Human Trafficking

What is human trafficking?

The Polaris Project, a survivor-centered, justice- and equity-driven movement to end human trafficking, defines human trafficking as “the business of stealing freedom for profit. In some cases, traffickers trick, defraud or physically force victims into selling sex. In others, victims are lied to, assaulted, threatened or manipulated into working under inhumane, illegal or otherwise unacceptable conditions. It is a multi-billion dollar criminal industry that denies freedom to 24.9 million people around the world.”

Polaris has operated the U.S. National Human Trafficking Hotline, connecting victims and survivors to support and services, and helping communities hold traffickers accountable. Through that work, Polaris has built the largest known dataset on human trafficking in North America. The data and expertise gained from two decades of working on trafficking situations in real time informs strategies that hold traffickers accountable, support survivors on their healing journeys and address the vulnerabilities that enable the business of stealing freedom for profit.

Human Trafficking in Clackamas County

In 2015, the Clackamas County District Attorney’s office began to assess the human trafficking issue within the county. Officials met with regional and national experts to research the issue and learned human trafficking affects individuals in every community regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, and socio-economic backgrounds.

What was clear was human trafficking was a problem everywhere, and Clackamas County was not the exception.

“Our main goal at the Clackamas County District Attorney’s Office is to provide justice and safety to crime victims and our community, and combatting human trafficking plays a major role in that,” Clackamas County District Attorney John Wentworth said. “We are dedicated to fighting human trafficking and helping victims so they can go on to lead healthy, happy and productive lives.”

Senior Deputy District Attorney Rusty Amos, who leads the District Attorney’s Office’s Human Trafficking team, was a part of the original efforts to address trafficking. Prior to 2015, he served as a prosecutor in the county for over a decade and he quickly learned that victims of trafficking suffered “some of the worst trauma he had ever experienced with crime victims, and it was clear they needed our help,” he said. Amos was troubled by the system’s neglect of these victims and the misinformation within the community they were not real victims.

“We needed to develop a response to identify and help these survivors, educate the public and hold their abusers accountable. In developing a targeted response, our goals were simple: rescue victims and catch traffickers,” Amos said.

Partnering with agencies to fight human trafficking

It was during that same year in 2015, the district attorney’s office put together a work group and partnered with the county’s Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children Coalition and local law enforcement to develop a response to trafficking in the county.

The work group evolved into the County’s Human Trafficking Multidisciplinary Team (MDT), which was certified by the Oregon Department of Justice – one of the first groups to receive the designation.

The team meets monthly with law enforcement, non-governmental organizations, the juvenile department, the state’s Department of Human Services, and other community partners. The MDT also has subcommittees to include the Law Enforcement subcommittee, Victim’s Services subcommittee, Training and Outreach, Data Collection, and a new Labor Trafficking subcommittee. The District Attorney’s office also serves as the chair of the Law Enforcement committee, Chair/Co-Chair of the victims services committee and Chairs the Data committee while actively participating in the other groups.

The MDT has developed protocols and guidelines about responding, investigating, prosecuting, and providing a continuum of care for victims. It developed a uniform screening tool to allow government agencies, organizations, law enforcement, hospitals, and other groups to identify victims or individuals at risk of being victimized and refer them to services. The District Attorney’s office and the MDT have also trained law enforcement, hospitals, hotels, community organizations and other groups within the region about human trafficking.

Diversion, education and working with law enforcement

In 2017, the District Attorney’s office incorporated a diversion program for those engaging in prostitution into their Community Court program to provide resources, counseling, and mentors to assist in changing their lifestyle. Since then, the Community Court has served hundreds of victims.

In 2023, the District Attorney’s office partnered with the Milwaukie Police Department to start a Sex Buyers Accountability and Diversion (SBAD) program to educate those purchasing sex about how their actions impact victims and the community. The money from the SBAD program is placed into the Clackamas County Human Trafficking Account to provide resources to victims and other groups and government agencies to assist in their efforts.

Since 2016, law enforcement implemented a proactive approach to identifying and investigating human trafficking cases while performing organized investigative operations to locate victims and hold traffickers and buyers accountable.

Human trafficking takes many forms

In 2023, law enforcement began to research illicit massage parlors within the region where individuals were induced, coerced, or forced to engage in sexual acts in exchange for money. According to the Polaris Project, new research finds an estimated 9,000-plus of these businesses are operating in every state in the country, with earnings totaling nearly $2.5 billion. It was clear this was happening in Clackamas County. In response, law enforcement conducted a six-month investigation into massage parlors within our jurisdiction and executed numerous warrants disrupting a large, organized human trafficking ring.

Victim Assistance

Victim Assistance provides support for victims of trafficking when a case is prosecuted as well as the collaboration of the Clackamas County Human Trafficking MDT (HTMDT). For anyone who is a victim of trafficking, being able to leave the situation can be extremely difficult for a variety of reasons:

  • Stockholm Syndrome (sympathy/empathy with their trafficker)
  • Debt bondage
  • Isolation
  • Fear of authority figures
  • Fear of worse abuse if they leave
  • Embarrassment/shame
  • Survival

Some signs that a person may be a victim of trafficking are:

  • Chronic runaway (minor)
  • Prior or current DHS involvement
  • Poor attendance at school
  • Unexplained bruises/injuries
  • Scripted answers/ inconsistent stories
  • Just visiting a “friend” or unknown residence address
  • Tattoos or brandings/ gang affiliation
  • Frequent travel on the I-5 corridor
  • “Boyfriend” much older man
  • Attire does not match weather conditions

Victim Assistance supports trafficking victims through immediate crisis intervention, on scene response, safety planning, on-going support and information and referrals to other resources. An advocate can be reached at 503-655-8616 24/7.

Additional Resources

Safety Compass
P.O. Box 1293
Silverton, OR 97381
971-235-0012 (24hrs)
Immediate response and on-going support for survivors of the sex industry in Clackamas, Marion and Washington counties.

A Village for One
PO Box 3973 Tualatin OR 97062
Provides outpatient mental health services to youth, ages 25 and under, in Clackamas and Marion counties who are victims of trafficking or at high risk for trafficking.

National Human Trafficking Hotline
The National Human Trafficking Hotline connects victims and survivors of sex and labor trafficking with services and supports to get help and stay safe. The Trafficking Hotline also receives tips about potential situations of sex and labor trafficking and facilitates reporting that information to the appropriate authorities in certain cases.

National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC)
TTY: 711
Text: 233733
National hotline for reporting missing children and suspected child victims of sex trafficking.