate these crimes accountable for their actions.”
Chief Lewis County Sheriff’s Deputy Dusty Breen said he was surprised by how many people were contacted by undercover officers in such a short amount of time, given recent law-enforcement crackdowns on internet sites used to advertise prostitution.
However, he said an earlier Lewis County investigation using online ads to target sex predators was also highly successful.
“Years ago we did some Craigslist stings,” he said. “I was shocked by … within the first half an hour before our Craigslist post got shut down, we had approximately 70 emails back.”
Tuesday’s operation also involved the Lewis County Prosecutor’s Office, the Centralia Police Department, the Joint Narcotics Enforcement Team, the Lakewood Police Department and Homeland Security Investigations.