By March, James Pond hopes to open a high-security safe house in Portland with 16 to 20 beds for girls recently freed from sex trafficking.
It will be the first shelter of its kind in the country, and one that's badly needed in Portland, where the city's police find three to five cases each week of girls under the age of 18 who are victims of forced prostitution, according to estimates by Oregon's Human Trafficking Task Force. Keith Bickford, the task force's coordinator, adds that most of those girls are trafficked from within the United States.
Pond, a 40-year-old former account manager, has raised between $500,000 and $750,000 every year since 2004 from private donations to run Hillsboro-based Transitions Global, a nonprofit that provides counseling and vocational training to girls under 18 who are victims of forced prostitution.
He is banking on $1 million a year in private donations—and, he hopes, state funding—to run his pilot safe house in Portland.
"Someone has to be the first to do it," Pond says. "We really want to be those pioneers in Oregon and develop this program, and show people how it works so that then it can be replicated."
The news from Pond comes as another group—the Intercommunity Peace and Justice Center—holds a workshop Thursday, Nov. 6, at 7 pm at Portland Providence Medical Center, 4805 NE Glisan St., on the broader subject of human trafficking (see "Esclavitud en Portland," WW, Dec. 7, 2005). The group held a similar workshop Oct. 23 in Seattle and plans another Nov. 12 in Spokane, Wash.
"We hope to be able to network and connect people across Portland, Seattle and Spokane," says Sister Susan Francois, who left her post as Portland's city elections officer in 2006 to join the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace in Seattle.
Oregon has had a Human Trafficking Task Force since 2005. Most of its efforts have been focused on Multnomah County because the Portland area's large number of young runaways means there's a higher concentration of sex trafficking here than elsewhere in Oregon.
Bickford says the group enlists law enforcement and non-governmental advocates to help raise awareness about human trafficking. Bickford's job also includes training other officials so they can recognize and fight trafficking, and some on-the-ground investigative work.
He says underage sex trafficking has eclipsed labor trafficking as the issue absorbing most of his time—about 90 percent.
"The underage prostitution thing seems like it's increased quite a bit, and it's almost a popularity thing," says Bickford. "It's almost like it's a cool thing at school or something. It's weird, it seems like a lot of the girls aren't bothered by this. This is a lifestyle they like."
Oregon's Human Trafficking Task Force got a $450,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice in 2005, and Bickford says it will receive another for $250,000 in September 2009.