PORTLAND -- The city’s rampant child sex trade has moved off the streets and onto the web, where the girls are getting younger and younger. Some as young as 12 and 14 are being trafficked up and down Interstate 5 for the pleasure of grown men.
Portland police gave KGW a never-before seen look at how they catch buyers through fake online posts and hotel stings.
“This is backpage.com, I’m going to post an ad,” said Officer Mike Gallagher.
He then types in “ultimate dream girl” into the subject line, all while at his desk at East Precinct.
“It’s easier to hide being underage in these websites. Young girls coming up through the middle schools, that’s where the target is,” he said.
In the undercover bust, a police officer posed as 18-year-old “Amber,” while another took the calls.
If a girl were to put her real age, say 14, on these websites, it’s going to be immediately banned. So the pimps sell the girls using code words like young, sweet, innocent. It took just four minutes for the first john to call about the fake ad. Another rang police before they even have a chance to set up the hotel sting.
An hour after the fake post was up, the first john arrived at the hotel room littered with undercover cameras.
The man said to the police decoy, “I’ve only got a half hour today. I can go longer tomorrow.”
Moments later, Portland Police busted in and arrested him. At the same time, another john called to say he’s on his way. “The johns are coming one right after another,” Gallagher said.
Soon after, they arrested the second john, as well. The first man arrested said he’s married with two kids, one 17 years old. Remember, the police post said “Amber” was 18.
“My wife knows that I’ve done this before and she’s not okay with it. I’m feeling pretty low,” said the john.
Police said the I-5 corridor is a highway of cheap, young sex.
“It’s all part of a circuit, they’ll go from city to city. Portland is definitely a major stop,” explained Officer Gallagher.
It’s not just the wording that’s similar in ads for trafficked girls. The pictures are always provocative but never show the girl’s face so as not to show how young she really is. They usually have an out-of-state phone number as well.
“By the time police catch wind of their posting, they’ve moved on to another city so we can’t track them down,” said Gallagher.
A few hours after posting the fake ad, police arrested their final john. That man admitting to looking on backpage.com for two years. He was at the IKEA by the airport, doing a different kind of shopping on his iPhone when he came upon the police department’s ad.
“It’s a really loving relationship,” the 28-year-old buyer said as he explained he has a girlfriend. “It seemed like a good way to have some sort of outlet but not cheat or bring someone else into it emotionally.”
He then told police he is a middle school teacher’s aide.
“This is legitimately wrong thing to do," he said. "I had a very weak moment, I guess.”
A weak moment that replays every day in seedy hotel rooms up and down I-5, leaving victims in its wake.