I feel like ordering a collection of capes and passing them out to all the people I’m meeting who are doing something to fight the sex trafficking of minors.
Because what you can’t say today about our nation’s problem with human trafficking is this: How come no one is doing anything about it?
You used to be able to say that — and for legitimate reasons. People with all the superhero qualities in the world had no idea sex trafficking was a pervasive problem in Portland. We thought it was a problem in far-off places where our reach was limited — or that sex slaves were trickling in from other countries. But in 2006, a report commissioned by the U.S. Department of Justice and written by Shared Hope International of Vancouver, surprised a lot of people, revealing that people who are traded for sex within our borders are most often U.S.-born.
Villains are usually ahead of the game. And criminals have figured out there is an ample supply of young girls and boys to victimize in our country — children from broken homes, in foster care, in poverty and young girls who simply believe the promises of a pimp posing as a loving, caring boyfriend.
The bad guys have gotten away with this long enough that tens of thousands of American children are involved in the commercial sex industry.
While the government lacks comprehensive research to determine the number of victims, the Justice Department says the average age of entry into prostitution is now 13. It estimates that nearly 300,000 American youth are currently at risk of becoming victims of commercial sexual exploitation. And Portland is a human-trafficking hotspot.
That’s the bad news.
Back to the superheroes: When people learn children are lured into commercial sex by pimps posing as boyfriends and prostituted at truck stops just down the road, they want to help.
Nola Brantley, a survivor of sexual slavery who runs a program for sexually exploited youth in California, spoke Wednesday at an awareness event put on by the Not for Sale campaign on the Portland State University campus. In her talk, Brantley applauded Oregonians’ passionate response to sex trafficking.
She’s right. There’s a lot happening here. In addition to Oregonians Against Trafficking Humans, the Oregon Human Trafficking Task Force and Shared Hope International, legislators in Oregon and Washington passed laws this session to increase awareness of sex trafficking and publicize a national hot line that people can call if they need help or suspect wrongdoing.
The Washington Legislature is heading where Oregon needs to go with a bill to establish tougher penalties for buyers and traffickers and raising money for crisis shelters and intervention programs. The bill also would require authorities to consider noncriminal alternatives for some children arrested for prostitution.
Both states need to end the practice of arresting minors for prostitution and treat juveniles involved in sex trafficking as victims rather than criminals. But to do that, we need places for victims to recover, safe from predators.
Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., is trying to help on that front, pushing federal legislation that would authorize block grants to create comprehensive programs to help sex-trafficking victims in six different U.S. locations.
Proving you don’t have to wait for the world to change, you can be a part of the change, Lexie Woodward organized Wednesday’s Not for Sale event. An estimated 180 people attended. “I’m really excited about the turnout,” the PSU student said, noting that it wasn’t an all-student crowd. “This will help get the word out that slavery never ended, it just evolved.”
Another student raising awareness is Lara Lucero. The Clark County high-schooler is organizing a fundraiser in May called the “Stuck in Traffic Run.”
A Clark County man who works in Portland is planning a motorcycle rally this summer that will go from truck stop to truck stop, with riders handing out information about sex trafficking along the Interstate 5 corridor. As a father of three daughters and girls’ volleyball coach, he wants a wave of men to stand up and say, “We’re not going to tolerate this,” he said. “Men created the demand, and I really believe men have to help stop it.”
Luke Armstrong, representing the Institute of Trafficked, Exploited and Missing Persons, an international nonprofit, also spoke Wednesday at PSU. He reminded people of small but meaningful ways to prevent modern-day slavery.
You don’t have to go head-to-head with a pimp or rescue minors from hotel rooms. You can donate, become a mentor to at-risk youth, find ways to help meet the needs of families in poverty and combat the conditions that make children vulnerable to sexual exploitation in the first place.
Everyone can play a part. It’s a good thing capes come one-size-fits-all.
For educational purposes only