Human Trafficking Awareness in Oregon

Submitted by Kay Helbling

Sunday marked the 2nd annual Day of Awareness for recognizing problems of human trafficking in the world. In Oregon, many organizations are stepping forward to bring awareness to the issue and more importantly to extend hands of help to the victims of this horrible, yet somewhat ignored crime. But, is it enough?

In her presentation to the state’s Criminal Justice Committee, Caroline Holmes, a member of the FBI’s Human Trafficking Task Force, pointed out two startling facts. First, that the incidence of human trafficking is not being tracked in Oregon and second, that Oregon currently has no training on this issue. (, 8-7-08)

Ms. Homes indicated that today the problem has been recognized as most concentrated in the tri-county metro area of Lane, Deschutes, and Marion counties. However, the Portland metro area definitely is not immune to the problem. Human trafficking in the Portland area is exacerbated by access to Interstate 5 and the area’s robust sex industry, said James Pond, the founder and executive director of Transitions Global in Hillsboro. (World sex trade: A local wake-up call, Oregonian 1/09)

Christopher Carey, Executive Director for the Daywalka Foundation set up at PSU’s Hatfield School of Government for anti-trafficking advocacy, said Portland is a conduit city as well as a destination for criminal rings that run up and down the West coast. Oregon is situated between California and Washington, said to be the two states with the largest trafficking problems in the country. (Portland Alliance, April, 2006).

With trafficking there is also a large connection to gangs and an organized crime component. By definition, human trafficking is not limited to females. Men and boys are sold into slavery or forced labor, as well. According to Catholic Charities, victims are forced to work as domestic servants, on farms, or in the hospitality industry. But experts say the majority of victims are young women and girls forced into prostitution, often before they reach their teens.

Many incidents involve young teens being abducted, gang raped and then held captive in a back room where there are repeatedly raped and forced to perform degrading sex acts. Their lives and the lives of their families are threatened. Some are taken to the streets to prostitute. Ms. Holmes points out that without proper training or procedure to identify the prostitute as a trafficking victim, they are charged as criminals rather than treated as victims of a sex crime.

Organizations are stepping forward to aid Oregon youth, but, we can all be more aware of the potential dangers and take steps of precaution. Prevention follows much the same guidelines as can be found with child abductions. Victims are no longer just runaways, kids who’ve been abandoned, or children snatched off the sidewalk. The clever male or female traffickers go where the kids are—malls, ski slopes, skate parks, gaming rooms, and on the internet. Naïve teens can be lured with promises of modeling jobs, money, or clothing.

“These predators are particularly adept at reading kids and knowing what their vulnerabilities are,” said FBI Deputy Assistant Director, Chip Burrus, who started the Lost Innocence project, which specializes in child- and teen-sex trafficking. “They are going to do everything in their power to try to convince young girls and boys to come with them and enter this particular lifestyle.”

Since the passage of the federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act in 2000, the issue has gained momentum nationally. Locally, non-profit organizations such as Catholic Charities, Daywalka, and Transitions Global efforts are bringing aid to rescued victims. But, we all need to bring awareness to this issue.

If you are concerned for anyone who may have fallen victim to this crime, you can contact the Department of Justice Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-428-7581.

Kay was an insurance adjuster and executive for 15 years, a small business owner and a teacher for 10. But, her most fulfilling work has been as a mother of her two boys. She is now looking forward to an empty nest with her best friend—her husband.


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