10.19.15--REPORT FROM THE CITY CLUB OF PORTLAND’S TRAFFICKING FORUM
with Deputy DA JR Ujifusa
CAPTION: Signs that someone may be engaged in trafficking according to Portland Police Department: pictures on social media of yourself with cash or other luxury items.
Having a lipstick tattoo.
At this my entire table started cracking up: we’re sitting in the front row and I’m at the very front of the table, highly visible in a blouse that shows my lipstick tattoo on my shoulder.
I came prepared with questions, and the presentation gave me ample opportunity and reason to ask them. The cop who opened the forum began by admitting that sex trafficking was the smallest area of trafficking, and that all the evidence points to child sex trafficking being an even smaller group within the larger group of exploited people. Despite this, his entire presentation referred to trafficking victims as “girls”, which gave rise to the first of my questions:
"Why is this so focused on straight survivors when LGBT youth are admitted to be far more at risk of engaging in survival sex, especially after the failure of RHYA to pass?”
“Well, uh, we just don’t know how to reach LGBT youth. They’re different.”
Oh. Okay. Nothing about the creation and expansion of youth shelters, drop in shelters, free hot meals, or anything.
He moved on.
“Now you can tell trafficking victims on these sites because they always blur out or hide their faces.”
At this my entire table’s hands shot in the air. "Why is obscuring faces a sign of trafficking? Doesn’t that make sense in the face of stigma and threats?”
“It’s actually common practise for escorts to obscure their faces because of safety threats from clients AND law enforcement, you can’t use that as a measure of trafficking.”
“Blurred faces have nothing to do with sex trafficking. It’s a rational tactic in the current climate.”
“Uhh, well, anyway. We’ve worked hard here in Portland to make sure that there are many resources for girls once they’re rescued.”
My hand shot up again. "I work at a crisis line and there AREN’T actually resources for trafficking survivors. There is one floor of beds at the Salvation Army female emergency shelter. It is largely empty for lack of survivors. In the meantime there are even less resources for survivors escaped from other forms of trafficking: I had a labour trafficking survivor escape and call me for resources and there were none. How do you reconcile that with the fact that labour trafficking is over 4 times more prevalent?”
At which point a scrawny little white dude demanded receipts. He smirked at me with a “gotcha” that faded quickly.
“A 2012 report from the ILO reported in the book Human Trafficking Around the World, by Stephanie Hepburn and published by Columbia University Press in 2013.”
He wasn’t to be silenced however. Not him, not Joel Shapiro. "Oh, so that’s internationally. That’s not OREGON.”
"No, Oregon is completely unique and doesn’t match global trafficking patterns at all, despite being heavily rural and agricultural.” Thick sarcasm, audible to the room, which let out some giggles.
"That’s what I thought.” He crossed his legs in satisfaction, oblivious to the sarcasm and the giggles.
CAPTION: Image reads: Where is it?
The cop continued.
“Where is trafficking located?” He switched slides, to this one, which reads:
Strip clubs: play a role in the recruitment/breaking of girls as well
The cop then asked, “If you can dance naked onstage for money then what’s the next step? What’s next?”
I had to turn my laughter into an unconvincing cough. I believe that’s the same argument conservatives made against gay marriage. “What’s next?”
Goat sex is clearly the answer to both.
At this point Deputy DA JR Ujifusa took over, saying ruefully, “You’ve got the juicy stuff, I just talk about prosecution.”
Yes, talking about child sexual exploitation is indeed the juicy stuff. How trustworthy, how responsible and ethical, how not at all totally creepy and gross.
Here we have an image of the notorious trafficking tattoo!
The story that goes with “Tattoo: Artists, victim, interview” is that they had a black man suspected of trafficking who got a lipstick tattoo. He told the DA on arrest that it was his mother’s lips [for the record, I make a lot of your mom jokes and my money is on this guy having been sassing the DA, who would have deserved it].
The DA then sought out the tattoo artist, who, after being threatened [anyone who receives money from a sex worker can be charged with trafficking] said that the man said they were his girlfriend’s lips. Apparently this was a slam dunk for proving the girlfriend was trafficked, and not, say, a white sex worker dating a black man.
He then highlighted that anyone who takes money from a sex worker in Oregon is legally their trafficker, which gives him leverage when trying to get testimony. Families, roommates, landlords, cabbies, security, lovers, children, tattoo artists--all are traffickers if they take money from their sex worker relation or acquaintance.
This is where it loses all connection to reality and helping people.
Taking a leaf from the End Demand model in Canada, the DA said that they target all the people who profit off prostitution including cab drivers, security, landlords, tattoo artists, and family.
I asked whether he thought that, without this pressuring emphasis on family to turn in sex workers or know that they can be prosecuted as traffickers, Ashley Benson [a woman who was murdered while the person who was her safety check-in was too scared to call the police or demand that the hotel call the police about the lack of Ashley’s end safe call, because she could be prosecuted as a pimp or trafficker for receiving the phone call] would still be alive if he didn’t do this.
He had to be reminded, quietly, by the cop and me, who Ashley Benson was.
“Oh that, that’s different,” DA Ujifusa said. “We don’t prosecute family or people for doing safe calls,” and I said
“You just said you DO.”
When he got to condoms he said “and condoms are all made in India so boom, automatic interstate commerce!” There was light applause, as if making workers afraid to carry condoms is a good thing instead of a public health disaster.
He said “well we prioritise trafficking so it’s okay for people to make safe calls.”
“If you’re saying THIS--that families and tattoo artists and cabbies and security guards are liable, then how can people know that you allow safe calls? How can people know it’s okay to keep themselves safe if you even use laws about CONDOMS crossing interstate borders to prosecute?”
Ujifusa clearly lost all patience with me. “I use whatever I can to prosecute traffickers” and all the Junior Leaguers in their blouses started clapping and I lost it, I stood up and said “STOP CLAPPING A WOMAN IS DEAD BECAUSE OF THIS.” and my table hushed me and pulled me down.