By Boyd C. Allen

Pilot Staff Writer

Oasis Shelter Home Director Lea Sevey estimates 18 to 20 cases of human trafficking are currently occurring in Curry County.

At a presentation on human trafficking hosted by Oasis April 12 at the Curry County Library, Oasis’ Mellanie Caldera reported that Oregon leads the nation in minors bought and sold for sex on a per capita basis.

Human trafficking is modern-day slavery and involves the use of force, fraud, or coercion to obtain labor or commercial sex acts, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Sevey and Caldera reported labor and sexual slavery occur in Curry County and said much of the trafficking here stays local.

Oasis’ reports indicate rural areas often see residential trafficking. Trafficking happens without movement –– a child is shared by his or her boyfriend, husband, relatives or parents who trade sex to pay for debts or drugs.

Caldera said they can only estimate local numbers because cases remain unreported.

“They are sitting in our schools and don’t know what to call what is happening to them,” Caldera said. “But Curry County is forming a task force to combat human trafficking.”

Multiple sources in a video from Oregonians Against Trafficking Humans (OATH) painted a picture of Oregon – especially Portland – as a hot-spot for human trafficking.

Mandy Davis of Portland State University said, “These are kiddos, and they are coerced by perpetrators and pimps who are very good at what they do.”

She also noted Oregon had the largest per capita urban sex industry in the U.S.

These children fear harm, they fear for their families, and they are told, “Your family is gonna die,” she said.

Judge Nan Waller said these children are not foreigners.

“These are children from our communities, our schools, and our indifference has made them invisible,” she said. “And it is that invisibility that allows them to become easy prey.”

OATH reported many Oregonians and immigrants are victims of rural work slavery and field rape.

Multnomah County Deputy District Attorney Greg Mowad said field workers work 12 to 13 hours in the fields and then are forced into sex work afterwards.

The Oasis’ presentation listed five vulnerabilities shared by trafficking victims: recent migration, relocation or immigration; running away; mental health issues; unstable housing and substance abuse.

Sevey said Thai immigrants are susceptible to labor slavery because they immigrate to work and send money home, and when they are victimized and cannot do so, they are trapped by shame.

In labor slavery, traffickers often take passports and identification so the victim cannot travel and is isolated from home, she said. Victims are shamed and imprisoned as well.

Caldera said perpetrators use force, fraud and coercion to traffic minors.

She listed emotional abuse, economic abuse, isolation, threats and physical abuse as means for controlling youth so they can be trafficked.

Sevey said most girls sex trafficked are taken at 15, and for boys, “it’s younger because of the horrendous tastes of the buyers.”

Traffickers and pimps move victims from place to place to keep them confused and isolated; they might be given new names as well, according to Sevey.

Sexting, the sending of nude or sexually explicit photos, can lead to guilt and coercion, according to Caldera.

She listed other common methods of coercion and manipulation, including:

•The lover-boy method, in which the “perfect” boyfriend slowly moves a girl away from her family and friends before convincing her to run away with him.

•Offers of a false job often lead to sex or labor slavery after the victim has been moved to a location where they are isolated and vulnerable.

•Video chatting can lead to long-distance relationships and then running away.

•Online cyber-sex, like video chatting, can lead to long-distance relationships and can be used to coerce victims through guilt and blackmail.

Oasis encourages parents to monitor their children’s cell phones and computers and educate them about these dangers.

OATH reports the state has plenty of law enforcement but nowhere to keep children safe so they can escape the cycle of abuse.

Mowad said officers are frustrated because youth who are arrested and taken off the street often have nowhere to turn, nowhere to live, and end up back with their pimps or traffickers.

Oasis encourages people to contact these points of access for potential help:

•Social services or shelters

•Law enforcement

•Friends and family

•Health services and agencies

•Child welfare system

Victims or people who suspect trafficking can text 233733 (befree) from 12 – 8 p.m. EST or call the National Human Trafficking Hotline 24 hours a day at 888-373-7888.

Locally, Oasis provides help and secure shelter for victims of sex or labor trafficking. They can be reached at 541-247-7600 or 1-800-447-1167.

Reach Boyd C. Allen at ballen@currypilot.com .

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