A DISTURBING new Urban Institute study of eight metropolitan areas concludes the Seattle and Tacoma area has the fastest-growing and most diverse marketplace for the commercial sex trade, from massage parlors to prostitution and escort services.

Many workers are coerced into this illicit industry as children. Business increased locally from $50 million in 2003 to $112 million in 2007, according to the study.

Police tell The Seattle Times there are two big reasons for the surge: better reporting over the last decade and the region’s location near a port and interstate highways.

Though the challenge is daunting, state legislators made commendable progress this session to fight the scourge of sex trafficking. They also sent a strong message to Congress to act, especially since the exploited are often moved across state lines.

    Most Read Stories

State Senate Joint Memorial 8003 pushes the federal government to update the Communications Decency Act of 1996. This would allow states to enact laws that hold Internet service providers liable when they allow pimps to advertise sex with young girls through adult websites such as Backpage.com.

Here in Washington, local law-enforcement officials are equipped with new legal tools. For instance, counties can now recoup some investigative costs from sales of seized property used in trafficking crimes. Authorities can also file felony charges against those who force people into sex work.

Other legislative milestones: Survivors can get a fresh start by petitioning judges to have their records cleared of prostitution convictions. And for the first time, all foster kids will be appointed an attorney to help them stay off the streets and away from predators.

Several local, county and statewide task forces are meeting in the coming months to determine next steps in this ever-changing battle.

Lawmakers must weigh their recommendations, which so far have focused on training communities to identify and respond to those who suffer from commercial sexual exploitation.

Once found, these workers must not be treated as criminals. They are victims in need of serious help.

Editorial board members are editorial page editor Kate Riley, Frank A. Blethen, Ryan Blethen, Sharon Pian Chan, Lance Dickie, Jonathan Martin, Thanh Tan, William K. Blethen (emeritus) and Robert C. Blethen (emeritus).