Joyce Jamison was 15 years old and was being trafficked on the streets and online, oftentimes narrowly escaping the most dangerous of situations. She was too afraid to leave, fearing abuse or worse. So she stayed in the industry for 15 years and at one point was forced to become a pimp herself. Today she works with Multnomah County as a counselor to victims of commercial sexual exploitation.
The Multnomah County Board of Commissioners heard her story during its meeting Jan. 29, during which it voted to make January National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month.
In addition to Jamison’s journey, the board also heard from Multnomah County’s Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (CSEC) collaboration specialist Sarah Ohlsen on a report recently compiled by her office on the issue.
Among the data revealed in the report: The Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office identifying more than 400 people suspected of trafficking in the Portland area as of October 2014.
“The root cause of sex trafficking is demand,” said Ohlsen. “The demand to purchase sex is what leads the traffickers to be able to profit from selling sex.”
CSEC committee member and founder of the Epik Project Tom Perez; Sexual Assault Resource Center executive director Erin Ellis; and Mary Li, Community Services Division manager of the Department of County Human Services also spoke out against human trafficking at the Jan. 29 board meeting.
“We are learning a lot about what works for these young people who have been so used and abused. And how to help them heal,” said Li. “What I want to talk you about today, however is the issue of ending the demand. One of the things that we’ve become more completely clear about is serving victims is only going to happen if we end the demand.”
Commissioner Diane McKeel, who brought forth the proclamation, stressed the importance of taking community-wide ownership of the issue.
“The exploitation of boys and girls and adults for the purpose of sex is still an everyday occurrence in our community and it’s a problem we all must face if we are going to make a difference in ending human trafficking,” said McKeel.