Pamplin Media Group – The tricky subject of human trafficking

Woodburn City Council gets a crash course on human trafficking and illicit massage places

Woodburn City Council received some eye-opening data last month when two women who work with victims of sexual and domestic violence gave a short presentation about the realities around the people they help.

One of the most staggering statistics concerned commercial sexual exploitation, which generates global profits exceeding $150 billion.

“Globally, this is the biggest and fastest growing criminal business enterprise of the 21st century,” said Esther Nelson, founder of Safety Compass, which advocates for survivors of human trafficking. in Marion, Clackamas and Washington counties.

Nelson was joined by Dr Howden, a training supervisor for the Center for Hope and Safety, to give the presentation. CHS primarily deals with domestic violence in Marion County, while Compass has a pulse on the broader area of ​​exploitation and trafficking. Since issues surfaced earlier this year over a Woodburn company allegedly providing illicit massage services, Howden has ceded much of the presentation time to Nelson, who explicitly covered the topic.

Specifically, the illicit massage industry records profits estimated at $2.5 billion a year in the United States.

“It’s one of the largest and I would say certainly the most prolific networked sex trafficking groups in the United States,” Nelson said. “Based on all the data we’ve compiled, over 11,000 trade fronts exist in the United States.”

It’s a phenomenon that Nelson described as an explosion. Each site is estimated to generate between $277,000 and $1.2 million per year.

“It’s not all because of the sex sales; we think a lot of it is because of the drug trade going through these sites,” she said.

Nevertheless, Nelson claimed that the money generated funnels into the hands of exploiters who have no interest in the community or much empathy for their “employees”.

“It’s huge profits that don’t stay here (locally), and they don’t benefit the people who work or are exploited in these environments,” she said.

Pervasive problem

A national map of sex trafficking revealed areas where it is heavier than others, but it also indicated that the nation is heavily steeped in sexual exploitation everywhere.

The potential venues involved are wide ranging, including illicit massage businesses, strip clubs, escort sites, nightclubs/discotheques, hotels and motels, brothels, seasonal work camps, video poker bars, casinos, truck stops, runways (specific roads or streets used for traffic), city parks, porn production sites and the Internet.

“The internet is by far the biggest platform and pimp in the world,” Nelson said.

This coupled with the proliferation of human trafficking and sexual exploitation over the past decades, Nelson stressed that this is not a problem specific to a specific group or geographical area – c is everyone’s problem.


Trafficking in illicit massage venues tends to be more specific than that in other forms of exploitation. Various clues to an IMV include the tone of advertisements for the establishment, hours of operation, signs of people living there, and communication patterns.

A worker at such a site, for example, probably knows little or nothing about the surrounding community.

“Whether or not they are able to communicate with you in a way that would make you think they would be able to easily navigate their own environment or be able to do things like get out and access groceries or transportation “, described Nelson. script.

“Unlike a lot of our other local trafficking, which is mostly domestic, almost 100% of those exploited in the illicit massage venue are international victims of human trafficking,” Nelson explained. “The majority of them are, in fact, of East Asian or Chinese descent. So that’s very specific.”

She stressed that this phenomenon is not indicative of the wider world of trafficking. A person from any background is potentially vulnerable, and this is especially true if they come from economically disadvantaged backgrounds.

Victims often come from poverty, domestic violence situations, or aging in an orphanage with no other financial option. Recruitment takes place in their own country and they are often lured into the situation by the promise of working in a legitimate massage establishment or business. The possibility of coming to the United States is part of the appeals.

“Once they get here, they’re processed in a few key cities across the country that we know well, and then they’re moved through the network about every two weeks to avoid detection by local law enforcement like a regular face in the community,” Nelson explained. “They also don’t know where they are, so they can’t leave. They usually don’t speak English and don’t know their whereabouts when found.”

Oppressive environments

Those exploited within IMVs have often experienced sexual or physical violence, debt bondage, controlled mobility, unsafe work environments, or threats of homicide/femicide; they were oppressed.

“I just wanted to point out that it’s not the only microculture,” Nelson said. “Other forms that we see here locally, internet-based places, app-based places, local call and drop-off activities at local motels, accommodations acting as brothels are very common in this county , and it’s both national and international.”

The biggest feeding factor in all of this is oppression. Nelson said the subject cannot be accurately discussed without the use of this word.

“The overwhelming majority, the people we see who are victimized are part of the BIPOC communities in our local communities,” Nelson said. “So they are already made vulnerable for many other reasons and then they are bought off by our communities as a further form of dehumanization.”

Nelson said the extent and severity of the violence endured by the many people she worked with is indescribable in a place such as the boardroom.

“I would just say they experience a lot of physical abuse based on whether or not they respect their network,” she revealed. “And if they enter another network’s territory by accident, that’s also, like, potential serious assault or death. So they don’t have a lot of options.”

Useful recommendations

Nelson listed a number of suggestions for guiding a community away from this type of operating environment scenario, and she emphasized the importance of avoiding apathy or acceptance.

What communities should do is: ensure that city ordinances do not accept unauthorized masseuses; commit to not consuming people as products; talk and model respect and healthy boundaries with the young people in your life; believing survivors of abuse when they come forward and creating pathways to safety for children so that they do not become vulnerable to trafficking due to lack of safe alternatives to survive; believe that what you are doing makes a difference.

Similarly, communities should not perpetuate demand; confront workers or associations of illicit massage places – this should be left to law enforcement; suppose you can tell if someone is being trafficked by their appearance or behavior; be immobilized by the scale of the problem.

“We can alter the demand status of one person at a time by our own actions,” Nelson surmised.


Learn more about Safety Compass at

Learn more about the Center for Hope and Security at

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Jessica C. Bell