County Commissioners declare January 2019 Human Trafficking Awareness Month

January 18, 2019

For survivors of sex trafficking, Krystal has a message: support is always just a phone call away.

As a mentor for New Avenues for Youth, Krystal provides mentorship and case management to young people impacted by sex trafficking. She walks alongside youth who have had similar experiences to her, helping them find hope and strengthening their resiliency.

“Wherever you are, whoever you are, and whatever you choose to do tomorrow, you can still dial this phone number and I’ll still be there,” Krystal said at Thursday’s, Jan. 17, board meeting.

Krystal spoke as an invited guest Thursday, Jan. 17 as the Board of County Commissioners proclaimed January 2019 Human Trafficking Awareness Month. The annual event raises awareness about the prevalence of human trafficking in Multnomah County--and the work that’s being done to support survivors.

Sex trafficking happens when someone is manipulated, forced, or coerced into a sexual act for commercial purposes. Portland’s geographic location--at the intersection of I-84 and I-5--makes the area more susceptible to trafficking. Portland also has more strip clubs per capita than any other city in the nation. 

(Left to right): Natalie Weaver, sex trafficking program strategist; Molly McDade-Hood, Multnomah County Sheriff's Office sergeant; Krystal, New Avenues for Youth mentor; and Sean Suib, New Avenues for Youth Executive Director

According to data collected at the Multnomah County Jail, as of Dec. 2018 there are 595 minors and 1,191 adults in Multnomah County estimated to be victims of sex trafficking. There are also 1,059 suspected and prosecuted traffickers and nearly 1,000 purchasers since 2009 in the Portland Metro Area.

“There’s a lot happening, even while there is still so much to be done,” said Natalie Weaver, who serves as the sex trafficking program strategist for Multnomah County’s Department of Community Justice Victim Services Unit. “We must all work together to address the complex nature of trafficking in our community.”

Weaver spoke alongside local and nonprofit leaders who are working together in the region’s fight against human trafficking. The County’s Sex Trafficking Collaborative is a partnership of more than 300 individuals and 15 agencies coordinating a community response to trafficking and supporting survivors.

Last year, the County looked at ways to improve its sex trafficking services by consulting with national experts, service providers and survivors. In July 2018, the New Day program--a partnership with New Avenues for Youth, Call to Safety, and Raphael House of Portland--formed to meet the unique needs of sex trafficking survivors aged 12 to 25. One of the top priorities were to better serve communities of color and LGBTQ individuals.

“We heard that confidential services were important: that sex trafficked youth needed flexible funding and individualized supports because there is really no one way or one-size-fits-all,” said Peggy Samolinski, who manages the Department of County Human Services' Youth and Family Services Division. “We heard the need for resources related to job training, life skills, somewhere safe they could go on a drop in basis, housing, and, most importantly, prevention services.”

Since opening, New Day has served hundreds of local sex trafficking survivors. Of those served, dozens have been enrolled in formal case management and provided stable housing. Many of those served have experienced other obstacles, such as homelessness, substance use disorders and mental health challenges.

Looking ahead, the collaborative has three goals: continue to raise awareness about trafficking, work together with community partners, and amplify the voices of people with lived experience.

“It happens in our schools, it happens in our neighborhoods, it happens in our communities,” Commissioner Lori Stegmann said. “Sometimes it’s not always visible because we aren’t always looking for it. But if you look for it, you will see it.”

Human Trafficking Resources

  • Call to Safety (503.235.5333): 24/7 crisis line for sex trafficking victims

  • New Avenues for Youth New Day Program: Services for individuals who have experienced sex trafficking or are at risk for experiencing sex trafficking can receive long term case management at New Avenues for Youth through the New Day program.

  • Morrison Child and Family Service SAGE: A secured residential facility for individuals who have experience commercial sexual exploitation. Referrals accepted from DHS, law enforcement, or guardian. Various treatment options are provided, including an on-site nurse, mental health clinicians, psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners, substance abuse treatment, public school education, peer mentors, case management, and skills training.

  • LifeWorks Northwest: comprehensive and integrated mental health and addictions support and offers specialized programming for commercially sexually exploited youth and adults involved in the sex industry.

  • DHS Gateway Teen Unit  (GTU): DHS has a specialized unit that provides custodial and case management support to commercially sexually exploited children and young adults. This unit focuses on safety planning and collaborative placement efforts, while maintaining long-term relationships with youth in their care. If you would like to make a report to DHS regarding a child you believe is being abused please call the hotline and note any concerns regarding sex trafficking on the call.

  • CARES Northwest: CARES NW provides medical examinations and forensic interviews for youth when there is concern of sexual and/or physical assault or sexual exploitation/trafficking. CARES NW is a collaborative, multidisciplinary medical program addressing abuse and neglect through prevention, medical evaluation, and trauma therapy, in partnership with our community.