State officials see increase in human trafficking

NORTH BEND — It may not sound like an issue for a small community in rural Oregon, but experts say Coos County already could be a hotbed for human trafficking.

It’s a modern-day slave trade that has moved into Oregon, with a surprising increase in Portland, said Chris Killmer, a member of the Oregon Human Trafficking Task Force and the program coordinator for Outreach and Support to Special Immigrant Populations.

“It’s happening and people don’t realize it’s happening,” Killmer said.

Because Coos County has a population of homeless youth, children and teens here are vulnerable for kidnapping or recruitment into human trafficking.

“If you have runaway homeless youth, then you more than likely have a problem. It goes hand-in-hand,” said Keith Bickford, a Multnomah County sheriff’s deputy, who directs the task force.

He was not aware of any cases in the county.

Killmer and Bickford spoke Wednesday to a full house during the Bay Area Chamber of Commerce Independent Business Operator’s Luncheon at The Mill Casino-Hotel. Sponsored by The Zonta Club of Coos Bay Area, which partnered with the Coos County Commission on Children and Families, the event was intended to let people know about the problem. Following the luncheon, the two men trained local police officers and others how to recognize and help human trafficking victims.

“We’re talking about slavery,” Killmer said. “People are being forced to work against their will. They’re not being paid. They’re being kept in horrible conditions. They or their families are being threatened.”

Human trafficking, according to the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, is the use of coercion, deception or force to enslave men, women and children or place them in slavery-like conditions.

It comes in many forms. Labor trafficking usually involves victims forced to work in conditions of involuntary servitude though force, fraud or coercion; sex trafficking deals with commercial sex acts not limited to prostitution, exotic dancing and pornography. Once a girl is “used up,” Killmer said traffickers will send her to a different region, where she can deal with a new clientele.

“They view human life as a commodity,” he said.

Worldwide, officials estimate there are 600,000 and 800,000 people enslaved annually worldwide, with 14,500 to 17,500 in the United States.

In Oregon, Killmer said he and other experts are seeing labor trafficking, domestic servitude and sex trafficking, and involving immigrants.

In Oregon, people are being forced to work for little or no pay in poor conditions on farms, in restaurants and in people’s homes. The state’s geography and economy of large rural areas, significant migrant farm worker population and under staffed law enforcement agencies, makes the state ripe for these types of crimes.

Captors often convince victims to stay through threats and promises they’ll release them once they’ve worked off debts that don’t exist. Victims also can be isolated through language and cultural barriers. Killmer and Bickford said trafficking victims often won’t go to police because those agencies can’t be trusted in their home countries.

“Overall, it’s a culture of fear that keeps victims in line,” Killmer said.

Bickford recalled one case involving a woman who planted trees on a ranch or farm. He said her supervisors raped her almost daily and didn’t pay her for her job.

“She never knew there’s people you can talk to and get help,” Bickford said.

Saving victims from these situations is difficult, the program coordinator said.

“Rescue is a process. Rescue is not an act,” Killmer said. “Oftentimes, they don’t even know how to take the bus.”

The signs of slavery

What: Modern-day slave traders are engaging in human trafficking, not only worldwide and across the nation, but in Oregon, too.

Signs: There are a number of clues, including, but not limited to, physical abuse or chronic neglect, branding, submissive or fearful behavior, language barriers and a lack of identification. A victim may also lie about her age, have excess amounts of cash or numerous hotel key cards, and may have sexually transmitted diseases, be pregnant or have suffered from botched abortions.

How to help: Keith Bickford of the Oregon Human Trafficking Task Force is looking for volunteers to start a task force in Coos County or Southern Oregon.

For information: Call him at (503) 251-2479, or e-mail


Published in: on November 20, 2009 at 6:36 am  Leave a Comment  
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