Joel Shapiro: What We're Doing to Stop the Sex Trafficking Business

Posted on: Wednesday, 5 June 2019

Most of us have heard about sex trafficking across national borders, mainly involving poverty-stricken women from such countries as Russia, China, and Mexico. But did you know that sex trafficking is also a big problem within our country?

Portland area attorney Joel Shapiro told Pearl Rotarians June 4th about some of his experiences trying legally to thwart Oregon sex traffickers and provide help for the young women in our area who are trapped into providing sexual services for very low financial remuneration.

He particularly focused on one situation where a Beaverton strip joint used 13 and 15-year-old girls were being trafficked. In the Beaverton case, the girls were held during the club’s working hours in a small room that was just inside the entrance. As customers entered the building, the management offered a financial opportunity to the young women. None of the money was used to pay the women who mainly depended on their pimps to survive in the larger world.

The evident growth of the sex trafficking trade has been facilitated by the development of internet sites that list opportunities for those willing to pay for sex. In the above Beaverton case, the strip joint was shut down, consistent with Oregon law, but the same company still operates three other similar franchises.

The dismal existence of sex trafficking has been counterbalanced recently, Joel reported, by the development of supportive shelters for the women, although the number of beds is low relative to the need. Given a fresh start, some of the exploited have a renewed normalized living situation. For instance, the 13-year-old girl in the Beaverton strip joint case is married, living with a spouse, and has children.

Joel noted that the laws related to sex trafficking vary significantly over states, both in civil and criminal law. He said the legal focus across the United States is generally shifting away from punishing the trafficker to a greater concern with the situation of the exploited woman.

The Beaverton case is still being adjudicated in the appeals courts. Some of the remedies in this case, legally direct or indirect, have included shutting down the strip joints, large cash penalties for the businessmen that sponsor this activity, and long prison terms for the pimps. However, according to Joel, no criminal penalties have been levied against the owners of the Beaverton joint, mainly because it has been difficult to determine their specific involvement in the sex trafficking.

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