Local legislators and sexual-assault survivors say a series of proposed sex-trafficking bills provides new protections for child victims and new ways to prosecute adult offenders.
"We need to give new tools to law enforcement and take away the excuses people give when they get arrested," said Randy Ellison, Ashland resident and board president of OAASIS, or Oregon Association of Adult Sexual and Incest Survivors.
What you can do: Call your local legislators and discuss the pending sex-trafficking legislation — SB 425-429 and HB 2714. To review the proposed bills, see www.leg.state.or.us/bills_laws.
State Sen. Jason Atkinson, R-Central Point, said the six proposed Senate bills and one House bill run the gamut from providing money for human services and special law enforcement squads, to fining offenders up to $20,000, to placing minors in foster care when they are found with an adult in sex trafficking.
"There is a direct correlation between sex trafficking and the drug trade. And it is an issue that affects Southern Oregon," Atkinson said.
Several of the laws — which would be funded by fines and forfeitures — are designed to stop gangs as they attempt to stay one step ahead of the law in the sales of their new human commodity, said Dee Anne Everson, director of United Way of Jackson County.
"Gangs are selling children over and over again," Everson said. "Because, as opposed to drugs which are gone once you sell them, you can sell these children over and over again. There are reports that these gangs are making between $800 to $1,000 a day on 12- to 17-year-old minors.
"The bottom line is, no matter what, we have to create laws that are smarter than the gangs," she said.
The sheer number of bills before the state's legislators shows the depth of the problem, Atkinson said.
"I am saddened and amazed at what a broad problem this is," Atkinson said, adding he had been working on child sexual abuse legislation for the past three years.
Jackson County District Attorney Mark Huddleson said there have been no confirmed sex trafficking cases in Jackson County. But he agreed the sex trade is a "significant problem," particularly in Portland.
Portland is reported to be No. 2 in sex trafficking in the country — and statistics show the underage girls and boys are coming from small towns and rural areas across the state, Ellison said.
"Children leave rural areas and run away to cities," he said. "The issue is real and there are local children involved, I am sure of it. Child prostitution is going on here (in Jackson County). These bills give law enforcement tools to go after them."
Studies show between 90 to 95 percent of runaways who end up becoming teen prostitutes were sexually abused as children, Ellison said.
If enacted, Senate Bills 425 through 429 and House Bill 2714 would place the punishment on the pimps and johns and afford new protections for the underaged boys and girls, Ellison said.
"It changes the minors' status from criminal to victim," said Ellison. "That's really a key point. They are victims. Let's change the paradigm here."
Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or e-mail email@example.com.