Night ride with Portland Sex Trafficking Unit

by Dan Quatier, Edited by Lynn Saint

Compassion Connect,

After spending a night in a squad car, observing Portland police officers assigned to the sex trafficking division, I became more acutely aware of the plight of sex slaves, especially those below 18 years old. Because of this experience, I feel compelled to present my own perspective on this blight in our community.

Evening shift with the Sex Trafficking Unit

Before venturing out into the icy, night air, we pore over that day’s Internet ads from two well-known sites. Girls trapped in this lifestyle are forced by their pimps to advertise themselves in explicit, pornographic poses to sell their “wares” to potential customers.

The officers recognize the teen in the first submission. They know her name and also know she is 17 years old, even though the ad discloses her age as 19. She has been “posting” (posting ads) since 14 years of age. They indicate she is very soft spoken. They have talked to her on the street and tried to get her help. Undoing months and years of brainwashing by a pimp is extremely difficult in a couple of hours.

Outside on the street, it is cold. The girls are out “working.” The officers drive and look for the young women. This particular police team has been patrolling for years and knows what to observe. They want to find the johns and pimps. The only way to find them is to hunt for “working” girls. Like vultures circling their prey, johns and pimps can be found nearby.

When a young girl is spotted entering a car, the squad car follows and pulls the vehicle over. Without exception, every john confronted has a made-up story about why the girl is sitting in his car. Upon stopping the john’s vehicle, the officers attempt to connect with the girl. They want a trust relationship with her so that she will seek help. She receives information about how to get that help. They extend an invitation to meet with her to follow up. Sometimes, if the girl exhibits an attitude, they arrest her or cite her but basically as an effort to force her to get the support she needs. One of the young women we talk to is visibly embarrassed. More than likely, she will pursue the assistance offered.

Sex Trafficking Unit from Portland police employs officers with heart
The officers, working within the sex trafficking unit from the Portland Police Bureau, are unbelievably dedicated to their jobs, very compassionate towards the girls and extremely passionate about their mission. The police, from this small unit, operate with minimal resources and often pay for items out of their own pockets to secure a girl’s safety, if only for a few days.

Arrest record statistics do not adequately portray what is happening on the streets. The police are trying to help the girls get out of the sex trade. Arresting them is not always the best approach. As officers try to develop trust relationships with the girls, they give out their personal cell numbers. They inform these teens they can call any time, 24/7. As a result, these policemen spend hours of personal time, in addition to their normal shifts, on the job. However, if they do not make themselves available, they lose credibility with the girls. The bottom line: the officers want the girls to know the police are there to help them.

Proactive responses
I asked the officers and others, “What can the community, specifically men in the community, do?”

1. Post letters and send emails to the Mayor and the Portland Police Chief.

2. Work to support the police vice squad division. It is often considered one of the first units to cut during budget talks. (Portland shows a low ranking of cities its size with regard to the ratio of officers to the population.)

3. Inform people about what is really happening and what the police are doing to combat this heinous crime. (That is why I am writing this.)

4. Support harsher laws penalizing sex purchasers thus making the business less attractive and less lucrative. Review successful laws in other areas of the country, of the world. Sweden has an excellent law that has all but eliminated sex for sale.

5. Forward this article to other Portland area men for educational purposes.

6. Contribute to organizations, such as Door to Grace, that are working towards implementing “safe homes.” (See category under “Rescue” on Abolition Now website: Officers need secure places to take the girls for their safety and care.

Is there something you can do to help in this fight?

—-Dan Quatier

Upcoming blog: What about the johns and pimps? Where are the active neighborhoods?

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