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High school senior writes Washington’s new sex trafficking awareness bill

Legislation requiring sex trafficking education in Washington state public schools unanimously passed by state Senate.

Published: March 1, 2023 8:50pm

Updated: March 1, 2023 11:24pm

(The Center Square) -

The author of a new bill mandating sex trafficking education in Washington state public schools is not a member of the Legislature. She hasn’t even graduated high school yet.

Upon the legislation’s unanimous passage Wednesday in the state Senate, the bill’s chief sponsor let it be known that all credit, perhaps even school credit, should go elsewhere.

Senate Bill 5355 is sponsored by Senator Claire Wilson, D-Auburn, but was created, drafted and negotiated by Eastside Preparatory School senior Ria Bahadur,” the Washington Senate Democrats announced in a news release.

Wilson elaborated in a joint statement that the bill’s actual author Bahadur “has been a leader in ensuring that we work to prevent sex trafficking here in Washington” and that she, the state senator, was “inspired” by the student’s “tenacity in bringing this solution to the Legislature.”

The bill, if enacted, would require that in the 2025-2026 school year, all “school districts must provide instruction on sex trafficking prevention and identification at least once between grades seven and 12.”

The bill further specifies what that course content must consist of, including:

(a) Information related to race, gender, and socioeconomic status in sex trafficking as it relates to both victims and perpetrators, including issues of intersectionality and legislative implications of these categories;

(b) Medically and legally accurate definitions of sex trafficking and information related to how terms become stigmatized, which in turn leads to a lack of reporting and difficulties with detecting and prosecuting the crime; and

(c) Information related to reporting systems and community engagement opportunities with local, state, or national organizations against sex trafficking and basic identification training to determine if an individual is at risk of or has been sex trafficked.

The preamble of the bill says that this is a necessary discussion to have in public schools because the Legislature “recognizes that [t]he United States has the second largest concentration of past and current trafficking victims, and Washington state is currently the sixth largest epicenter of sex trafficking in the United States.”

A fiscal impact analysis of the bill projected a "Non-zero but indeterminate cost and/or savings."

Assessing the progress of the bill thus far, Bahadur said, “I am so excited that this bill will provide access to actionable, intersectional, and informative sex trafficking education and generate conscientious changemakers that will challenge the manifold stigmas plaguing the understanding of this crime.”

Though the bill did pass the Senate with a vote of 48-0, Republicans did offer two amendments to make this coursework encouraged rather than mandatory and subject to the districts’ normal budgetary constraints. Both amendments were defeated.

The bill now heads to the state House for consideration.

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