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  • 6 Feb 2016

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Troutdale looks at human trafficking

In fighting human trafficking, part of the battle is awareness.

“Human trafficking is a form of modern day slavery,” said Deputy Keith Bickford, manager of the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office Human Trafficking Task Force. “It’s a crime that exploits men, women and children from all over the world, including the U.S.”

With such a broad focus, local officials had to first recognize human trafficking wasn’t limited to big cities — it occurs everywhere.

“I, like most people, thought human trafficking was an international issue,” said Commissioner Diane McKeel. “When (Bickford) finished speaking (at a citizen patrol meeting) saying it was here in our schools, in our parks, in our shopping malls — it was so troubling I went up to him and asked how can we do something about this.”

At the time, McKeel hadn’t been elected to the Board of Commissioners. Once she took the position in 2008, she said she wanted to focus efforts on combating human trafficking.

“We knew our first challenge was the awareness piece. That’s how we started out,” McKeel said of an advisory committee. “We focused on victims and services. But we also knew there were two other pieces to this. One is traffickers, one is buyers. So we’ve moved into those areas.”

Working with the East County Gang Enforcement Team, Fairview Police Officer Brad Robertson said they’ve been able to start chipping away at the issue.

“I think human trafficking is starting to get recognized as more of a problem and that’s why we’re addressing it now,” Robertson said.

Through gang crime investigations, Robertson said the enforcement team has gained information about human trafficking, and has had some success prosecuting those cases. But it hasn’t been easy.

“The issue police have is it’s very easy for a victim to hide in plain sight,” he said. “When you’re looking at something that’s as delicate as human trafficking, the last thing a lot of victims are going to do is give information to police in front of the person who’s been abusing them for months or years.”

Occasionally victims will approach police, or family members might speak up. But with that a rarity, Robertson said for now, the team has worked on targeted prosecution.

“If we know a gang member is actively engaged in promoting prostitution, we’re going to focus specifically on that person,” he said.

Moving forward, Troutdale intends to collaborate with the county and any other interested entities to raise awareness on the issue, and work toward a solution.


KSword@theoutlookonline.com

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