The port city’s easy access from two major highways makes it an obvious hub for the Interstate 5 corridor, a common trafficking route that stretches from California to Washington state. This leads traffickers to Portland’s many homeless children and runaways, one-fourth to one-third of whom are solicited by pimps within 48 hours of being on the street. Underage victims often are listed online, making them vulnerable to an even wider market.
Washington state’s stronger laws and stricter penalties have forced many pimps from the Seattle area into Portland as well, but with only two vice detectives, the Portland Police Department’s ability to crack down is limited.
Sgt. Justus said the tiny size of the force is a serious problem. Seattle has two shifts of four vice detectives each, and cities such as Las Vegas have far more. Although city government has become aware of the deficiency, nothing has been done to strengthen police department’s vice squad.
The most prohibitive factor is the lack of secure shelters for victims. Far from being unique to Portland, the deficiency is nationwide. Fewer than 100 shelter beds are available in the U.S. for trafficking victims, and most other facilities are not appropriate to their needs.
Like Elesia, children remain in danger during trials — if they stay on the radar long enough to reach that point. Many run back to the street or are found by their pimps.
“My evidence runs away,” Sgt. Geiger said.
A pilot program is under way in Portland, where Multnomah County organizations will experiment with providing for victims’ rent in existing housing and offering the specific counseling services that victims of trafficking need.
The overwhelming input from these teens is that they need healing as victims instead of treatment as the criminals they have been told they are.
“Their bodies may be grown up, they may be grown up in some ways because they understand things they shouldn’t,” Sgt. Geiger said, “but what I hear screaming out to me is, these are children.”
© Copyright 2013 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.
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.
'Your papers, please' must never be heard in America
Independent voices from the TWT Communities
When you need to know who is making business, and what business is being made, you need the Business Browser.
How does our 50th state view D.C. politics?
A collection of reader guest articles, thoughts and opinions by Communities writers and breaking news and information.
Reflections on raising families in a holistic way -- with a focus on nutrition and alternative health.
Benghazi: The anatomy of a scandal
Vietnam Memorial adds four names
Cinco de Mayo on the Mall