Portland's Quiet Abolitionists
"We've had trainers come and say, 'Show us your track. Show us where your sex industry is,' " says Baker, a Christian. "I say, 'I have to drive you around the whole town.' It's everywhere."
Baker says most Portlanders accepted the ubiquitous strip clubs as part of their premium on individual freedom—until February 2009, when the FBI swept the Portland-Vancouver area and found seven underage girls, the most in any FBI raid at the time. With the ensuing national media coverage, Portlanders began realizing that their lucrative sex industry is the main "gateway" for pimping children.
"The strip clubs will deny it, but everybody I know who's a victim or survivor says that's where they started or interfaced," says Tama-Sweet. As we eat at a Popeye's Chicken at the intersection of 82nd Avenue and Fremont, he points across the street to Honeysuckle's Lingerie, which looks like a decrepit one-bedroom house with a fenced backyard. Tama-Sweet believes it's a trafficking point. He tells the story of a 13-year-old who was driven from Washington State across the Willamette River to Columbia Boulevard, near the I-5 Corridor, the West Coast "track" running from Vancouver to Tijuana. She was raped out of a van behind strip clubs during her middle school's lunch hour. Then, she was driven back to catch the bus home.
"In Oregon, it's illegal for an 18-year-old to serve a cup of coffee if she doesn't have a food handlers card," says Tama-Sweet. "Yet that girl can be hired as an 'independent contractor' and strip in a private room that's dead-bolted from the outside, at 3 A.M., with no oversight, no class, no license."
Such grave imbalances compelled OCCV four years ago (then led by Gordon-Conwell graduate Stephanie Ahn Mathis) to make trafficking its advocacy focus. OCCV's first victory came in 2009, when the legislature passed a Victims Confidentiality Bill, keeping victims out of Portland's public Internet database (and the hands of pimps). Then in 2010, it won permission to send orange stickers listing the National Human Trafficking Hotline number to all 11,000 liquor-serving and -selling establishments in Oregon.
IJM, which began partnering with OCCV is 2009, says the six-year-old nonprofit has helped Portland's Christians do much more than send money to IJM. "Knowing the local legislation and being able to have events in Salem to get people to do something—they're a phenomenal partner," says Hogan.
Stacy Bellavia, 32, started volunteering with OCCV in 2009, when she returned from an IJM project in India. She testified in Salem, the state capital, on behalf of the hotline bill. "I've learned how much power constituents have. The fact that I can testify before a human services committee on behalf of a bill is wild. There's enough information for all Christians to speak passionately about it."