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The Rotary Club of Greater Clark County is trying to raise awareness of a problem mostly associated with Portland that they feel is making its way across the river.

The club is hosting “Too Close to Home,” an information session featuring speakers involved with sex trafficking enforcement and recovery. The event is focused on youth trafficking specifically, looking at the warning signs that the activity is going on while finding ways to prevent it from happening.

Rotary Club of Greater Clark County member Becky Willey explained the idea came from what a fellow club is doing in Oregon. Ending sex trafficking has been one of the missions of the East Portland Rotary since 2012 according to their website, using a variety of methods to raise awareness. Since 2015 that club has also hosted training classes for hospitality workers to help them recognize when such activity was happening.

Willey said that individuals who were once involved in sex trafficking would be speaking, as well as a presentation from the Portland Police Bureau on what they have seen in their community. Willey has seen the presentation before, calling it a “riveting” look at the work that department has been doing to deal with the activity.

Willey said that on this side of the river sex trafficking hasn’t been as much of a focus, something she would like to see changed, starting with the presentation.

“I think awareness is the first step. The community needs to know what’s going on before we can start tackling it,” Willey remarked.

After several similar seminars, Willey believes Portland’s crackdown on sex trafficking has led to an increase in Clark County, as sex traffickers look to find places in the region less monitored. 

Saturday’s presentation will focus on youth, as Willey explained the average age of individuals becoming a part of the activity was 13. Experienced traffickers were “pros” at getting young victims indoctrinated to the system, Willey said. In some cases individuals in the foster care system were targeted, she said, as they are more vulnerable.

“These girls think that they have a new boyfriend; they don’t realize that they are being groomed to be trafficked,” Willey said.

Should the event go well Willey said that moving toward hospitality worker training would be the next step, similar to what East Portland Rotary has been doing. She hopes that starting the conversation will help so that sex trafficking doesn’t become a crisis in Clark County.

“Human trafficking doesn’t belong anywhere, but it especially doesn’t belong in our community,” Willey said.

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