The Multnomah County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved a proclamation Thursday reaffirming the county’s commitment to end human trafficking and highlighting efforts underway to keep the momentum going.
The proclamation helps set the tone for National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month in January. It was also one of Commissioner Diane McKeel's final acts, as a champion of efforts to end human trafficking, before leaving public office at the end of the year.
“It’s especially nice to bring this item forward in my final meeting,” said McKeel.
“Our efforts have really connected on three key areas: supporting victims and ensuring we have appropriate services for them; promoting legislation and sufficient law enforcement resources to identify and punish the traffickers; address demand and stop those who fund this criminal industry. That third area has prompted today’s proclamation,“ she said.
In brief presentations Thursday, Multnomah County’s Commercial and Sexual Exploitation of Children (CSEC) program specialist Natalie Weaver and Demand Reduction Team lead Tom Perez summarized seven years of work and emphasized the new alliance with PDX BEST or Businesses Ending Sex Trafficking.
“This alliance with PDX Best is a natural next step for Multnomah County,” said Weaver. “It’s an extension of how we already do business here at the county.”
After a series of meetings in Washington State in 2011, trafficking experts recognized the critical need for business partnerships in reporting and preventing human trafficking. A national business engagement initiative, “Businesses Ending Slavery and Trafficking” began in 2012.
Businesses ranging from independent massage therapists to large lodging organizations began to work in tandem with law enforcement and victim’s services experts to help raise awareness, training and best practices to end trafficking.
Perez, who is helping develop Portland’s branch of the BEST alliance, described the grassroots effort to reach out to local businesses that began last summer.
“It’s become clear to us that leading area businesses care as much about a thriving community as they do about the bottom line,” said Perez
CSEC experts estimate there are more than 11,000 attempts to purchase online sex every week in Multnomah County. The majority of Multnomah County buyers arrested are employed (80%), married (52%), and 64 percent have children.
Multnomah County has developed a system of care that includes shelter services, victim advocacy, mental health treatment, and tools for prosecution.
Perez touted the work that’s been accomplished in driving down demand and described the overall support in making the case to local businesses to join the local/regional efforts to end human trafficking.
“There’s a lot of good things that this community has done, and I think it’s inspiring and this is a time and place for us to tell some good truthful stories,” said Perez.
Over the course of 8 years, Commissioner McKeel has overseen a major restructuring of social services to support survivors of forced labor and sexual exploitation. She has led workgroups to streamline and fund housing and mental health services, championed legislation,and helped usher in Multnomah County’s Commercial Sexual and Exploitation of Children steering committee.
McKeel pointed to data showing the majority of people contacting websites such as Backpage.com where trafficking occurs, happen in the afternoon, during work hours.
“This is a great opportunity for employers to get involved and not just educate their employees but also establish policies that prevent engagement in illegal behavior while on the clock,” said McKeel.
Mckeel also sought to shine light on the people who helped her recognize the need for the work, including Weaver, Perez and Deputy Keith Bickford of the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office.
“He’s a very humble person who would never take credit, but Deputy Keith Bickford in our Sheriff's Office brought this issue to me when I was first running for office and remains a dedicated partner and advocate.”
Perez described McKeel as the “patron saint,” in efforts to end human trafficking
”I want to thank you for your leadership Diane, especially for the way that you have done it, and just the grace and the determination that you’ve demonstrated and the vision in leading us for these last several years,” said Perez. “Thank you.”