Portland, Ore., is widely featured as a young, green, hip city; it also has gained a reputation as a national hub for child sex trafficking.
State police report encountering three to five trafficking victims a week. Although the Sexual Assault Resource Center, an advocacy group that offers services to Portland-area victims, estimates that it handled 75 cases in 2009, it also says that for every girl in its system 10 more are still being exploited.
“I just believe with my whole heart that people across the community would be appalled if they knew what was going on,” said Sgt. Mike Geiger, who heads Portland’s sexual assault detail.
Portland’s legal commercial sex industry is the biggest per capita in the country, according to a report by researchers at Willamette Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic. Former CBS News anchor Dan Rather once called the city “Pornland.” The city has more strip clubs per capita than glittery Las Vegas, and a tolerant attitude toward sex, both legal and illegal.
Combining those facts, a demand for sex workers, the city’s geography that provides easy access for traffickers, and its reputation as a progressive youth-oriented community attracting runaways creates a toxic brew rivaling the notorious red-light district of Amsterdam.
Victims of domestic minor sex trafficking have been picked up in every major city in the country and in many rural areas as well. Those “walking the track” on Portland’s 82nd Avenue are often children exploited in their hometown.
Linda Smith, president of Shared Hope International, a Vancouver, Wash.-based advocacy group, calls Portland a “mecca” for underage trafficking. Of the domestic minors trafficked every year in the U.S. — the FBI estimates 300,000, the majority being runaway or “throwaway” children — hundreds are being sexually exploited in a city of 600,000.
Of the 52 children rescued from 36 cities in the FBI’s Operation Cross Country IV in October, four were from Portland. Portland participated in the sting for only one night; the stings in the other 35 cities lasted several days. Operation Cross Country III, in February 2009, rescued seven underage girls in Portland, out of 48 total minors rescued. The only city with more underage victims rescued in either sting was Seattle.
Far from dismissing the ranking because of the sting’s brief nature, researchers at Willamette’s human rights clinic estimated in a report released July 12 that Portland’s trafficking rate may be even higher.
“It is possible that Portland in fact ranks higher on the list for trafficking but because its participation in the sting lasted only one night, this cannot be confirmed,” it said.
“If you look back about 16 months, I was one of those people who thought it went on elsewhere,” said City Commissioner Dan Saltzman. “I think what we’re seeing is an increase of trafficking in Portland, but it comes with an awareness that this is happening in our own city, and not Eastern Europe or Asia.”
Portland’s legal commercial sex trade, tolerant attitude and lack of zoning laws make the city an origin and a destination for sex traffickers.
While Seattle has four strip clubs, and Dallas, another trafficking hot spot, has three, Portland has more than 50 all-nude strip clubs within city limits. One directory lists 40 erotic dance clubs, 47 all-nude strip clubs, 35 adult businesses and 21 lingerie modeling shops.View Entire Story
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Michal Elseth is an intern with the National Journalism Center working in commentary and national news for the summer. She graduated in May with a Bachelor of Arts in English from Hillsdale College. Michal loves D.C. and life as a graduate, but she is actually from the other Washington and hopes to work in journalism there.
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