The Portland Alliance, November 2004
"In fact, in most cases women are trafficked in
this country to work in strip clubs, massage parlors and other sexually
oriented establishments that are used as fronts for prostitution and
rely on public misconceptions that such activities are harmless
expressions of adult sexuality."
- Mohamed Y. Mattar, Adjunct Professor of Law and Co-Director of
The Protection Project of the Foreign Policy Institute at Johns Hopkins
School of Advanced International Studies
A bed, a teddy bear, and a roll of paper towels are the only
contents of a closet-sized room where a trafficked 13-year-old girl was
sold for sex by pimps to 20-30 men a day.
On Nov. 5, 2003, a woman taken from the Lloyd Center shopping
mall was found to have been drugged awake for three straight days of
sexual slavery by traffickers in Vancouver, Canada.
Traffickers forced three dozen Mexican men and boys recruited
in Arizona to work 60 hours a week on farms near Buffalo, N.Y. for $30
These are a small sampling of stories relayed Oct. 4 during an
educational forum on human trafficking convened by The Department of
Health and Human Services [HHS] and The Protection Project of the Johns
Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. About 70
local social service, healthcare, law enforcement, and human rights
professionals attended the daylong conference at the Benson Hotel to
launch the new HHS Rescue and Restore anti-trafficking program.
The Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 [TVPA] was the
first comprehensive federal U.S. law addressing human trafficking with
a plan for ending what is often referred to as modem slavery. Part of
TVPA charged federal health service providers with finding victims and
offering them benefits provided by the new law, but despite their
outreach efforts it's estimated less than one percent of victims came
forward for assistance. In 2003, TVPA was reauthorized with
more extensive amendments, and the Rescue and Restore program was
created to increase public awareness about the horrors of human
trafficking, a factor which posed a serious barrier to successfully
identifying and assisting victims. With CIA estimates that 500,000
victims of trafficking are brought into the United States and the
United Nations claiming 4 million people are trafficked worldwide
annually, most of us have likely encountered a trafficked person at
some point and not known it.
So where are these women, men and children who have been forced
to endure slave-like conditions and where can we find them in Portland?
Despite 33 percent of the opening anecdotes being about men and boys
trafficked for labor, only 20 percent of trafficking is of males and
less than half of all trafficking is for labor. Considering 75 percent
of female victims are trafficked for commercial sexual exploitation, a
boom industry in Portland, it was rightly stated by speaker Mohamed Y.
Mattar that, "too many people in this country do not understand the
link between prostitution and crime, between prostitution and AIDS,
between prostitution and trafficking."
Mattar is an Adjunct Professor of Law and Co-Director of The
Protection Project of the Foreign Policy Institute at Johns Hopkins
School of Advanced International Studies and he is quick to implicate
sexually oriented businesses in the multiple human rights offenses that
surround human trafficking. "In fact, in most cases women are
trafficked in this country to work in strip clubs, massage parlors and
other sexually oriented establishments that are used as fronts for
prostitution and rely on public misconceptions that such activities are
harmless expressions of adult sexuality."
When Mattar recounted that Portland's Broadway Massage was
closed for sexual exploitation and prostitution, Officer Greg Duvic of
the Portland Police Vice Division offered, "Every escort agency, every
massage business we have ever investigated has turned out to be a front
for prostitution." Duvie assisted with an undercover effort to expose
the so-called "escort" ads in the back of Portland's alternative weekly
papers for the illegal prostitution they obviously are. The sting
operation definitively identified at least 80 perccnt of escort ads
were for prostitution, and as Duvic, a seven-year veteran of the vice
division, added, "The other 20 percent just took the money and left."
He mentioned what it took to dislodge his own misconceptions about
the harmlessness of sexual capitalism, "When I first started as a cop
many years ago I thought prostitution was not a big deal, that the
girls were making good money and chose to be there. Now I know it's an
evil, horrible crime, the worst destruction that can happen to a
person." Duvic estimates there are at least 2,000 adult women currently
being prostituted in Portland, a destination stop on an organized crime
circuit that moves women and children up and down the west coast.
The prevalence of interstate trafficking as evidenced by large
networks of organized crime underscores that the term trafficking does
not only apply to foreign citizens coerced, forced or frauded into
prostitution but also to U.S. citizens similarly exploited. Most U.S.
state prostitution laws treat prostituted people as criminals. They are
arrested more often than the pimps and johns who demand sexual
servitude from these vulnerable populations, despite the Department of
Justice's 2003 finding that the average age of entry into the U.S. sex
industry is thirteen. New amendments in the reauthorized TVPA reclassify
prostituted people as victims of sexual exploitation and provide an
outline for administering assistance, but meeting the conditions for
assistance can still let many sexually brutalized victims fall through
Brian Willis of ECPAT-USA (Ending Child Prostitution, Child
Pornography, and Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes-USA) gave
the following example of how the best laws against sexual slavery are
inadequate if public perception of prostitution doesn't change. A
brothel in Queens could be raided and a 10-year-old prostituted child
from Honduras can be given federal assistance while a 10-year-old
prostituted child from Brooklyn is sent to jail.
It sounds too unbelievable to be true, but as New York Times
writer Leslie Kaufman revealed in a Sept. 15 article, a 12-year-old
prostituted child was sentenced to a secure juvenile detention center
by a Bronx Family Court judge who said she needed to get "proper moral
principles." Well-intentioned laws are not enough, and changing
pervasive public myths that maintain prostitution is a choice and is
driven by willing sex workers is crucial to ending the abuses of sex
trafficking. The sex industry deliberately hides the truth that the
true cause of sex trafficking is not the free choice of prostitutes but
men's demand for and sense of entitlement to prostituted bodies,
usually those of young girls and women.
Says Willis, "Decreasing men's demand for bodies to sexually abuse
needs to become a larger part of the Rescue and Restore strategy."
Focusing on demand reduction is a position Patricia Barrera
feels adamant about. An advocate for prostituted people for more than a
decade and Director of Community Education for the Lola Greene Baldwin
Foundation, a Portland nonprofit organization assisting survivors of
the sex industry, Barrera attended the conference and couldn't agree more. "For far too long, men
have gotten away with believing they could buy women and children with
impunity. Those days must come to a close. We need incarceration,
certainly, and we also need intensive and extensive diversion programs
and treatment programs for this population of sex offenders. And we
better do it quick, because people are literally dying from their
S.M. Berg is an activist, bicyclist, and freelance writist.
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