Georgene Rice interviews Shoshon Tama-Sweet, the Executive Director for the Oregon Center for Christian Values (OCCV), to discuss legislation they have introduced on human trafficking. They would like to see human trafficking criminalized and hopefully end in the state of Oregon.
Georgene: The truth is sex trafficking of minors doesn’t just happen overseas. It unfortunately happens right here in Oregon. For those who are not familiar with what human trafficking is and why it is a concern to us here, could you please start there?
Shoshon: Human trafficking is basically modern day slavery. People are held against their will, forced to do labor, and have all of their earnings from that labor taken by those who are holding them as slaves. Here in Portland and Oregon we are talking about holding young women and boys as sexual slaves. They are forced into prostitution.
Georgene: It is shocking to imagine what you have just described is happening across the state. Tell us what you at the Center are doing to address this plague.
Shoshone: OCCV feels this is something that we are called to do as Christians. When Jesus unrolled the scroll in the temple and said that he came to set the captives free, he meant that spiritually, metaphorically, and he also meant it literally. These young boys and girls who are being held captive need to be set free. One of the most practical things we can do as Christians is to work together and convince the elected officials to focus on this issue and take concrete steps to get rid of the problem.
Georgene: I understand there are about five pieces of legislation. Could you tell us about them?
Shoshone: These bills are addressing the law enforcement side of human trafficking. Law enforcement is only the first step and there are other things that will need to be done if these primary efforts succeed. The bills would give Oregon some very robust laws. For example, if a man decides to purchase sex from a minor and he is caught, the law presently allows him to simply plead ignorance to their age and avoid a higher penalty. SB425 would eliminate this.
SB426 basically says we should administer some grants for law enforcement and organizations who are working with victims. I’ve worked with many of these groups and they are always struggling financially. They have an incredibly difficult job interfacing with victims who have faced so much damage and pain.
SB427 will increase the fine on people who purchase sex.
SB 429 allows the courts to put a hold on his or her sentencing when they are detained by the police. That would give time for social services to make that child a ward of the state. Jail is not an appropriate place for a victim of human trafficking to be put. Instead of being treated like a criminal they need the care and protection of a victim.
SB430 allows the police to seize property from someone who is found purchasing sex with minors and that money can go toward services for the minor. Included in the property that can be seized are cell phones and laptops which become valuable tools for law enforcement to use to get to the real criminals who are behind the trafficking.
Georgene: What has been the response from the legislators to these bills?
Shoshone: We have had a great bipartisan response. Leadership from both the Republican and Democrat Party have recognized the problem and are moving toward steps to address it.
Georgene: What can people do now to help move these bills along?
Shoshone: The bottom line is that bills don’t become laws until citizens see them as a priority and chose to do something about it. We are asking folks to call the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, particularly the Chair of that committee, Senator Floyd Prozanski, and ask them to pass the laws that are going to help end human trafficking.
Georgene: It is great for us to have an opportunity for us to stand in solidarity for something we all agree needs to be taken care of in this state.
Oregon Center for Christian Values testimony before the Oregon legislature on 2-9-11 in support of SB 425, 426, 427, 429 & 430
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