Smith fights against human trafficking

Since losing a bid for Patty Murray's Senate seat in 1998, former U.S. Rep. Linda Smith has devoted herself to the issue of human trafficking, estimated to be a $19 billion industry that involves up to 4 million people worldwide, mainly women and children.

"This is an issue of basic freedom," said Smith, who spoke to supporters at a breakfast yesterday in Seattle.

With her were two survivors of Indian brothels. Through translators, the women described how they were sold into prostitution and abandoned by their families. When there seemed to be no hope, they were taken in by a missionary in Bombay. The women expressed both a newfound faith and gratitude toward Smith, whom they called "Auntie."

The former legislator from Vancouver, Wash., has become a successful single-issue activist, founding Shared Hope International in 1998 to combat human trafficking through awareness, legislation and partnerships with missionary groups worldwide.

As the group's executive director, Smith couples her political clout and Christian beliefs in a crusade against what she sees as slavery.

"My beliefs drive me," she said. "I consider it a ministry but not a faith-based group. If I ever advertised as a Christian, I can't do the work I do."

"This role is a perfect fit for who and what Linda Smith is," said Chris Vance, state Republican chairman. "She is unbelievably passionate about right and wrong, good and evil, and about her faith."

Since the nonprofit group's inception, it has raised a significant amount of money — $1 million last year, up 60 percent from 2001.

According to Smith, the money was donated by about 35,000 individuals, many of whom are likely contacts from her days as a politician.

A financial statement from Shared Hope International showed a mailing list — an invaluable fund-raising tool — contributed by Smith to the nonprofit, valued at $58,000. Such lists typically sell at $100 for 1,000 names.

"Linda Smith was the ultimate and the original grass-roots warrior," Vance said. "She had more grass-roots support than anyone I have ever seen."

In addition to funds, Smith is backed by former political allies in Washington, D.C., including Attorney General John Ashcroft and Rep. Henry Hyde of Illinois.

The U.S. enacted tougher penalties for traffickers and increased protection for victims through the U.S. Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000.

While trafficking is comparatively less common in the U.S. than in other areas of the world, it remains a substantial presence.

An estimated 50,000 to 100,000 people are brought annually into the U.S. against their will, often in a debt-bondage system, according to the CIA.

Last September, eight people were arrested in Seattle, Portland and Los Angeles in a crackdown on an international prostitution ring.

While only a handful of human-trafficking cases have been linked to Seattle, the city is considered one of the major entry points for women from Asia.

Because of this, it is one of the first five cities slated for trafficking detection and training next month.

Sarah Anne Wright: 206-464-2752 or