Benton County prostitution hype could be misplaced
Sex trafficking is always a subject kept in the dark and subject to myths. Even within the police force, there is a lack of proper education on the differences between prostitution and sex trafficking. January is National month for the prevention of human traffickingso we take a look at the latest news in our area regarding the matter.
In late December, the Benton County Sheriff’s Office posted a Facebook press release about a recent sting operation in which eight men from Corvallis, Albany and Eugene were arrested, given a summons and released for dating a prostitute. The press release claimed the operation demonstrated just how prevalent prostitution was in Benton County, and then linked prostitution to human trafficking.
What’s the problem?
A Corvallis social worker who wishes to remain anonymous pointed to a level of poor education in two statements in this press release:
1) Prostitution is a dangerous criminal enterprise, closely linked to human trafficking, drugs, violence and sexual assault.
2) Prostitution also fuels the growth of modern slavery by providing a facade behind which traffickers operate for the purpose of sexual exploitation.
“Prostitution – or sex work – is trafficked like sex is rape,” said the social worker, highlighting the press release’s misconceptions about the link between prostitution and sex trafficking.
They explained that the key element in the difference between prostitution and human trafficking is consent.
How sex work and human trafficking differ
Sex work is a transaction between consenting adults, and many people believe it should be decriminalized. Prostitution would not be a “dangerous criminal enterprise” if it were to become legal. Bill 3088 envisioned by the Oregon state legislature will decriminalize sex work. Currently, prostitutes who could help identify victims of sex trafficking, drug dealers and violent clients do not come forward voluntarily because they are treated like criminals.
Sex trafficking involves coercion. In a trafficking environment, vulnerable people are exploited in exchange for the basics of safety, food, shelter and sometimes romance. According to Polaris Project, vPopulations vulnerable to trafficking include people of color, survivors of domestic violence, undocumented immigrants, LGBTQ + people, people with low incomes, those who are homeless or have unstable housing, and those with a history sexual abuse.
A common myth is that victims of human trafficking are physically forced into prostitution – however, only 16% are physically forced, the remainder being controlled by psychological, sexual or pharmacological methods. Another common myth of trafficking is that the victims have been kidnapped; According to the Counter Data Trafficking Collaborative (CTDC), 66% are trafficked by someone they know or a family member.
Survivors of sex trafficking often have problems identifying themselves as victims, especially if they are a dating partner who is trafficking. The social worker we spoke to pointed out that prostitutes, who may be in the same neighborhood as those trafficked, are not the front for it, but could instead be the ones who identify as victims.
They noted that in Benton County, the highest prevalence of human trafficking is in Albany, possibly due to its proximity to Interstate 5. From Portland to California, the I-5 corridor offers plenty of opportunities for that to happen. While there are government outreach programs created to help victims, there are steps affected citizens can take to address this situation:
What can you do?
Start by learning about the difference between sex work and sex trafficking. Avoid everything about the “big underground operations”, satanic rituals, kidnapped children from backyards, outrageous numbers like millions of children trafficked each year. These all point to conspiracy theories rather than reality. A good source of information is the Polaris Project, mentioned and linked above. There are also virtual panels to find out what Oregon’s efforts are to combat human trafficking across the country. to: project.
There are several local charities that have been set up to help people in these type of situations. Two resources that we constantly praise are Jackson Street Youth Services and the Center Against Rape and Domestic Violence (CARDV). Additionally, one resource our contact likes is Under surveillance because it provides training.
And finally, on this January 11, National Human Trafficking Awareness Day, people can help raise awareness by participating in #WearBlueDay.
By Stacey Newman Weldon