On May 10, the Washington Technology Industry Association (WTIA) partnered with Businesses Ending Slavery & Trafficking (BEST) for a conference addressing the impact of sex trafficking the tech industry. The half-day conference brought together approximately 70 leaders to debate and resolve how tech companies can combat illegal sex in Seattle and across the nation.
Over the past decade, technology has dramatically impacted almost every facet of our lives, and that impact can be seen in the illegal commercial sex industry as well. King County Senior Deputy Prosecuting Attorney and BEST Advisory Board member, Valiant Richey, shared the shocking statistics and just how big of a role technology plays in virtually every one of today’s sex trafficking and sex buying cases. Richey noted that within just 2 hours of a detective posting an ad illegally selling sex, they will receive between 200-250 responses. According to Richey, “The internet is the new streets for buyers buying sex.” Arizona State University concluded that in 2014 there were approximately 6,800 buyers soliciting sex on one website in any given 24-hour period. There are over 100 such websites.
These shocking statistics are just one reason why the Washington Technology Industry Association is grappling with how the tech industry might change this horrific reality. Bringing together key leaders from the industry, WTIA is utilizing the innovative and entrepreneurial spirit of the tech industry, to help craft solutions to prevent trafficking and exploitation from happening. “I look at the people here today and I am confident we can make a change,” said conference panelist and WTIA Board Chair, Bill Richter.
Mar Brettmann, Executive Director of BEST said, “The leadership by the WTIA and the Washington tech industry is significant and unparalleled. Our tech industry is not only innovating and creating new jobs and opportunities but also demonstrating this commitment to the welfare of some of the most vulnerable members of our community: victims of human trafficking.”
Conference attendees heard from prostitution survivor, Alisa Bernard, and learned how much harm sex trafficking causes. Mike Provenzano, who facilitates a men’s accountability class, also shared his work with convicted sex buyers, explaining, “I was nervous about leading the first class until I met the men. They are just like us. They are normal guys, like us.” Heather Redman, COO at Indix Corporation, led the panel of Tech leaders, including, Bill Richter, Madrona Ventures Partner and WTIA Board Chairman, Dawn Lepore, former CEO and Chairman of the Board of drugstore.com, Robb Monkman, CEO and co-founder of React Mobile and Brent Turner, COO of Rover.com.
The panelists highlighted the need to adapt policies and create awareness around human trafficking and to promote key organizational values. BEST Executive Director, Dr. Mar Bretmann noted that a lack of education and awareness are reasons why more companies don’t have policies in place. Robb Monkman of React Mobile said, “When you align with an organization like BEST, it signals to your employees that you’re behind this issue.”
The event wrapped up with King County Executive, Dow Constantine thanking WTIA and BEST for being a national leader in the prevention of sex trafficking.