PORTLAND -- The Portland Metro area has long been pointed to as a hub for child sex trafficking, but the evidence was anecdotal and proof elusive. Now, the U.S. attorney's office says it has the first clear data on commercial sex exploitation of children, counting 469 Portland victims between 2009 and 2013.
Senator Ron Wyden and Portland State University released findings of the research study Monday.
Researchers documented at least 469 children who became the victims of sex trafficking in the last four years in the Portland area. The average age of victims was 15 1/2 years old. The youngest was only 8 years old.
“The results of the PSU study are truly shocking,” said U.S. Attorney Amanda Marshall. “The data confirms that we have a devastating epidemic of child sex trafficking within our community – an epidemic that demands action.”
Senator Ron Wyden said the numbers are powerful, but don't illustrate the full extent of the problem. He recalled one night he spent observing the problem first-hand.
"I was out on 82nd watching these women -- 14, 15 -- trying to protect themselves with long knives," Wyden said. "I knew a lot of them were not going to come in contact with law enforcement."
Researchers also found that half of the victims studied had gang ties, revealing a growing trend in the way gang members in Portland are making money. Officials said the profit margin for sex trafficking is high.
According to Marshall, the startling study also illustrates just how much special services are needed to focus on this growing problem.
“We are giving policy makers, social service providers, and other stakeholders the data they need to respond to the needs of these children,” Marshall added. “My office works hand-in-hand with the FBI’s Child Sexual Exploitation Task Force, and other state and local partners, to aggressively prosecute sex trafficking cases.”
The study by a PSU researcher has been the first of its kind in the way that it counts victims, so comparisons to other cities aren't yet possible. But Wyden said a bill he's co-sponsoring will put federal dollars behind an effort to combat the trafficking, and hopes other states and metro areas will emulate the study.