The Portland metropolitan area has acquired a deplorable reputation nationwide for being a major hub for prostitution and child sex trafficking.
Most people, understandably, don’t want to think that children anywhere in the United States – and especially in Portland and East Multnomah County – are vulnerable to being ensnared by the sex industry. But the problem has become so evident that the Portland area was even featured in a recent Dan Rather television special: “Pornland, Oregon: Child Prostitution in Portland.”
The TV show told viewers something that local law-enforcement officials already knew: Child prostitution is a national problem in the United States. And Portland, due to its location on the Interstate 5 corridor, provides fertile ground for those who make money from the entrapment and abuse of children. In fact, a U.S. Department of Justice study has ranked Portland and Seattle among 12 hub cities where traffickers recruit teenagers for sex work and move them around the country.
The natural reaction to such news is usually denial – and the Portland area has experienced its share of that. But now we are pleased to see that local leaders are moving well beyond simple disavowal of the problem and toward effective solutions.
As reported this week in The Outlook and the Portland Tribune, East Multnomah County Commissioner Diane McKeel is working with others to establish new programs intended to attack prostitution and the exploitation of young women. These initiatives include:
• A $900,000 federal grant announced Thursday by U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden that will help establish a shelter for victims of human sex trafficking.
• Another effort, also co-sponsored by Wyden, to secure a federal grant of $2.5 million per year for three years to create six safe houses around the country for girls 12 to 18 years old.
• A new Portland police program that will allow the customers of prostitutes to enter a diversion program – or “john school” – in Gresham, where they will learn about the destructive effects of their behavior.
• A pilot program – proposed by Portland City Commissioner Dan Saltzman – that would place women seeking to escape their life on the street into private-market units around the city, rather than in one central “safe house.”
Not all of these initiatives directly target child sex trafficking. But taken together, they can begin to uproot the Portland area’s deeply embedded sex industry. Anything that local officials can do to decrease the demand for prostitution and to provide havens for girls and women ensnared by the sex trade will eventually make this a safer community.
McKeel has been a leader on this issue, and for very good reason. It’s embarrassing to be known as one of the sex capitals of the United States – but even more shameful is the knowledge that vulnerable girls are having their lives irreparably damaged when they are lured and entrapped by those whose only intent is to exploit them.