A Group of People

Dear Pornland, The Oregonian is a myth

In child trafficking, Dan Rather, pornland, The Oregonian, trafficking on January 22, 2011 at 4:31 am

A recent headline in The Oregonian read

Story of Pornland is a myth

After carefully reading the article, which was headlining the paper a day before the Northwest Coalition Against Trafficking conference, I found it rather odd that the paper would choose such a headline for the paper considering the amount of legalized commercial sex businesses we have here.

In the headline nation in which we live, one could take one look at that headline and be left saying.. I told you so or I guess that’s that.

In this, what a crying shame. Has anyone else wondered out loud lately of what ever happened to Portland?

For me, the disturbing name of Pornland being hurled upon us starts way before the issue of trafficking, but with the culture that is cultivated here that would easily open the door for this.

So, I did a little research.. (much of which I did by simply using the search tools on the oregonlive site, itself.)

To put this “myth” into perspective, a metropolis the size of Seattle has four strip clubs within city limits, and Dallas, another trafficking hot spot, has three–but our city, Portland, has more than 50 all-nude strip clubs within city limits. One directory lists 40 erotic dance clubs, 47 all-nude strip clubs, 35 adult businesses and 21 lingerie modeling shops. With more than 100 strip clubs and massage parlors, Portland is “per capita, the largest legal commercial sex industry in the nation – bigger than even Vegas.”

So, I ask again… Portland is NOT Pornland?

In a short video to give a summary of the story, the writer basically says that because there are not collected data or stats for this issue both locally and nationally that somehow the myth is not true?

And because of this, the reputation we have for being Pornland is undeserved?

In fact, in the article, the author even asks… “So how did Portland get a reputation it doesn’t deserve?

What? Have you taken a moment to walk around different parts of the city? Have you taken the time to meet with and discuss the many people who are in the fight locally and can cite story after story of how bad it really is?

Just read the stats listed above and couple that with Oregon’s relatively lax laws, access to both water and concrete biways, I5 co-oridor, and on and on. We are ripe for this type of activity.

Playing off the name Pornland from the short film report by Dan Rather is nothing more than a cheap shot towards every last person who was interviewed in that piece and those who have come together locally to address this and other human rights issues within our community that are a direct impact from our local sex industry.

However, I will be quick to note that the many quotes stating Portland as the #2 hub in the nation often time are misquotes from this line from the Rather article…

In a recent nationwide sting by Federal, state and local law enforcement agencies, Portland ranked second in the country for the number of rescued child prostitutes.

We must be more careful before we take words and run with them, lest we get caught up in a really bad game of telephone. That goes also for the Pornland is a myth headline. But, I digress.

Quite frankly, I have not historically been a Dan Rather fan. However, I found this to be a very well crafted piece on what is happening here in Portland. I am not alone.

Matter of fact, at a recent Washington County open forum on trafficking held at St. Vincent’s Hospital, a full house sat and watched the entire film before taking part in a forum with many folks on the front lines of this fight on the local level.

It seems that The Oregonian, too, needs to make up their mind… of all the articles they have posted on trafficking these past few years, this one warrants a front page headline? It seems like to me and many others as a very irresponsible choice of words and timing.

Recent stories in The Oregonian were as recent as this one from 1/01/11…

Sex trafficking: Portland must step up efforts to prevent exploitation

Or this one from a year ago… (from the same author of the current headline.)

Human trafficking industry thrives in Portland metro area

What changed in the past year for you?

Again, for me… it’s just not okay for this to happen in my community…. period. It doesn’t take a stat or poll for me to want to engage the fight. This is a wrong issue, not a right or wrong one.

Sgt. Mike Geiger, in charge of the bureau’s sex crimes unit, isn’t sure that Portland is the No. 2 city in the country for teenage sexual trafficking, as has been claimed. “I’m not even sure that’s the issue,” he says.”Whether we’re No. 1 or No. 4 or No. 15, the question is: Do we have a problem? And the answer is that we absolutely do.” In this… I agree.

Here is a video synopsis of the recent Stop Child Trafficking Now Walk that was not only held in Portland, but 37 other cities, as well this past October.

At about the 1:46 mark, you will hear from survivor, Jessica Richardson, Sen. Ron Wyden, Commissioner Diane McKeel, and Sgt. Doug Justus on the subject of trafficking in Portland…

Over the past year, I have been grateful for the opportunity to get to know survivor/conqueror, Jessica Richardson. In this, and with the reporting of Alexis Del Cid from KOIN TV, here is an informative report from a year ago on trafficking in Portland…

Again, what’s changed?

Domestically, there is no doubt that this story is getting a lot of media attention. In following various daily stories on trafficking via The Human Trafficking Daily, which follows 80+ organizations fighting trafficking feed, more and more of it is beginning to tip into the mainstream with regards to everyday people starting to view the problem as not just one that happens over there, but happens over here.

Over the past 2-3 years, many new organizations have sprung up domestically to both raise awareness as well as fight this tragic problem. In this, no doubt there is need for sound dialogue and careful language to be used when igniting people to engage the fight to stop trafficking.

Often times, when we first hear that this is happening in our own backyard, the initial reaction for most people is to immediately go 0-60 mph with our emotions and want to do something immediately.

While being called to action is good. It is much more wise to take sound action. In this, we must first seek to educate people what really is going on behind the headlines of the day or what the stats say or not say.

From there, let’s take a look at all the various entry points into this discussion with regards to making a difference within this issue.

With issues such as trafficking, it is so complex.

There are the legislative efforts to the needs for shelter beds. With that, there are also the issues of sound post rescue counseling to even begin to help a victim with sustainable re-acclimation after what in many cases is years of traumatic abuse where the victim is literally broken.

There are also the efforts to stop the demand by going after the predators as well as one angle that rarely gets discussed and that is with the power of mentoring as a preventative strategy for both the predator or prostitute at a young age that may be more susceptible to ending up within the patterns that were placed before them perhaps even by their own lineage.

Regardless if one has been lured or “decides” to want this lifestyle, often times people get caught up in this question, as well.

As if anyone at a young age says that they want to be sold 15 times per day having sex with strangers and repeat customers making a whole lot of money for someone else and then being threatened with their life when they want out.

Really?

Though I find some sound points in the story, I can’t look past the comparisons with Seattle. For one, the Seattle area has how many more people living in it? For Portland, it will always be a per-capita question for me? This also can play out with more strict laws as well as more resources applied to the focus in Seattle/Washington versus Portland/Oregon.

While I understand your point, please add a little more balanced context to it next time.

While I know that the author of this story too knows that trafficking is wrong, I would caution the author next time to backup the juicy headline with a balanced and thorough report. Maybe even personalize it by discussing what has changed since she reported on this issue a year prior.

What we need is good responsible reporting and too often, the headline will become too much of the focus like with this issue, where the “ranking” became  the focus and instead not that we have some serious societal issues happening here that sadly… trafficking is part of the story and needs to be addressed.

I really liked this quote from the article…

Esther Nelson, case manager for exploited youths at the Sexual Assault Resource Center in Portland, said where the city ranks is a good question but shouldn’t be the focus. Nelson’s organization received some of the grant money Multnomah County won.

“I don’t think any city that is looking can’t say they have a problem,” Nelson said. “But this is a problem (here). It could be anyone’s daughter.”

What needs to be the focus is those who are affected. No matter how they got there, they all have a story. What needs to be the focus as well, is the culture we have created here that makes this way too possible. In this, there is a holistic approach that needs to be seen.

That being said, myth or not… don’t we all have a role to play? Isn’t my community, our community, too?

Whether we like it or not… drive around the city sometime… sadly, in many places in and around the city and its suburbs, we are Pornland.

Sadly, there is much more going on than we want to admit.

No fear mongering here, just the facts.

So, let’s stop seeking to create headlines and instead seek to create opportunities for dialogue.

For certain, there were some valid points in the article, but sadly… they were all lost in a bad choice of words that froze the perception of the article… and the issue.

Ironically, the very next day after the “myth” story was headlined, tucked into the paper was this story…

For children in sex trade, a way out is tough to find

But I guess that is not a sexy enough headline. I guess that is why my headline is… Dear Pornland, The Oregonian is a myth. Now that’s a sexy headline if I may say so myself.

Please feel free to post a comment, share on Facebook, or retweet. Thanks.

For a great resource on trafficking, please check out my friends at Oregonians Against Human Trafficking website.

By Gunnar Simonsen

Follow @gunnarsimonsen on Twitter.


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