Human trafficking on the rise close to home


By Anita Kissée KATU News and KATU.com Staff

PORTLAND, Ore. – Often thought of as a problem occurring in some far away country, human trafficking is on the rise right here in Oregon, police say.

Exact numbers are hard to find but it is believed, in addition to all the adults, hundreds of local girls and even boys are victims of prostitution.

Police said they encounter up to five cases a week.

There are “little girls and boys that are being raped daily and there are men out there and sometimes women that are looking for that,” said Keith Bickford, a Multnomah County Sheriff’s deputy and the head of the Oregon Human Trafficking Task Force.

Bickford hunts men like Jammie Smith who is wanted in Portland for reportedly forcing girls as young as 13 to walk 82nd Avenue and work local hotels.

“I can tell you right now, it’s the pimp,” Bickford said. “They’re very good at what they do.”

He said pimps can make $200,000 on one underage child.

Many are local victims who are runaways and one in three is contacted by a pimp within their first 48 hours alone.

“You throw out the fact I (the pimps) can give you a roof over your head and hot meals [and] this is what you have to do for me,” Bickford said about the tactics pimps use to ensnare homeless children into a life of prostitution. “They join right in, especially in the winter time.”

But Bickford said traffickers also prowl schools to recruit 12- and 13-year-olds, even those from solid families and churchgoers.

“If you’re being a good parent, you’re saying go to school, do your homework, eat your vegetables, go to bed, there’s a curfew, you’re (the parent) being responsible. [But] the pimp can go the other direction, ‘Well, you don’t have to come back at a certain time, you’re going to be the star of the show,’” said Bickford.

Oregon’s location is tailor-made for another category of victims, he said.

“You start throwing in the I-5 corridor, I-84, you have big waterways; the rivers are a great way to traffic people in and out.”

Those who are especially vulnerable are from poorer countries. Many in rural farm-worker communities are often trafficked by their own family and are too scared of outside unknowns to escape.

Portland’s location between Seattle and California also plays a part in the increase of human trafficking and the booming sex industry.

Police said, unlike drugs that are sold once, human victims can be sold over and over again, which make them more attractive to traffickers.

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