MEDFORD, Ore. -- January is National Human Trafficking Awareness Month. Oregon police report that they encounter 3-5 victims of human trafficking per week; 80% of these victims are women, 50% are children.
“People don’t realize that sex trafficking with children is a silent epidemic in the United States,” said Kirsten Arreguin, the Director of Redemption Ridge.
“What we know is that traffickers will take their victims up and down the I5, stop in cities along the way for a couple of nights, make some money and then move on,” said Staysha Hackmann, the Sex Trafficking Intervention Coordinator for Community Works.
Hundreds of children are exploited along the I5 corridor on a monthly basis.
“Portland is the second largest city for forced child prostitution in the United States right after Las Vegas,” says Arreguin.
Human trafficking is not what you might expect, rather than what you see in the movie Taken, traffickers are manipulators, they target vulnerable people, sometimes children and use the same tactics that cult leaders use.
“Most commonly, an individual is pretending to be in a relationship with somebody, making them feel like there’s a love and a care and compassion from that person,” said Hackmann, who is also a sex trafficking survivor, “They listen to them they make them feel like they’re a part of their world and a part of their family.”
“The highest risk group are kids who are in foster care and kids who are runaways,” said Arreguin, “A lot of traffickers lure kids in by saying, “I’m so sorry this happened to you,” “Come here and I’ll take care of you,” “You’re so pretty” and “We’re going to be just fine together,” and then the tables turn on these kids and they find out that they’ve been abducted to be used as a commodity.”
Traffickers spend considerable time in areas where children congregate such as parks, malls, youth shelters and on social media in order to carefully lure their victims into sex slavery.
“They say all the right words, maybe they arrange to meet up with someone who they think is going to be a boyfriend,” says Arreguin, “but he’s not a boyfriend, he’s in a business and his business is trafficking children for sex.”
Traffickers then bond themselves to their victims by further manipulation, taking away their basic needs and in some cases, getting them addicted to drugs.
“That is a weapon of a trafficker, to get a young girl addicted to drugs. That keeps her with him,” said Arreguin.
“It’s a lot of manipulation, it’s a lot of deprivation of basic human needs. Sleep deprivation is really common, making you work extreme hours on a regular basis withholding food and drink so that your cognitive function is no longer processing the way that it should be,” said Hackmann.
Since 2007, Oregon has enacted roughly 25 bills to address human trafficking. On a local level, Community Works and Redemption Ridge are two organizations that operate out of Medford and work to raise awareness for sex trafficking while providing tools to community members and parents to protect themselves and their children.
“We’re working on getting our hotels trained, we’re working on getting our officers trained, we’re working on training medical staff, any kind of social service work, mental health we’ve got representation from the CAC, hearts with a mission, SART,” said Hackmann.
“If you’re in a PTA or you have a service club or some sort of community group or church group call us and start putting yourself on the list for us to come to your group,” says Arreguin.
Redemption Ridge is kicking off a new initiative this month to educate parents and the public on how to prevent the trafficking of children.
“If people want to fight forced prostitution of children and sex trafficking the first thing is become aware and get some education,” said Arreguin.
Both Redemption Ridge and Community Works are always looking for volunteers. If you’re interested in scheduling a training or if you want to learn how you can get involved follow the links below.
On Saturday, Jan. 11 people around the nation will be wearing blue to raise awareness for human trafficking. Coming up on Jan. 23rd, Tinsletown in Medford is screening for one-day-only, a documentary titled, “Blind Eyes Opened, The Truth About Sex Trafficking in America”. The documentary speaks to what is fueling demand and how victims are transforming their lives through support and through dedicated ministries.