Slavery Still Exists Week April 19 – 26

University of Oregon students and state groups have made this “Slavery Still Exists Week” in an effort to confront issues of human trafficking in their state. Nat Levy at The Register-Guard recently reported on the situation:

Human trafficking — the exploitation of people, usually for labor or sex — has gained a foothold in Oregon in recent years, according to advocates. Human trafficking comes in two forms, domestic and international, said Multnomah County Sheriff’s Deputy Keith Bickford, head of the Portland-based Oregon Human Trafficking Task Force. International enslavement usually ends in forced labor or prostitution. Domestically, he said, almost all trafficking cases involve child prostitution.

Bickford said the hidden nature of human trafficking is one of the biggest problems in combating it. “These people don’t call 911,” he said.

In 2007, the Oregon Senate enacted Senate Bill 578, which makes human trafficking — whether it be for purposes of labor or sex — a criminal offense with sentences of up to 10 years in prison. Bickford said the law hasn’t yet led to any convictions, but the district attorney’s office in Portland is emphasizing the offense.

Portland is the most problematic area in the state for trafficking, Bickford said. A robust sex industry and access to Interstate 5 are among the contributing factors.

“We are a transit and destination state — meaning that we are on the I-5 corridor, making unmonitored movement fairly simple,” said James Pond, executive director of Transitions Global, a Portland group established to help victims of human trafficking recover from their ordeals. “Truck stops are a marketplace used for trafficking girls.”

Eugene may also be seeing a rise in human trafficking cases, said James Ewell, director of the Transitions Living Program at Looking Glass New Roads. Ewell said in the past year he’s met multiple youths who have reported involvement in human trafficking. Many kids have reported being approached by strangers who wanted to “take them on road trips” — usually to larger metropolitan areas, he said.

“It’s only a handful of cases,” Ewell said, “but it’s on our radar more than it’s ever been.”

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