Emerging Leaders of United Way Lane County, a young professional philanthropic group, met with approximately two dozen community members at the Actors’ Cabaret of Eugene on May 23 to discuss the pressing issue of sex trafficking in the Eugene area.
The speakers varied from trafficking survivors to resource providers for individuals who have been involved in human trafficking. FBI agent Christ Luh gave insight into how law enforcement approaches trafficking in his keynote address. Later, Luh was joined by Diana Janz, board president of Hope Ranch Ministries, Bianca Marina, the Engaging Allies Coordinator of Sexual Assault Support Services of Lane County, and McKenzie, a trafficking survivor only referred to by her first name to protect her privacy.
“The intent was to show the group how often this is happening here in our beloved community and how many different kinds of people are at risk,” Amanda Dellinger, Resource Development Coordinator at United Way of Lane County, said. “The chronic homeless population and kids in the foster system [are] being disproportionately affected.”
Luh discussed how being in a crisis makes people more vulnerable to sex trafficking, citing factors such as financial vulnerability, drug addictions and other situations that result in people lacking a supportive community. According to Luh, often people who feel socially isolated turn to social media to find support.
“Social media is the number one breeding grounds of sex trafficking,” Luh said.
The panelists discussed other issues that have complicated the process of ending sex trafficking. Sex traffickers’ tendency to pick more vulnerable victims and their use of manipulative techniques make it hard for victims to get out. Language barriers inhibit communication, especially when most translation needs to be done over the phone. Law enforcement’s past focus on arresting victims has led to a distrust of police and federal agents. Luh mentioned the lack of long-term recovery support leading to sex trafficking being an issue in people’s lives long term.
When the topic of problem-solving came up, Janz and McKenzie both said that they wish to see more awareness about human trafficking taught in schools. Janz described how pimps look for girls with a lack of confidence and target them due to their vulnerability. Being aware of, and limiting, social media use by teens was recommended as a protective measure by Janz and McKenzie. Janz recommended disconnecting the wifi at night.
“Traffickers are getting smarter and figuring out what young girls, and sometimes boys, are looking for and they will promise to deliver it.”
– Amanda Dellinger,
Resource Development Coordinator
According to the Youth Ending Slavery website, Portland is often recognized as a city with one of the highest cases of youth sex trafficking. Eugene’s location along the I-5 corridor makes it — and cities like it — frequent targets for sex traffickers moving between Canada and Mexico.
“The I-5 corridor, which is used as a circuit to transport victims from Seattle down to San Fran, with stops all along the way,” Dellinger said. “It’s known as the Pacific Circuit.”
There are many people in desperate circumstances who are vulnerable to human traffickers. The homeless population of Eugene, most recently counted at 1,529 people, is a leading factor in human trafficking.
“Immigrants, minorities, runaway youth, kids aging out of foster care, kids from families in poverty or abusive homes,” Dellinger said. “But there are also cases where the children’s home lives are seemingly stable and safe – they are lured into trafficking from social media or other internet sites, by men promising to make them famous or to love and take care of them.”
Even though the I-5 corridor is an easy target for human traffickers to pick up victims, sex trafficking is happening all around the world. The internet and social media has made recruiting for sex trafficking even easier.
“With young people being glued to their phones and social media, it’s not just about keeping your kids safe from being kidnapped,” Dellinger said. “Traffickers are getting smarter and figuring out what young girls, and sometimes boys, are looking for and they will promise to deliver it.”
“Generally if the girls try to say no or fight back, they will be beaten or raped,” Dellinger said. “It’s often they will be given large amounts of drugs without their consent in order for them to ‘obey.’”
The community can get involved by attending events put on by local organizations or volunteering at crisis centers that provide resources for victims of human trafficking or people who are at a higher risk for being a victim.
“Attend an awareness training, offer mentorship or resume assistance to survivors at Hope Ranch here in Eugene,” Dellinger suggested. “Get involved supporting kids in your neighborhood, foster homes, and/or at other nonprofits like Womenspace, Parenting Now, Relief Nursery, CASA and Boys and Girls Club.”
“It’s important that we wrap our arms around survivors and support them in getting stabilized in our community, they should not be looked down [on] or ostracized,” Dellinger said. “It’s not helpful, only makes the problem worse and the victims get blamed for their abuse.”
“There is hope,” McKenzie said, “If there’s anything you’re going through, people do care. I met a bunch of people who put their lives on the line for me.”
Sex trafficking has been a pressing issue in Eugene, as it lies along the Pacific Circuit. Being aware and supportive of the victims is important for the community to move forward and explore solutions. As many community organizations work on providing support for anyone harmed or affected by human trafficking, advocates emphasize that it’s important to explore preventive measures.
“It’s also critically important to teach young boys about how having power and control over girls is harmful and dangerous and doesn’t make them ‘better men,’” Dellinger said.
The Sexual Assault Support Services of Lane County provides resources like crisis lines, counseling, support groups, and education to any sexual assault or abuse survivor. More information about available resources can be found on the SASS website.