by Melissa Snow
Portland, Oregon, often referred to as “Pornland”, has earned a reputation for having the largest legal sex industry per capita in the nation, even compared to Las Vegas. One Portland directory lists 40 erotic dance clubs, 47 all-nude strip clubs, 35 adult businesses and 21 lingerie modeling shops and most of these businesses are stacked conveniently on 82nd Avenue. Numerous child victims have revealed they were groomed by their pimps and ultimately advertised for purchase through these legal sex markets. In 2009, the Sexual Assault Resource Center served at least 75 victims of trafficking. Is Portland one of the most dangerous cities for children in America?
Despite the mounting negative press, the leadership of Portland is confronting this issue head on. Mayor Sam Adams recently stated
“Human trafficking, and especially juvenile human trafficking, goes against everything this city believes in and stands for, and we must do much more to combat the causes and symptoms of this problem.”And it’s not all talk. City Commissioner Dan Saltzman, recently sponsored a resolution that was approved by the council to dedicate assets seized from pimps and their customers to shelter and services for victims. In a downtrodden economic environment, it’s a brilliant and fitting idea to make pimps and buyers foot the bill for the victims they create.
However, according to the Protected Innocence Oregon Report Card, which landed Oregon with a “D”, there is clearly more work to be done. Launched by Shared Hope, the Protected Innocence Legislative Framework outlines six areas of law critical to protecting and responding to child sex trafficking. The Report Card identified several areas of Oregon law that should be applauded for its strength such as the strong investigative tools provided to law enforcement to combat the crime of trafficking. This lightens the responsibility of the child victim as the primary witness in a case. Additionally, Oregon’s broad child abuse and neglect statues allows for a child protection response rather than a delinquency response. The Report Card provides legislators, community advocates, students, and professionals with a road map of the changes necessary to ensure protection for the victims and punishment for the criminals who exploit them.
The Oregon Report Card outlines four critical legislative changes needed:
- Amend the state human trafficking law to align with the federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act by eliminating the requirement of force in cases of child sex trafficking.
- Amend the sex offender registry law to require convicted traffickers and buyers of child sex trafficking victims to register as sex offenders.
- Make buying or attempting to buy sex with a minor a separate crime from solicitation of an adult for prostitution and reference the trafficking in persons statute as the applicable crime and penalty. Currently, the law on solicitation of prostitution does not differentiate adults from a minor and is a misdemeanor – regardless of age.
- Amend “rape shield” law to include the victim-witnesses of compelled prostitution or sex trafficking so they are not left unprotected from a re-traumatizing examination when they testify. As in other sexual offense cases, evidence of a victim's past sexual behavior should not be admissible.
These are changes that legislators can make right now. Let’s lend our voice to advocate for those who have been silenced through sexual slavery. Getting a "D" on the protection of children from traffickers is not acceptable! Legislators are stepping up to the plate, let’s encourage them to follow through on their commitment to make Oregon a safe place for children. Those stuck in sexual slavery are counting on you to make a difference!
Photo credit: PinkStock