The Dark World of Human Trafficking

Dana Clark on Sex Trafficking
Dana Clark, a Rotarian from East Portland, talks about the rise in sex trafficking during Thursday's meeting of the Hermiston Rotary Club.

[quote style=”2″]Rotarian Sheds Light on Sex Slave Market[/quote]

Slavery as we know it may have ended with the Civil War, but there’s another kind of slavery in America today that is devastating the lives of young girls around the country.

After drug dealing, sex trafficking is the second-largest growing crime in the world today and it’s happening closer to home than most people think. In 2012, law enforcement estimated that 300-500 minor children were trafficked along the I-5 corridor.

Dana Clark, a Rotary Club member from East Portland, said the problem is even closer to Hermiston.

“There’s a huge hot spot (in sex trafficking) in the Tri-Cities,” she told the Hermiston Rotary Club on Thursday. “It may not be totally visible, but it’s here.”

And the victims, said Clark, are not just street kids from broken homes.

“It’s good girls with good grades that come from good homes,” she said. And the victims are startlingly young. A Portland State University study last year found the average age of 469 trafficked youths in the report was 15.5 with one as young as 8.

Life is not only grim for trafficked youth, it’s often short. Clark said the life expectancy for a sex slave is seven years from the time they first hit the street as prostitutes.

Traffickers target young girls by hanging out where teen-age girls hang out – the mall, Starbucks, arcades – and charm them by buying them expensive gifts and showing what appears to be a genuine interest in them. The girls, Clark said, are taken in by the idea of an older man showing an interest in them, making them feel good about themselves and making them feel grown up.

But she said, those positive feelings are short lived. The pattern often involves taking the girls to strip clubs and convincing them to dance by telling them how much money they can make. Soon the stripping is replaced by prostitution, said Clark.

Eventually, a sort of Stockholm syndrome takes hold and the young girls fall in love with their “boyfriends,” who are nothing more than pimps who make it difficult, if not impossible, for the girls to leave by threatening them and their families.

“They feel there is no safe way out,” Clark said.

Clark said there are subtle signs to look for if one suspects someone is being trafficked into the sex slave market. Those include tattoos of men’s names or barcodes or dollar signs, the unexplained appearance of expensive clothes or jewelry on the girl, and much older boyfriends.

“A man in his mid-20s has no business being the boyfriend of a 13 year old or even an 18 year old,” Clark said.

Hermiston Rotary Club President Steve Williams encouraged his fellow club members to educate themselves about sex trafficking.

“Don’t ignore this,” he said. “It’s local girls. It’s good girls. We, as Rotarians need to know about this. If we can save one life, it’s worth it.”

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