It's human nature to want to turn away from what is unpleasant, uncomfortable or downright scary.
Wouldn't it be great if by simply denying the existence of danger we could actually keep ourselves and our loved ones safe?
I spent the bulk of this week talking to a victim of sex trafficking and others who are fighting to end the scourge of prostituted children and adults across the nation — and in the Rogue Valley.
Did you gasp? I was just wondering. Because each time I mentioned my story topic to folks this week, I got the same shocked looks, followed by pained but hopeful denials.
"That's happening here? Here? Not here! No way!"
Yep. Right here.
Sexual slavery is not even a new problem in our fair valley. There's a former brothel right down the road from me. It's someone's family home now. The neighbors proudly pointed it out as a turn-of-the-century, red-light hotel when I moved here a dozen years ago.
I remember laughing when I heard the tale of what I called the Best Little Whorehouse on the Rogue.
Of course, I did. It's more easy on the conscience to pretend the painted ladies who waved to passing men from the upstairs balcony were all winsome and willing. That the fellows were all cute, kind and just a little lonely.
But wanna bet there were underage girls who were forced, coerced or lured into working there? I'll bet the legal-age women were hard-pressed, too. In fact, I'll bet there were beatings, rapes and worse.
Romanticizing the sex-trade industry is destroying lives. Jennifer, the survivor in today's front-page story, fell prey to a man who used her heart and her situation as a single teen mom to lure her into a world she narrowly escaped six years later.
He spent months convincing her he loved her. Then he moved her to Las Vegas, where he spent years breaking her down. He and other men pimped Jennifer out and lived off the money she made. They convinced this former star athlete, stellar student and big-hearted young woman to believe she was "just a prostitute."
Some girls are grabbed off the street. Some captured with false promises. Others are born into a life of hell.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about a Medford man who sexually groomed, raped, tortured and prostituted his own daughter. He also got her hooked on meth. This guy didn't pimp her out for serious money. He made her charge $15 or so to further degrade and destroy his own child. It was still sex trafficking.
That story caught some flak from a few readers who were upset the details included were somehow re-victimizing the daughter.
They should know the victim wanted her story told. And many of the most horrific details were kept out. But I still say if victims can endure it, we can read about it. And hopefully do something to save the next kid.
The interstate and the Internet have made sex trafficking easy for pimps and johns. And deadly for our children. In the courtroom and on the newsroom scanner, we regularly hear about kidnappings and attempted kidnappings.
When my sainted mom and her sis were young teens, they were on a shopping spree in a department store when my blond-haired, blue-eyed aunt felt a pricking pain in her leg and suddenly became ill and dizzy. A strange woman appeared out of nowhere and grabbed my aunt. She began to leave the store with Dorsh, saying, "She just needs a little fresh air," and shoving my mom to the side. When Mom hollered for help, the woman bolted the store. We'll never know what might have happened.
Jennifer managed to escape with the help of her mother and is now safe. And she has teamed with anti-trafficking agencies and organizations across the state, including former Medfordite Liz Alston of Shared Hope International.
I asked them why they do this work. Jennifer, who is now married with three daughters, said she fights to protect others' daughters. Liz saw a childhood friend being trafficked by her father in a Medford club. They were middle-schoolers then. She's seen a lot more since. "There but for the grace of god," she said.
"I honestly don't know why it didn't happen to me," Liz said. "And that's enough to keep me going."
We need prevention education in schools, better training for our first responders, tougher legislation that protects victims while providing stiffer penalties to those who barter others' bodies, and more shelters — particularly for underage victims, the women said.
Think we can make more happy endings? I love a fairy tale as much as the next gal. But we're going to have to deal with what's going down in our fair valley to make it come true.
Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.