Mobilizing men to safeguard girls

Campaign kicks off to inspire men to help stop child sex trafficking

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Visit www.justmenoregon.com and click on the tab that says "join." The link will take you to a page to fill out information for monetary donations.

Visit www.justmenoregon.com and click on the tab that says “join.” The link will take you to a page to fill out information for monetary donations.

A father of three girls, Vancouver resident Tomas Perez was horrified when he read in the news two years ago about a La Center teen, Brianna, who narrowly escaped being trafficked for sex.

Perez began taking part in regional training sessions and events on the issue. After hearing Linda Smith, founder of the nonprofit Shared Hope International, speak about child sex trafficking, “it lit a fire,” he said.

But as he delved into learning more about the topic, Perez saw a problem: “I saw all these amazing women doing the heavy lifting,” he said. “There was just this conspicuous absence of men.”

On Father’s Day, Perez, who heads a Portland nonprofit called the Epik Project, is launching a campaign in partnership with the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children Committee in Multnomah County to get men in the Vancouver-Portland area involved in combating child sex trafficking. He hopes to enlist 1,000 men by Father’s Day 2013.

“What better time to sound the alarm than Father’s Day?” Perez said.

The campaign, called “Just. Men. Oregon,” will solicit men to donate $13 a month to the Sexual Assault Resource Center, a Portland nonprofit that helps survivors of sexual assault. Perez also is asking men to take part in a series of events. Those events will include tailgating at an University of Oregon Ducks game this fall as well as a motorcycle rally.

In addition, there will be several lectures or conferences in the winter and next spring for men to take part in, he said. Events will be posted on the campaign’s website, www.justmenoregon.com.

“I believe dads in this state care too much to look the other way,” Perez wrote in a commissioning letter to fathers. “Let’s stand together in defense of our kids and in defiance of those who seek to victimize them.”

Perez has 25 years of experience of pastoral ministry at churches; he has been on staff at Crossroads Community Church and Summit View Church, both large churches in the Vancouver area.

He now works full-time with his nonprofit, the Epik Project, which he started in early 2011 as a response to the growing child sex trafficking issue in the region. The organization, like the campaign, aims to assemble men volunteers to combat the issue.

Perez said the heart of the sex trafficking issue is that the male culture has created a supply-and-demand for sex — seen also in other places such as pornography and strip clubs.

“Men created this problem,” Perez wrote in his commission letter. “Better men will have to solve it.”

Laura McVicker: www.twitter.com/col_courts; www.facebook.com/reportermcvicker; laura.mcvicker@columbian.com; 360-735-4516.