Jan 22, 2019
January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month
Robin Miller, a Case Manager in our Washington State Youth Services Program, was 21 years old when she was sexually exploited. “In 1993, I was trafficked from a club in Portland up and down the West Coast and in six states.” It took me six years to finally get the courage to leave my trafficker in 1999, but healing from the abuse took more than a decade because there was no coordinated system of care available to support survivors,” she said. Robin gave this testimony before the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners last year. Once again, the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners adopted a proclamation on January 17, 2019 recognizing January as Human Trafficking Awareness Month in Multnomah County.
Human trafficking exists in both Portland and Southwest Washington and homeless youth, new to the streets, are often the target. Pre-teen and adolescent youth are most susceptible to the tactics used by traffickers who offer them food, shelter and drugs. Youth who have runaway, are experiencing homelessness, feel isolated or who have unstable home lives are most vulnerable. Studies on runaway youth show that many have been sexually exploited shortly after leaving home.
Traffickers look for youth at locations where most youth hang out: malls, parks, bus stops, schools, strip clubs, motels, shelters, group homes and online. Our outreach workers in Portland and SW Washington (Clark and Cowlitz Counties) go to many of these places and make contact and build relationships with sexually-exploited youth, bringing them food, water, clothing and connecting them to appropriate services. It could take many months for youth to trust them or become ready to transition out of the life.
Outreach workers also partner with various agencies and schools. According to Gina McConnell, Case Manager for sexually-exploited youth in Cowlitz County, “our team spends a considerable amount of time educating teachers, community groups and health professions about how to identify sexually-exploited youth. We give presentations in Longview and Kelso high schools speaking in classrooms and setting up stationary outreach in cafeterias.” Says Gina, “it feels good to help youth who do not see a lot of hope in their life.”
Human trafficking is a complex and pervasive problem but with the coordinated engagement among local and regional partners, we hope to make progress in eradicating it from the lives of our youth and our communities.