Friday, November 16 2012, 09:44 PM CST
Lax laws: Oregon gets low grades in sex trade prosecution
By Katie Conner/KTVL.com
MEDFORD, Ore. -- Police say websites like medford.backpage.com are essentially advertising sites for prostitution rings which often lead to human trafficking cases.
Keith Bickford runs Oregonians Against Human Trafficking or OATH. It was created back in 2008 to combat the state's growing problem.
Bickford says often times the women in the ads are underage victims being controlled by a pimp.
Bickford says more human trafficking cases are popping in the state because of lax a growing problem in the Rogue Valley because Oregon has lax laws compared to other states.
Shared Hope International is an non-profit organization pursuing stricter anti-trafficking laws throughout the country. Each year, it ranks each state from A to F. Back in 2011, Oregon was given a 'D' on its report card.
One of the reasons, Bickford says, the punishment for pimps and johns isn't harsh enough.
In Oregon, if a person is caught selling a person for sex, its a Measure 11 crime. It carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 70 months in prison.
Under Oregon law, the johns, or those caught paying sex, are charged with a misdemeanor. The offender can get that charge wiped from their record if they attend a one day class at the "john school."
"It's a first time offense kind of like a DUI like a diversion thing," said Bickford. "You spend a day in class, there's officers that come in and talk about the dangers of it."
Bickford says, when it's possible, the District Attorney's Office will prosecute offenders on both the state and federal level because the punishments are much harsher.
"For example, let's say a young girl is a victim of sex trafficking and she has a pimp johns raping her every day," said Bickford. "Let's say one of the Johns was wearing a condom. There's no condom factories here in Oregon. So we can use that as interstate commerce and prosecute on both levels."
Jackson County Deputy District Attorney Adam Peterson says, "the federal sentences can be much longer."
Peterson is one of the only prosecutors in the nation, who is assigned to a cyber task force unit and who can also prosecute on both the state and federal level.
Peterson says the amount of online prostitution cases, involving underage victims in the Rogue Valley, have gone up significantly within the last few years.
"We have them (pimps) coming in from the Bay area and set up at a hotel for a weekend," said Peterson. "Then men come in all day long and have sex with the girls. Since they're only here for one weekend, it makes it hard to prosecute those guys."
Interstate five is one of the main corridors transporting the young girls up and down the West Coast. Bickford says pimps often move to small towns, like Medford, because there's fewer police and less public awareness.
"I think it's a daily concern of all of those on law enforcement is that there might be activity happening out there that we're not aware of," said Peterson.
Peterson says awareness and education about human trafficking needs to be spread.
"The biggest issue we face as law enforcement is resources," said Peterson. "We need more money. Mainly money for purposes of having more detectives work these cases. These cases are complex."
Bickford says most people aren't aware of the human trafficking in their town because the problem is well hidden, thanks to the internet.
"As a pimp you don't want to put your prized possesion on a street corner, that's why you keep this underground and keep it quiet and work with your other pimps,' said Bickford.