U.S. Rep. Jamie Herrera Beutler, R-Camas, opened a panel discussion on human trafficking Friday by telling the audience that it’s the fastest-growing category of organized crime.
And not, she said, somewhere overseas.
Just last week, The Columbian reported on a Vancouver woman who was sentenced to 10 years after playing a key role in the prostitution of two teenage girls.
Herrera Beutler is co-sponsoring a handful of federal measures aimed at cracking down on sex trafficking. One measure would protect youth in foster homes, who are particularly vulnerable to being trafficked, by boosting monitoring and reporting requirements. Another would add safeguards to protect the victims involved — the minors who are being prostituted — and ensure that the buyers are held liable. The Stop Advertising Victims of Exploitation Act, or SAVE, would make it illegal for websites to allow advertisements promoting sex with minors.
“It’s amazing to me that we actually have to pass legislation to stop a website like this,” Herrera Beutler said.
Sgt. Duncan Hoss of the Clark County Sheriff’s Office said when he was first invited to training on how to identify and prevent sex trafficking, he “had no idea that this sort of thing happened in my community.”
He assumed it was “a Third World problem.”
Then he helped rescue two young girls who were being trafficked in Clark County.
But, Hoss said, law enforcement is only part of the solution.
Kicking in doors, chasing bad guys — he said he can do that all day long.
But he would rather someone else take over after that.
“I have no business helping a 16-year-old girl emotionally. I don’t have the tools and the skills,” he said.
The panelists, who included experts in policy, caseworkers and probation officers, all talked about the need for more resources to help win this battle. Former Rep. Linda Smith, founder of Shared Hope International, moderated the event.
“We need homes and places specially designed and trained to work with these victims,” said Eric Anderson, a caseworker with foster children.
Kay Vail, a Clark County juvenile probation counselor, said it’s more prevalent than we think, “and it traumatizes our kids, it’s horrific and needs to stop happening in our community.”
A decade ago, Vail said, the approach was to think of prostitutes as criminals. People thought it was a choice.
“Breaks my heart now, to think about the harm we could have done, saying, ‘Why don’t you just leave?’ ” she said.