Join the fight against sex trafficking in the Rogue Valley by learning warning signs, say anti-trafficking advocates.

Join the fight against sex trafficking in the Rogue Valley by learning warning signs, say anti-trafficking advocates.

Awareness, prevention and action are the focus of a seminar Saturday designed to help train law enforcement, educators and youth program leaders about the scourge of modern-day slavery, said former Medford resident Liz Alston of Shared Hope International, an anti-trafficking organization based in Washington state.

"It's a huge problem," Alston said.

The business of sex trafficking is flourishing. Growing demand for commercial sex with young, innocent girls and boys is fueled by a glorification of pimping and normalization of sexual exploitation. And Medford's location on the interstate provides pimps with an easy way to transport a steady stream of victims from Los Angeles to Seattle, said Alston.

"The pimps call I-5 the 'Kiddie Track,' " said Alston.

Sex trafficking ranks as the second most profitable organized crime worldwide. Between 100,000 and 300,000 children are reported missing and exploited. Many are trapped in prostitution, pornography and sexual entertainment industries. They are the victims of domestic minor sex trafficking. And many are from the Rogue Valley, Alston said. (Correction: This statistic has been clarified.)

Alston spoke Wednesday night to teens attending Medford's First Church of the Nazarene. On Saturday morning she will join a panel that includes a local survivor who was trapped in the human trafficking world for six years.

Medford's large homeless youth population makes it a mecca for sexual predators of all sorts, experts say.

"Homeless youth are twice as likely to be victims of sexual exploitation," said Mary Ferrell, director of the Maslow Project, a Medford-based homeless youth outreach program.

There are 1,289 students in the Medford Sschool District identified as homeless because they lack a fixed, regular or adequate nighttime home. Of that number, 197 of are not in the physical custody of a parent or a guardian, Ferrell said.

Many of these homeless youths have already engaged in "survival sex," Ferrell said. Having traded their bodies for someone they believe to be safer than a random stranger they might encounter if out on the streets, Ferrell said it can be a slippery slope for a homeless teen, male or female, who finds themselves trapped by an adult who now has them enmeshed in the secretive and highly controlled world.

"Southern Oregon is fast becoming a major hub of human sex trafficking," said Terry Rasmussen.

Rasmussen, a local real estate agent and assistant boys varsity basketball coach at Cascade Christian High School, is the president of Redemption Ridge, a faith-based nonprofit organization.

Rasmussen said he became aware of sex trafficking after his wife went to a training exercise. She shared what she learned, and Rasmussen said the information "burned at my core."

"Once you really learn and get your perspective on board, you can't really sit on the sidelines anymore," Rasmussen said.

Teens trapped in the world of sex trafficking are terrorized by their pimps. They have suffered physical and psychological wounds from which it will take years to recover, he said.

Rasmussen's goal is to build a shelter for minor female victims in the Rogue Valley. The long-term group home will have 20 beds and focus on healing, Rasmussen said.

"We'd like to be up and running in another year," he said.

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or email