EUGENE, Ore. — The Portland metro area has long been pointed to as a hub for child sex trafficking and a new study says the dangers are equally as troubling in Lane County.
Senator Ron Wyden and Portland State University, along with the U.S. Attorney’s Office released information that there were nearly 500 sex trafficking victims in the Portland area during the past four years.
Sex trafficking victim Rebecca Bender remembers the six-year nightmare she endured when she moved to Eugene.
“The beatings began right away and started trafficking me,” Bender said.
She’s not alone.
“For the size of the city they have a large incidence of sex trafficking,” said Liz Ness, Zonta Club of Eugene President.
It’s a frightening for those in Eugene, which is just 110 miles away from Portland. Eugene’s situated right along the Interstate 5 corridor, a route investigators say is heavily used by traffickers to move their victims.
“So I-5 is the perfect avenue for them to do that so it makes it very dangerous for us, we live right on I-5,” Ness said. “Eugene is one of the larger communities so we tend to have an awful lot of trafficking.”
The Zonta Club of Eugene brings awareness to sex trafficking issues in the area. Ness says the city’s fairly large homeless population and at risk youth are what draw traffickers.
But victims are not all at-risk youth or runaways. Some are simply the girl next door like Bender.
“Anytime you have a college town you’re going to have more traffickers; what could be more vulnerable than a girl all by herself, in a city she doesn’t know, no family, not a lot of friends yet,” Bender said.
The study found the average age of victims was 15 1/2 years old. The youngest was only 8.
On Thursday, Governor John Kitzhaber signed Senate Bill 673, which makes it a felony for first time offenders who purchase sex from a minor in Oregon.