We continued to wind down the road along the edges of hillsides that were nearly vertical, through thick ruts carved months before during the rainy season, past banana trees, mountain corn stalks, and grazing water buffalo. The two wheel drive Toyota trucks were weighed down to their limit…the first truck carried 9 people, a substantial amount of groceries, and a pile of gear that was precariously lashed on top. The second truck were I was riding held three passengers in the cab, and myself and Alyson, a 18 year old girl from Enumclaw, WA in the back. It also held the rest of the duffel bags which seemed to spill out of the bed. Our caravan created a very interesting spectacle for the local villagers that we passed.
Half of the duffel bags were stalked full of clothes for the children, that we had yet to meet, in the village, and the other half held most of the gear for the 16 members of our group from the Northwestern united states. We passed village after village of predominantly Buddhist Karen people as we made our way to Mai Lota. Face after face turned up from their hard days work of scraping a living from the rugged mountain ground to watch as we passed by. By late afternoon we were nearing the village and I could feel the excitement building…
This rugged mountain road was a stark contrast from the view I witnessed as I pulled into Portland last weekend on the flyway of I-5 as it loops through a maze of concrete bridges and crosses the Willamette River above a city of shining lights. This modern city has one thing in common with those mountains of Thailand. That is the problem of human trafficking. Sadly, Portland, often listed as one of the most beautiful cities in America, is also rated as the worst city in the country for child sex trafficking. I will be meeting next weekend with a woman by the name of Dr. Cyndi Romaine who runs an organization, Called2Rescue, that works in the midst of this problem.
This meeting prompted me to look deeper into the trafficking problem in Portland. Last year, Portland received a lot of media attention around the same time ABC aired a short special report that profiled some of the young girls who have fallen into the dirty hands of the underground adult industry. Here is an article from the OregonLive.com from September of 2010 with a multitude of links that have tons of information on the issue. Portland has the most legal strip clubs per square foot, a very prosperous adult industry, and a high population of homeless children. All of these factors, plus its geographical location, all contribute to the high number of trafficking victims in the city.
There are quite a number of organizations that are working within the city. Dr. Romaine’s organization is just one of many. She splits her time between working as a rescuer in the Philippines, and training volunteers to be active in the Northwest. The Northwest Coalition Against Trafficking is also active in the region, and recently held their annual conference on January 14-16. The conference highlighted many local resources and organizations that can be used to help solve Portland’s trafficking problem.
It’s a sad thought, but even our beautiful, quirky, hip, Portland has some dark secrets. The word is getting out, and many people are now aware of the trafficking problem, but there are also a large number of residents that I have met, that have no idea about this issue. Awareness of a problem is the first step to solving it.