News Sep 3, 2009 at 4:00 am

Portland Has Been Named the Number Two City for Teenage Prostitution. This Is the Story of How One Victim Escaped.

Illustration by Valerie Pensworth


Perhaps these girls should look into stripping. I can't remember where, but I recently read an article talking about what a great and empowering profession it is.
"In an FBI-coordinated, cross-country sting in February, local and federal law enforcement picked up seven underage girls in Portland within four hours. This put Portland in the number two spot for underage prostitution out of 29 cities that participated—Seattle was number one. "

This is not a scientific method of determining pedophile hotspots, I hope you are well aware. That is when I stopped reading. Sigh.
To the comment above mine: that FBI sting may not qualify as a "scientific method of determining pedophile hotspots", but Sheriff and Director of Oregon's Human Trafficking Task Force Keith Bickford claiming that he could fill this shelter's 22 beds in 24 hours is pretty damning evidence of a problem in Portland.

And to the comment above that: it's not really fair to compare forcing a 15- or 16-year-old girl to have sex for money with a woman electing to dance naked on-stage to self-selected jukebox tunes.

I thought this was a really well-written article and I'm glad someone's talking about this!
But wait, I thought being a pimp was a good thing. It is now a compliment to be called a pimp. Why, its not the same thing as a slave trader. Not at all.
Good article. Thanks for covering this.
"but Sheriff and Director of Oregon's Human Trafficking Task Force Keith Bickford claiming that he could fill this shelter's 22 beds in 24 hours is pretty damning evidence of a problem in Portland."

Nope, that isn't evidence either. Restricted sample size. Subjective implant of opinion. We have no motherfucking context what "22 beds" is compared to other crimes in other similar cities. Hey it sounds bad, until you understand we live in a metro area of several million people. The author is sensationalizing the problem without any evidence beyond personal opinion. Opinion piece? fine, go ahead and whine all you want. News article? get real.

And try not to end your stories on clichés, either, please.
I also though this was a fantastic article. Please keep covering this issue and raising awareness.
Is there some reason there's an online ad for Taboo Video at the bottom of this excellent article? It kind of ruins the effect.
@A Cat I really wish I would have made that comment.

@Shugshug Who do you think most Strippers are? Do you really think they are all aspiring writers like Viva whomever? No they are not, they are abused runaways and drugged up foster kids with a few “my name is Viva and I don’t like working with fatties” mixed in. There is really a fine line. You are naive if you don't think stripping often leads to prostitution and it’s not exactly a highly regulated business. Underage girls get into stripping all the time.

Its not as if I expect the Mercury to be looking out for the best interest of women, these are the same genius' that were touting the HPV Vaccine as the eighth wonder not so long ago. I do however find it reprehensible to offer up shaking your bare (prob underage) ass for a dollar as an empowering opportunity for women. Especially when the next week you are going to run a story on teen prostitution as if the two are somehow completely unrelated, did you just want to sleep better at night or what?
Kendall - good for you to make it so far! That brought tears to my eyes. I am very impressed and happy to know you are in college. :)
Fantastic article. You should get an award for this. Or a raise.
In response to Unreal's comment: You said "’s not exactly a highly regulated business. Underage girls get into stripping all the time." You are wrong. Underage girls do not strip in Portland clubs, precisely because these clubs ARE highly regulated. Just like the fact that there are no underage prostitutes in Nevada's legal brothels. All of us are against underage prostitution, just like you, but many of us enjoy strip clubs, which are legal and fun, and many of us have friends in the industry whom we love and respect.
I am so glad to see this side of the "Industry" finally getting some space in this magazine. And not in an over-heated, judgemental fashion, but a thoughtful piece from the viewpoint of a survivor. And as for the comment above about pimps, sadly the myths out there about pimps are a dime a dozen. Pimps are a cultural icon of our current idea of masculinity. They embody a "front" of power, access to wealth, and a propensity for violence. Why is a violent man somthing we are glorifying? Pimps lie, abuse, and steal to protect their bottom line. They lie to lure children into their game. They trade the sexual abuse of others for a buck. It's a 100% selfish gain. Oh and while I'm on the topic, who keeps the $$?? Not the child that was raped for it, but always the pimp. That doesn't sound anything like the great men I respect and admire in my life. And it doesn't sound like something we should be promoting to our sons and daughters. Thanks for this realistic article.
-A survivor
"raised between $500,000 and $750,000 every year since 2004 from private donations to run Hillsboro-based Transitions Global, a nonprofit that provides counseling and vocational training to girls under 18 who are victims of forced prostitution."

Every year? Since 2004? Why haven't we heard about this group before?

See page 11. Oregon is not at the bottom of the list but there are a number of states that have a higher incidence of trafficking than Oregon.
She left her loving parents home for adventure. Well, sometimes adventure sucks. I don't know the answer to kids leaving good homes and making this problem worse, but damn, looking back on it, who would think leaving a SAFE home at 16 was a good idea because you thought you knew everything then.
to the person at the very top that made a comment...are you fucking stupid?? stripping??! i really hope that was just a shreud little joke and your not serious. idk where your morals and ideals are, but as far as i can see you have none. so next time you have something nasty and fucked up to say like you did about this article, you can just go shove it.
Mica, maybe you should read last week's cover story before attacking other readers.
Attacking all the little details of an article is a great way to diverge attention and possible responsibility and/or accountability for the simple FACT, that under aged girls are being raped.

It is against the law to have sex with a minor under any circumstances. There really isn't any debate to have over this. Plain and simple rape is wrong, it is a problem, and it is punishable by the law.

How it is happening, which state or city has the worst cases, or how a young girl came into the situation is secondary to the crime itself.

We all need to support the efforts of those organizations that dedicate their time to helping these young victims.

Please support the efforts of Seth Johnson (and others like him) who fundraise and advocate on behalf of great organizations like Transitions Global and the building of their shelter for these under age girls. There is a great need for those who have been trafficked/prostituted to have somewhere they can go to access the skills, tools, safety and support they need to create a new way of life for themselves.

Be a part of the solution!

Sure there is a debate. There's a debate simply because there is a wide range where that legality is questioned. Some countries it's 12 years old, some it's 21. A nine year gap in difference in opinion is fairly significant, and should also be discussed.

To the comment above. I appreciate an open mind regarding what can sometimes seem like an arbitrary line in the sand; age. However, take age off the table, and the youth being prostituted on the streets of Portland are still being exploited. They all have pimps. And if they say differently, its because they are covering for a pimp who has threatend to beat them up if they don't make their "quota" and kill them and their family if they snitch on their pimp. Having said that age comes into play for a number of reasons. Being controlled by a (usually older) pimp can potentially be easier to accomplish with a teen, based on cognitive developement and due to their relative lack of access to other options and support systems based on their age. Also, if its a teen being prostituted instead of an adult, chances are they are out there instead of in school. We all know how many doors are closed on young people, when they lose out on gaining their education. This renders them even more vulnerable and farther away from any option to leave the industry. So I say the age argument is a distortion of the truth about the apex of oppression that is commercial child sexual exploitation. Clearly, the younger the person, the greater the loss of oppertunities for an alternative future, should they so "choose". And limiting choice is oppressive.
A couple of nights ago, I saw a very young looking girl with no pants on pulling her underwear up in front what I thought was her boyfriend. This was at the waterfront, just down the way a little from OMSI. They were in plain sight, in a clearing behind a bush, under a tree. They seem to be unfazed as I had rode my bike past. They also seemed unfazed by the large group loitering in that area. She looked 14, had straight blond hair, shoulder length, about 5'4, skinny, black eyeliner. I couldn't bring myself to believe that she may actually be that young. Until I read this article, I thought I just saw some young lovers out with their crew. I've seen only one cop bike patrol the waterfront. I think that perhaps they should give the waterfront a closer look.
I agree. This is a good article about an issue that needs attention. I was frustrated however that when i finished reading it, I was looking at ad for a strip club or sex store. It just seemed like a mixed message. People don't turn into abusive sex addicts overnight. The whole industry is feeding this abuse.
oh okay demondog what si coool about putting teenagers and women out on tehs treet where it is DANGEROUS and getting in strange mesn cars who could be viiolent abusive psychos..?telll me exactly how that is cool?if YOU had a 15 year olod daughter would youw ant her out in the s treet getting in cars and sucking strange mens cocks?
oh okay is taht COOOL?teenagers and women being put ina stuitoin that is DANGEROUS...getting ontos strange mens cars who could be violent abusive psychopaths..?if YOu hada 15 yea old daughter would you want her out there doing that?
[best troll in a while. 10/10 for prolonged mis-spelling. would read again].
I find it very difficult to believe this girl was not facing some kind of abuse or problems at home. I'll concede it's possible. But I think its very unlikely that somebody who hasn't been sexually or otherwise abused would behave as she did. Good article.
"When police find a girl, they often cannot immediately remove her from the streets because she's afraid to talk to authority figures. The officer must first gain her trust, which might take weeks."

Huh? Why can't the police take custody of a underage girl? Placing her into the Juvenile Justice system seems a much better choice than leaving her to the pimp and the street!
Claims that it isn't a statically valid sample size are kind of stupid. There is definitely a problem here, if it is actually better or worse than other places, you are right, we don't know for sure, but we don't really have a working solution for it anyways, which is partly because no funding has been dedicated to it. If you hold up the funding based on the lack of statically valid sample, you'll never get a lot of things done, ranging from global warming to preventative medicine. That said, I think you user name sums up how you feel about issues like that, because you know perfectly well that this site doesn't support Unicode user names, but you seem to ignore that even though it makes it difficult to talk to you.

As for blaming the Johns, yes and no: If the girl says she is 18, and is really 16, there isn't a crime, according to the state law, (I mean, besides the prostitution.) To be convicted of statutory rape in Oregon, the victim has to either be under 16, or the adult has to know that she is under 18, (and some other things: the age difference has to be more than 36 months being the biggee.) If she says that she is 18, then there isn't really a way for the John to know that she is lying, and even if there was, there certainly isn't any incentive for them to admit that/do anything about it, since that makes their behavior a much more serious crime than just hiring a prostitute. If the Johns could be encouraged to come forward with information about suspected underage prostitutes, (instead of being punished for attempting to hire a prostitute in the first place,) I suspect that would change things, since I want to believe that many Johns are just people looking for sex and are otherwise good people that would help a child in trouble. That said, most men prefer younger women and, (baring legalization and regulation, which I think is the best solution, but unlikely to happen in the near future) there will always be some prostitutes that are underage because there is money to made at it. However, we can and should try to minimize that number.
"'s not really fair to compare forcing a 15- or 16-year-old girl to have sex for money with a woman electing to dance naked on-stage to self-selected jukebox tunes."

Not without justification, no -- but there's an argument to be made there. It's neither self-evidently nor necessarily true that "a woman electing to dance naked on-stage" is either empowering or something to be lauded.
Excellent article! Well-written and thoughtful.
I wish there were something we could do about this, is there somewhere we can give to charity to help?
I am a client of Prostitution Alternatives and I am your text book case abused at home as a child by mothers boyfriends,run away,groomed by pimp,etc I had and still have the "game" down,how could I not,it is in my every dream and seems to have been inherited by at least one child. Offc.Burkeen tried so hard to get the pimp away from my daughter but he knew the laws and that there was not much the police could do so he worked my daughter right into a prison cell,the police did all they could under the law.Please note that Prostitution Alternatives is of yet not funded by any goverment agency and can use donations as donater,such as getting girl out of town etc,They depend on private funding and have helped girls with dental care,school,and just getting their lives started over,being there to see that they get to appts,show up with them to hearings in court,DSHS,total mentoring .There is not enough I can say about the changes that I have been able to make bacause these people mentored and didnt judge.
Google to help and if we could just get johns(who hang around alot of the places that working girls and pimps hang out) to just contact the police about what motel they see these girls going to with the pimps or what type of car they are in.The police just have to let the public know that they are willing to help with this problem when so much is being said about budget cuts,you dont think the pimp tells the girls that?"Look at the news B**** they have to lay off police,do you think they got money to help you get away?",and when the girl is right there watching it too what do you think she feels?CPA wants to be able to do those things but is low on funding,we want to be able to meet a girl somewhere and get her away,(a john will drop her off where ever she says) but we cant pretend they dont need funding.Pimps have a thing called "choosing" which is when a girl "chooses" another pimp,shouldnt she be able to "choose" a better life?
Are you real do you really think their are no minors in strip clubs?There was a 16y.o. girl from Bend that worked clubs in the S.E. and got fired because her pimp wanted her to recruit other girls!And he held her ID when she wasnt at work,these guys are way better at mind control then even your best sy-fi movie,and if you dont notice the stripper seems young regardless of what her ID says then I wonder why you are so quick to defend the clubs in Portland,If she looks young is that why your going to the club??Ask your self.that is still someones daughter,thats how Gary Ridgeway got away with as much as he did.Did any of you know Katie Nolan the girl lost on Mt.Hood just before Christmas? She used to save all her$5 bills and get gift cards from Micky D's and just walk around and give them to the girls on 82nd and close to the Hawthorne Bridge just to let them know someone did care,there has been a race for years to save these girls,no funding ,just a race,but what have you done,are you at the starting line,even at the race,or just ok reading about it????
The problem is very bad in Roseburg as well. People wouldnt think to look here. Its such a small town. It seems like everyone knows each other. so you wouldnt think it would be so bad. But thats the problem. all the criminals do know each other. they cover for each other. and until recently, prostitution in roseburg was ticketed as disorderly conduct or tresspassing. there are rumors of a loop in the medical profession.
Terrible problem, I feel sorry for the victims. I can never understand why they do it, though - all the language in the article and the comments talks about them being "forced" to do it. Forced how? They can walk away, right? Call the cops? I'm sure the pimps will hurt them bad if they had a chance. But you're in a city, you're on 82nd, you're surrounded by people - stop a car, call the police, scream for help, just run away. They don't have a gun to your head 24/7 - there are a million ways to get away if you don't want to do it.

Using words like "forced" seems like it absolves the girls of all responsibility. Yes, I'm sure we can all imagine a scenario where they WERE forced - the pimp is holding their baby hostage or something. But real life isn't the movies - most of the time, when you say "forced," don't you just mean "TALKED INTO doing it?"

If they chose to break into homes and steal, or to mug people, we'd see that word a lot less often, even if someone else DID tell them to do it. Why is choosing prostitution different? Why isn't that recognized as their personal decision? Aren't they just as guilty as the men who hire them?
This is great. Please keep more articles like this coming.
This is to Princess:
I'm writing a college paper on teenage prostitution. Is there anyway I could contact you (email) to ask you some questions?
I'm writing a college paper on teenage prostitution. Is there any way I could contact you (email) and ask you some questions?
As a former underage prostitute now 43 I call BS!! This is Bull , These girls that are underage out on the street are there because they want to be there and no one is making them. They don't want to follow the rules at home or want to do drugs or sleep with their boyfriends so they run away from home and are just plain stupid, we are americans very headstrong and if they wanted to leave they would. Being in Portland walking 82ND Ave are naive underage drug addicts trying to get the next fix. And if your going to get your clientele from 82ND expect to get men that are dirty and smell offer you $20 and argue about wearing a condom, if they are on craigslist it all police and most girls don't use their own picture and get paid a lot better. The elite providers are on sites that cater to top dollar and upscale men who pay plenty for us. So the police have this position for human trafficking just to blow more money on nothing just like them working on holidays to arrest 1 prostitute, does it really take 6 of you guys at 2 1/2 overtime pay?
I like how this article places no blame on the girls. It's all the same-age pimp's fault that she ran away and felt "trapped". She could have gone back to her parents any day of the week.
There is a website based in Roseburg reguarding human trafficking It has links to many other sites.
This is a great article and I'm glad some people are shining light on to this horrible profession and crime occurring around the country. I wish they could do more. I just looked up teenage prostitution after reading the book 'Tricks' and have really been interested in this crime that should be getting help all around the country. I mean, I'm a teenage girl and would never want to be in this position. Young women need to be more careful and know they can always find someone to reach out to, even if it is the cops. This is a great story. Thank you.
I am sure the $$ spent to co-ordinate a multi-state task force would have funded the proposed center for a significant amount of time. Our society is so f'ed up. We spend outrageous sums on a cold war dinosaur (defense) and a fascist repression system (police). Our so-called "betters" turn us against each other fighting over scraps, when we actually have enough to build a safety net out of titanium. I truly believe our unity will be our salvation. A populist revolution has become our only hope. Dialogue has gotten us nowhere.
I wish they would also go after the 'johns' or customers. Their names should be listed in the papers along with the DUI's. Let's put some social pressure on these creeps, who, by the way, would be happy to be doing this to your daughters and sisters, too ! Kudos to Reed College and Portland State for helping raise funds for this much needed shelter. They 'get' it! Let's get on our bikes and help out.
As everyone knows they just started a :"john" school that the county granted a huge amount of money for,you complete the class,pay your fine and it doesnt go on your record,we couldnt get enough money to get an emergency shelter for when these girls are ready to leave,there is no place for them to go.Do you really think a 12 y.o. does this because she wants to or is being with a pimp and on the street making money easier then being raped by moms boyfriend for nothing and you know mom knows about it and is looking the other way!
Do you think a 12 Y.o. girl prostitutes her self because she wants to or maybe its better to be with a pimp and hoe then to get raped by moms boyfriend while mom pretends its not happening and then tells her the next day" Your not going to school in that you look like a whore!",but when even an old man offers you $100 just to stroke you while he jacks off you dont feel as much of a whore as your moms boyfriend made you feel.Thats just one example!
In Portland strippers are considered part of the creative class. Something former mayor Vera Katz wasted two terms on enticing to come to Portland.
I'm an older man, and as a migrant I come from a legal tradition where the age of consent always has been 16. When I was younger the unofficial age was 14 (You just DIDN't get busted if she was 14 or older) In that time and place finding a 16 year old virgin was harder than finding proof of alien life. In much of Europe the official age is 14, and whilst I accept that America as a community has decided that to be innapprpriate, in my opinion that's about what it should be. I see most Americans as such prudes!

Tell you what, if it weren't for the fact that I would most likely end up in the slammer, I would feel myself so lucky if I had a 14 + girlfriend, and would treat her like a friggin queen!

I'm sure there is lots of violence and completely horrible stuff going on all over America to do with underage sex but lets face it, at least a proportion of that is due to the ridiculously high age of consent, which forces it all underground, where support sevices are difficult if not impossible to provide.
Wow. Reading the opinions of ignorant, self-righteous dumb asses has prompted me to add my two cents in.

I am 20 years old. I just recently got away from my pimp, and let me tell you-- I still live in fear every day of my life that he will find me. If you are contesting the fact that there is a very large problem in Portland, then you just have your blinders on. Consider yourself lucky.

The fact is, there are a ridiculous amount of underage ladies being used and abused in the sex industry here in Portland. How do I know??? I was one of them for 4 years. I didn't even go to school in Portland, I went to school in Vancouver. And I happen to know for a fact that out of my graduating class I eventually ran in to 6 other girls besdies my self that had ended up on the streets with a pimp. I happened to meet 3 other ladies from the graduating class below me. And four from the class below that. I am talking about SOPHOMORES now for christ sake. 10th graders. And I'm sure there were more than that, but eventually I stopped being allowed to go to school, so I didn't know the freshman. That's just ONE school we are talking about. If you compare with all the other schools in the area, I'm sure the number will be just the same if not worse.

My life was a horror story for 4 years. But in retrospect the worst moments of all were seeing the innocent faces of girls I used to know, all dolled up and smiling, not knowing what was coming and what was really going to happen to them over time.

As for the comments about stripping-you are correct-there are MANY underage ladies in the clubs around Portland. But that's not quite as common. I happened to be one of them also, but it's actually not that easy unless you have an "in" with the owner of the club.

The number of girls on 82nd is a joke, though. All you need is some one to rent a hotel room, a computer to post and ad on, and a camera for pictures. I can't even begin to tell you how many underage girls are on the INTERNET! Its the best source, take sexy pics, blur the face, and BOOM you have clientele. I was confined to hotel rooms for 4 years of my life, and probably made a good 10,000-15,000 a month. Sometimes more. At 15 years old.

This is no joke. This is not funny. This is not something to sneer at or turn away from. It's happening all around you. The girl sitting on the curb outside of taco bell. The girl at fred meyers buying a large box of condoms. The girl with way too much make up on that your eyebrows arch up at in surprise. If only you really knew. If only.

I see girls in the mall today with their stomachs showing, ass nearly falling out of their jeans, high heels. Age? MAYBE 11 or 12. Maybe. I can never help myself but to walk over and talk to them. I offer to take them to one store and buy them a better, less revealing outfit, if they promise to let me burn the other. I tell them my story and watch as their eyes show a mixture of disgust and shock as their hands fight to cover all their skin. They really have no clue.
They should just lower the age of consent to 14 and make prostitution legal. Problem solved.
In reply to HonBKind2Self I would say that it is terrible what you have been through. There are many that have experienced the horrors as you have. I am interested in talking to you and finding out more about your understanding of the situations and figuring out what more can be done to stop this from happening to others. contact me at Anyone else from a similar background or who wants to be a part of a solution is free to contact me there as well.

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