BEND, Ore. - Four people were arrested or cited Thursday in a sting operation targeting prostitution at several Bend hotels, with police saying one 19-year-old woman had been a victim of sex trafficking since she was 13.
Bend police, assisted by Deschutes County sheriff's deputies, Redmond and Sunriver police and Oregon State Police, conducted the "proactive operation targeting human trafficking" between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. Wednesday at various unidentified hotels, said Lt. Clint Burleigh.
"The goal of the operation was to locate individuals who were actively promoting prostitution, human trafficking and child sex trafficking," Burleigh wrote in a news release.
Several suspects were contacted at several hotels and one, Rennell Buen, 23, of Portland, was arrested on six counts of promoting prostitution (trafficking) as well as one count of methamphetamine possession. He remained held late Thursday at the Deschutes County Jail on $50,000 bail.
A Bend man, Patrick A. Spear, 52, was cited and released on a charge of soliciting prostitution. Two Portland women also were charged, one arrested on a charge of prostitution and an out-of-county DUII warrant, while the second was cited and released, Burleigh said.
Bend police and the Deschutes County Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (CSEC) Response Team facilitated resources for the 19-year-old to help with her recovery, with the ultimate goal of getting her out of human trafficking, the lieutenant said. The response team includes representatives from Bend police, the district attorney's office, Deschutes County Victim Assistance, the KIDS Center, Guardian Group and state DHS-Child Welfare.
Burleigh said Bend police wanted to thank the agencies that assisted in the operation
"We understand how devastating human trafficking is in society, and we are actively committed to ending sex trafficking in Central Oregon," Burleigh said.
Burleigh explained to NewsChannel 21 that the female suspects were not identified because they could also be victims, "coerced into that way of life" by those who exploit them.
He said a similar operation was done a few years ago, though it might not have been similarly publicized.
Burleigh said, "People are starting to understand -- there's so much going on with human trafficking, how much of it is manipulation by the people trying to make the money off of it. There's a better understanding what it means."
"We're really in the mindset of trying to save these people -- men or women or children who are being used for a purpose to make money for somebody else -- and get them out of the situation they are in," he added.
"We know a lot of under-age kids are being used -- early, late teens into their 20s, so started at a young age. We're getting better at understanding it, he said.
"Some folks ask, ‘Why don't they just walk away?'" Burleigh said. "There's coercion, there's violence, there's threats. It's tough."
Nita Belles, who founded Central Oregonians Against Trafficking Humans in 2009, recently absorbed that group into her other nonprofit, called In Our Backyard. She provided this statement to NewsChannel 21 on the area police operation:
"For years, we have known that sex trafficking of both minors and adults, as well as labor trafficking, has been happening here on the High Desert. I have heard personal stories of sex trafficking happening in Central Oregon for decades. Women who are now in their 50s and 60s have come up to me after local presentations to ask for help coping with the scars after having been trafficked here when they were in their teens.
"It has long been known that Central Oregon is a recruiting ground. Traffickers, (sometimes called pimps, but society has glamorized that word so in the anti-trafficking movement we like to label them the criminals they are, traffickers) who come here or live here find this a good place to find and groom trusting young people -- and then after they have been "turned out" they are usually taken out of the area to be trafficked in what is called the circuit.
"Traffickers take their victims to various cities on the West Coast and beyond to sell them for sex. Make no mistake, traffickers are the ones making money, not the victims.
"Central Oregon is a place where traffickers can get more money for their victims because we are a small town. If someone is buying sex, they don't want to run into that person when they are at the grocery store with their wife the next day.
"Additionally, we have a lot of conventions, vacations and other gatherings here where people who are looking to buy sex believe they can do that while they are away from home. I wouldn't say we are a hot spot for human trafficking but I would say it happens in every ZIP code in the United States, and it happens right here in our backyard.
"They move up and down the 1-5 corridor to San Francisco, Portland, Seattle. and in that process they come to Bend," said Kevin Fritz, chief strategy officer at Guardian Group.
Belles said, "Additionally, victims become traumatically bonded to the trafficker, something like the ‘Stockholm Syndrome.' So they are emotionally constrained to stay enslaved. Oftentimes, people ask, 'Why doesn't she just leave?' Those are some of the reasons. A better question might be, "Why would he traffic her?"
She added, "Survivors have told me of unimaginable torture they have suffered at the hands of their trafficker." In Our Backyard trainings note that victims are coerced and abused in horrific ways, sexually, emotionally, physically. During the grooming process, traffickers learn who is most important to their victim, be it a sister, brother, mom, dad, best friend or whomever.
Traffickers then threaten to harm those who mean the most to the victim if they try to leave. For example, traffickers take pictures while stalking their victim's family and when a victim indicates she is unhappy, her trafficker responds "Here is a picture I took of your little sister last week, she gets out of school at 2:40 p.m. and I will be there to pick her up tomorrow if you don't do what I tell you."
Belles says. "I have known of cases where traffickers have burnt down their victim's family's home just to prove to their victims that they will do anything to keep them under their control."
"Getting prostituted 10-20 times a day and you're a 12 year old; I can't even imagine what that does to someone's psyche," Fritz said.
Belles talks about a newer trend in trafficking; "BDSM (bondage, dominance, submission, masochism) has been glamorized in the pop culture by recent books and movies. Perpetrators have capitalized on that, and locate their victims online and groom them with flattery and then develop an online relationship which involves BDSM websites.
"They gradually require their victims to engage in submissive photos and pledges, then eventually require complete allegiance from the victim to them, cutting them off from their family, friends and support system.
"I have been brought in to two of these cases over the last month. One victim's mother told me, ‘The internet is the key that opens the locked door of your home, and every predator has your key. Once these predators have gained access to and the minimal trust of your child, the grooming and coercion begin with the sole purpose of enslavement and human trafficking."
Christopher Stollar, author of "The Black Lens" and anti trafficking advocate, said pimps often target a senior or junior in high school to recruit younger girls to be trafficked.
How do we protect ourselves and our loved ones from these predators?
In Our Backyard refers us to this page to find tips to keep your children and loved ones safe from human traffickers: http://inourbackyard.org/keep-kids-safe-ht/
Central Oregon OATH, which now functions under the local non-profit In Our Backyard has been doing anti-trafficking work here since 2009, educating many thousands and networking across the area and across the nation to find help for those trapped in human trafficking, raise awareness, work in legislative matters and provide expertise on human trafficking.
About In Our Backyard
In Our Backyard was established in 2006, when a new awareness of human trafficking brought IOB founder, Nita Belles, to realize that there was no option to "stand on the sidelines" of this atrocity. In 2009 at the request of the U.S. Marshall over human trafficking for Oregon, Central Oregonians Against Trafficking Humans (CO-OATH) was created to undertake work surrounding human trafficking in Central Oregon. Since that time, CO-OATH has integrated into In Our Backyard, where the work continues. From 2010 to the present, In Our Backyard has focused on eradicating sex trafficking at large events including the "Super Bowl," raising awareness, providing expert advice on local and national human trafficking legislative issues, working with local first responders, medical and mental health professionals to help potential human trafficking victims and managing programs like the Freedom Sticker Campaign and now the Convenience Store Against Trafficking (CSAT) Program. In addition, IOB welcomes volunteers, interns and committed donors to link arms across America in the fight against human trafficking.
For more information, please visit http://www.inourbackyard.org or https://theguardiangroup.org/
You can also find Christoper Stollar's book at https://www.amazon.com/Black-Lens-Christopher-Stollar/dp/1633370720
Stollar is partnering with Guardian Group for a Sex Trafficking Awareness event 6:30-8:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 30, at Journey Church. The event will focus on the local problem and how groups like Guardian are fighting it.
You can find Nita Belles book at https://www.amazon.com/Our-Backyard-Human-Trafficking-America/dp/0801018579/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1471659369&sr=1-1&keywords=in+our+backyard