PORTLAND AND MULTNOMAH County are taking baby steps toward tackling a major problem in the region: sex trafficking.
Sharing the podium with Commissioner Dan Saltzman, County Commissioner Diane McKeel, and a parade of anti-prostitution advocates, Mayor Sam Adams announced on Friday, November 5, that Portland City Council will vote on spending $285,000 to create the state's first shelter specifically for underage victims of sex trafficking. If council approves the money this week, the shelter could open as soon as January 2011.
Adams specifically called out the harm that sex trafficking has done to Portland's reputation—our fair city caught the nickname "Pornland" on an ABC News story this fall about the 2009 FBI sting that ranked Portland the second-biggest hub for sex trafficking in the country. ["Confessions of a Teenage Prostitute," Feature, Sep 3, 2009]
"Portland has a reputation for sustainability, as a livable place," said Adams, but that reputation has been "stained by becoming a hub for juvenile sex trafficking."
The money from the city contingency fund will join a $500,000 federal grant administered by Multnomah County to convert an existing Janus Youth shelter into a four-to-eight bed shelter specifically for trafficking victims. The money will also create two sexual assault advocate positions at the Beaverton-based Sexual Assault Resource Center.
"What we've heard over and over is that the biggest needs are for shelter and victim advocates," says McKeel.
A second, long-term sex trafficking shelter is also in the works for Portland, but not slated to open until early 2012. Senator Ron Wyden is likely to snag $900,000 in federal funds to foot some of the cost for building the shelter, where roughly six kids aged 12-17 will live for up to 18 months while they receive counseling, addiction treatment, and get reenrolled in school.
Exact stats on the extent of human trafficking in Portland are tough to come by. The ordinance up for a vote next week says the Portland Police Bureau finds about five cases of underage prostitution per week, but Sergeant Mike Geiger told reporters on Friday that those numbers were probably unreliable. A nationwide FBI sting over the weekend seems to show that the illegal trade has shifted away from Portland as a main hub: Operation Cross Country V turned up three underage prostitutes in Portland, compared to 16 in Seattle, seven in Tacoma, and six in San Francisco.