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The Price of a Life: Human Trafficking in Lane County

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By Maria Anderson, EDN

When you think of human trafficking, it is often third-world countries that first come to mind. Cambodia and Cuba, Saudi Arabia and Sudan. Last year roughly 27 million people were trafficked worldwide, according to the US State Department. Over 200,000 of those are US citizens trafficked in the United States. These numbers are inherently difficult to gauge, but it’s safe to say this: trafficking is a problem, and it’s a problem right here in Lane County. The Pacific Circuit is a human trafficking ring on the West Coast which makes use of Interstate-5 to run its victims from Seattle to San Francisco. The hotspots on I-5’s underbelly are Portland, Seattle, and San Francisco, and places as small as Eugene have a surprising amount of people flowing through as a result of this corridor.

In Lane County, hundreds are sold into sex slavery each year.

What is human trafficking, exactly? According to the OATH (Oregonians Against Trafficking Humans) website, human trafficking involves “the recruiting, transporting, selling, or buying of people for the purpose of various forms of exploitation. Trafficked persons are often controlled through force, fraud, or coercion.” Many of those trafficked are forced into prostitution.

In Lane County, hundreds are sold into sex slavery each year. Sergeant Curtis Newell of the Eugene Police force believes there are too many affected to count. In a KVAL interview, he says,

“It’s a bigger problem than I think most people in the community realize.”

According to Newell, sex traffickers handpick their victims in the heart of Eugene, in public areas like the library or the bus station:

“Until we can knock down the demand a little bit or maybe increase the punishment for some of the customers and definitely the pimps or the traffickers, we are going to continue to have a problem.”

The Economics of Trafficking

With earnings topping $32 billion each year, human trafficking is tied with arms dealing as the second largest criminal industry in the world. That’s more than MLB, the NBA, and the NFL combined. Gangs and other individuals have figured out that trafficking girls can be more lucrative than trafficking drugs.

Stanley Mack Spriggs, Jr., or “Bug,” a 29 year old Portland-based pimp, used two minors to earn his share of the $32 billion. That is, until he was caught and sentenced to over 15 years in federal prison after an investigation by the FBI and the Eugene Police. Together with his two cohorts, sister Hollie Spriggs and girlfriend Sharlise Duckworth, he’ll pay $23,204 in restitution. What is more significant than Spriggs’ jail time and fines is this: the investigation leading to his arrest uncovered over 100 women and children in the Eugene area working as prostitutes and via sex ads posted on Craigslist. The youngest was 14. The case was the largest trafficking bust in the country, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

The perennial homeless are most at risk, particularly runaways or those who have lived in foster homes. In a sentencing memo for Spriggs, Assistant U.S. Attorney Kemp Strickland said research suggests that 1 in 3 homeless teens are approached for prostitution within 48 hours of leaving home.

Hope Ranch Ministries

There are several groups in Lane County working to help those affected by trafficking. Diana Janz runs one such group, and has encountered women for whom the 48-hour window Kemp Strickland mentioned has been a reality.

Hope Ranch Ministries is a faith-based fellowship committed to providing safety, healing, and hope for survivors of human trafficking and intensive sexual trauma. Janz started Hope Ranch a year and a half ago, and has been working with trafficked women for three years. Although she does not have a safe house at this moment, Janz is in the process of opening a home in the area. Janz says,

“I would say trafficking is a large problem here. I have heard that the local FBI agent has two new cases of children every month. And of course behind these are many more.” Janz sees signs of human trafficking everywhere in Eugene. She points out, “They’re not just statistics. They have names.”

The pimps learn to recognize which of the three girls at the bus stop they can approach, which ones will be most susceptible to coercion. Janz explains,

“Unfortunately, a lot of people have been abused, and it really sets them up.”

She cites those coming from foster homes as being particularly at risk. When asked what her advice would be to those who find themselves vulnerable, Janz says,

“Learn what the signs are of someone trying to physically entice you into it. There is a specific way that they do it. Usually it isn’t someone being forced. You’re being set up. Someone seeing what your needs are, telling you you’re beautiful, that they love you.”

One of Janz’s goals is to speak at organizations, service clubs, and other places.

Our vision [at Hope Ranch Ministries] is to really make everybody aware, because with awareness comes more safety for all of us. We’re looking out for our neighbors, for our kids, for our friends’ kids.”

Janz also works with Trevecca Winters at OATH (Oregonians Against Trafficking Humans). Last weekend she ran a communication workshop, and she is taking part in a Las Vegas marathon this winter to spread the word.

The Pornography Connection

Janz believes porn is part of the problem with the demand for prostitution.

The US produces 50% of child pornography in the world. So if you think about all those children, and those are children who are being forced or trafficked, and those are things going on behind closed doors, you begin to get some idea of how big this is.”

The child pornography industry earns $3 billion worth per year, and 1 in 5 pornographic images is of a child. Over half of these come from the United States.

Janz also spoke about how trafficking has met the digital age, and referred to a recent article in the Washington Post that discusses this phenomenon.

“You can watch porn anywhere, but now they have all these ads. Ordering a prostitute is now as easy as ordering a pizza — though of course not all prostitutes are trafficked.”

Porn is everywhere and is readily accessible. The challenge is not only limiting  access, but addressing the underlying issues. The article that Janz references states the underlying issues to be,

“the illegal purchase of sex, the fact that most American prostitution is a result of human trafficking and the reality that the plastic, bleached and enhanced world of online sex is a myth that twists ideas of human sexuality and relationships.”

Kids are clicks away from degrading, violent, graphic sex videos. Not only that, but they are often encouraged to “take it to the next level.” And those online are getting younger and younger.

Hoping for Redemption

It isn’t just men at fault, Janz points out:

“Women are pimps, women are johns, women are involved too. I’m not out there to say you’re evil. The perpetrators are just as wounded as the people they’re wounding. There needs to be redemption all the way around.”

Though redemption may be a long way off for “Bugs” and others like him, organizations such as Hope Ranch Ministries, OATH, and Freedom’s Breath are working hard to chip away at Lane County’s trafficking problem. Jessica Richardson, co-founder of Freedom’s Breath, experienced trafficking firsthand. According to Richardson,

“For far too long we as a society have accepted pornography, prostitution, and the sex industry without realizing that in doing so, we are exploiting our own children. Even as I was trafficked I could not see that I was a victim, a victim of this very ignorance and inaction. It is time to remove these blinders and take action to bring freedom to those who are still enslaved.

Human trafficking tips can be reported to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center by calling 1-888-373-7888 or emailing NHTRC@PolarisProject.org.

Read the 2012 Trafficking in Persons Report here.

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