Commissioner McKeel testifies during Senate panel on problem of human trafficking

Monday, 5/24/10 - 5:00 pm

As part of a panel made up of prosecutors, law enforcement experts and victim’s advocates, Commissioner Diane McKeel recently testified in Washington, D.C. on the issue of human trafficking. Senator Ron Wyden organized this panel that spoke on May 10.

In recent years, the average age of human trafficking victims has been steadily dropping—today’s victims are usually between 12 and 14 years old. Last year, during an FBI and police sting that spanned 30 cities, Portland produced the second highest number of sex trafficking arrests. Because of the proximity of the busy I-5 freeway, many of the Portland metro area’s trafficking victims are ultimately found in McKeel’s own district, East Multnomah County.

In light of these statistics, McKeel has become a vocal opponent of human trafficking. “The myth that prostitution is a victimless crime has been perpetuated for far too long and there is a lot of work to be done in shedding light on the tragic reality of the buying and selling of sex in our country,” McKeel said during her speech before the Senate.

McKeel’s testimony focused mainly on the partnerships and community efforts that are raising awareness about human trafficking in Multnomah County and other areas of the country. “We continue to push for better tailored services, increased response to the demand side and more comprehensive state legislation,” McKeel said. “We are always reaching out to new partners and looking for ways we can collaborate.”

McKeel recently lead an effort to get bars, liquor stores, restaurants and other places alcohol is sold to post stickers displaying the phone number for the 24-hour national human trafficking hotline. This bill was passed by both the House and the Senate unanimously, and the first batch of stickers went out in the OLCC’s yearly mailing last month.

McKeel’s office has also collaborated with Comcast and Caldera, a local non-profit organization that runs underserved youth art programs, to produce and air human trafficking Public Service Announcements (PSA) that were made by a group of high school seniors in Caldera’s art program. Comcast will run the ads for free in September across a tri-county region, and Caldera will preview the PSAs at their Annual Art Exhibition on June 3.

A New York-based organization called Girls Educational & Mentoring Services (GEMS) will also visit Multnomah County during the first week of June to host a three-day Community Intervention Project training session, with a focus on how to provide victims of human trafficking more effective housing services.

For more information on human trafficking in the Portland area, read a report by Dan Rather. Read more about McKeel's trip to D.C. in The Gresham Outlook.

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