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Hidden Traffic 

When the Rev. Dr. Eileen Lindner gauges the progress made in dealing with child slavery and forced labor during the last 25 years, she has this to say: "God forgive us."

In the 1980s human trafficking (outside of agriculture) was largely centered on entrapping children to work under brutal and dangerous conditions in the textile and mining industries. It created a firestorm in first-world countries where the outrage forced changes and people moved on to other issues, feeling good.

And today? "Today, it's children in the sex trade and children as soldiers. God forgive us," Lindner, an international champion in the fight against slavery, told a Spokane audience recently.

A few days later T. March Bell, senior counsel for human trafficking with the Justice Department made a similar presentation in Coeur d'Alene as part of a swing through the region.

There is a growing awareness of human trafficking, defined as the involuntary use of a person for gain, in Spokane and North Idaho. A regional task force has been formed with police and social service agencies to enter this hidden world.

Just last month Post Falls police and federal immigration investigators raided and shut down a restaurant after a three-month investigation. It turned out to be a straightforward case of illegal immigration, Post Falls detective Lt. Greg McLean says, but police were ready for a darker story.

"Originally we did have some concerns about potential for slavery. We did hear employees were paid $7 a day. That sparked concern."

Trafficking, McLean says, "is on our radar."

Lindner, the deputy general secretary for research and planning with the National Council of Churches, listed kids recruited for porn, children rented out for sex right along with the beachfront cottage. In Spokane, it's believed young teenage girls are recruited here via a variety of deceits and then turned out for sex.

"A lot of this material is offensive. But if they can stand to live it, you can stand to hear it ... or this will never change." Linder says.

Police, firefighters, cable installers and meter readers run across human trafficking situations by accident, says Melissa Cilley of Lutheran Community Services.

Victims of trafficking are isolated, often strangers in strange locales prohibited from leaving a residence or using telephones, she says. Some are threatened. Some refuse to add to their misery by bringing shame on their families so they never try to escape. A good number may not even be able to articulate they are victims of trafficking, Lindner, Cilley and Bell say.

The reality is heartbreaking by being so tenuous: cryptic calls for help to hotlines by people speaking in rushed voices, afraid to leave their names, Cilley says.

It's here, it's hidden and it's horrific. God forgive us, as Lindner says.

In Spokane call (509) 624-7273, in Idaho (888) 373-7888 if you think you've encountered a victim of trafficking.

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