MEDFORD, Ore. — Every year, thousands of children and women are forced into sex slavery.
Last year, there was one arrest for prostitution in Medford and this year so far, there has been three. But the low number doesn’t mean it’s not a problem in the area. The Medford Police Department has organized sting operations to arrest prostitutes in the past but now they’re focusing efforts on the trafficker.
One survivor spoke to NewsWatch 12 about her life as a former prostitute. Rebecca Bender is now a mother of four children but when she was 18-years old, she lived a life of fear and abuse.
“Life in the streets is hard. It’s hard. It’s rough. You do things you don’t want to do, sometimes you’re beaten and raped, held in rooms against your will from buyers,” explained Bender.
Bender started dating a guy when she was 18 years-old, and he asked her to move to Las Vegas.
“When I got there, the tables quickly turned. He slapped me across the face and told me this is how it works here. From going to Grants Pass to Vegas, when you’re suddenly in a town you don’t know your address by heart, and its kind of like, what’s my other option at this point?” said Bender.
Unlike Bender who got out, there are thousands of children and women who are unable to leave. For the Medford Police Department, the emphasize in fighting against sexual slavery is now focused on the trafficker.
“It’s almost a paradigm shift when you start looking at historical prostitution as being the crime, versus today when we start looking at prostitutes as being victims of trafficking,” explained detective Jim Williams.
Bender believes it’s not just law enforcement who can help victims. She says educating yourself about sexual slavery is a start and another, is changing the mindset on the words we use.
“How we use the term “pimp.” Our youth in the next generation are being taught that not only does that mean cool, but also that you can dress for it for Halloween, and you want your text and your car to be “pimped out”. When unfortunately, I think it masks the real issue that’s taking place. people need to know what pimps really do. it’s not cool to beat, rape molest, and sell women and children,” explained Bender.
Nationwide, Medford police say there are only 400 safe houses for women who are former prostitutes. In Oregon, there are not many resources for women who want to get out of prostitution. Though, there is the Department of Human Services, Hearts with a Admission and Bender’s website, where she has online support groups.