Underage sex workers in Portland
By Isolde Raftery
Columbian staff writer
Sarah was 16 and addicted to crack cocaine when she heard there was easy money to make in the parking lot of a fast food restaurant off Fourth Plain Boulevard.
“I went there to pick up guys,” Sarah, 22, said. “They would buy me what I wanted as long as I had sex with them.”
After working for a year in Vancouver, Sarah ventured to Portland. Willowy, her greasy blond hair pulled tight into a bun, she looks exhausted.
“I got here on Sandy and 82nd, and this guy, D.C., asked me if I wanted to get high,” she said one morning last summer, sitting on a curb in northeast Portland. “Then he told me I owed him money and to go get money.”
Sarah was trapped. She’d fallen prey to a pimp’s come-on and become one of the 20 to 30 juveniles Portland police say work the streets at any given time. Like more than a third of those girls, she is from Vancouver. And like many of them, she remains beyond the reach of police efforts to separate her from her pimp. It’s been six years, and Sarah is still on the streets.
“The girls out there are being forced to do it,” says Portland Vice Det. Meghan Burkeen. “We consider them the victim, try to get them away from their pimp, and hopefully we can prosecute the pimp.”
In Portland, child prostitution has come to light because neighborhood groups have lashed out against prostitutes and pimps for littering their sidewalks with condoms and needles.
GREENCONSCIOUSNESS NOTES: This is why neighborhood organizations are the best hope for anti-trafficking advocates. The forces of patriarchy on the left will tell you these groups are reactionary hysterical vigilantes just as they do about the groups on the border fighting illegal immigration. But actually with education these groups will be the best on the street power for the anti-trafficking movement and we should form the closest alliances with them, defend them and train them. Power to the people means we shift the balance of power from the pimps and "authorities" to the people in the neighborhoods.
In Clark County, only former U.S. Congresswoman Linda Smith has tackled the issue, and on her own terms.
Smith’s organization, Shared Hope International, has examined sex trafficking abroad and recently turned its lens on the Vancouver and Portland region. This fall, the group staked out a large truck stop on the Oregon-Washington border and found that a young prostitute is an easy buy. (This is what the new feminist organizations have to do -- find the truck stops in your town or the areas of street walkers and take pictures - ask this organization how they did it - network)
How police deal with young prostitutes depends on where they’re from. In Portland, young workers from Vancouver are rarely identified as prostitutes and usually sent back to Washington state on runaway warrants. Therein lies the problem: They may work just 15 minutes from home, but they’re operating in another state with different laws, different social services and even another FBI jurisdiction. And because there are few supports in Clark County, girls fall through already gaping cracks when they return home.
A mother’s story
Law enforcement officials say sex-trafficking is hard to stop because pimps keep moving the girls. They drive them across state lines to sex hubs from Seattle to Salem to San Diego to isolate them from their families and duck a law enforcement system bound to strictly divided jurisdictions.
And so, mothers are often on their own to find their missing daughters and report whatever information they find to police.
That’s the case for Dori Westerman, who, on a recent rainy Thursday night, drove from her tidy Beaverton, Ore., home to an apartment in Portland, where her 16-year-old daughter was living with her pimp.
The pimp works her daughter, Cherise, as other pimps have, walking her up and down Portland’s 82nd Avenue track, through Vancouver hotels and up to Seattle.
Westerman knew that getting her daughter’s latest address was risky. Police might spook her pimp and cause them to leave the state. If they split, Westerman would be back at square one, checking Cherise’s MySpace page to see if she had logged on.
She lost the gamble. Police knocked at the apartment door early the next Saturday morning, and Cherise’s pimp said she wasn’t home and that he’d bring her to the precinct later. By 5 p.m., they were gone.
Tears roll down Westerman’s perfectly made-up face when she recounts stories her daughter has shared: “She’s been beaten and thrown out of a moving car naked. She has been brutally raped and beaten by three men in a Motel 6 in Arizona. She was found in an alley left for dead, hog-tied with something in her mouth.”
After these terrifying episodes, Cherise a baby-faced, half-black, half-white teenager with Clark County family called Mom, begging for help. Cherise is identified here by her middle name to protect her identity.
Removing a girl from her pimp isn’t easy because he controls her emotionally, says retired Portland vice detective Daryl Dick. When he worked in the 1980s and 1990s, Dick said, Vancouver girls made up a large part of his caseload.
The detective would build trust with a girl by describing to her how a pimp works, how he chats up girls at malls and outside high schools to identify those most vulnerable to his charms. For weeks, the pimp courts the girl, buys her clothes and jewelry, and tells her that she’s beautiful.
A pimp might have one or two other girls and make them compete for his affections, then show favor to whoever brings in the most money. Though some pimps keep a “stable” of girls, sticking to a smaller group allows him to maintain tighter control.
“Once she hears these kinds of things boom she’s listening (to us),” Dick said. “We don’t know the details, but we know how it works.”
‘Snitches die, you know’
Those closest to Cherise try to understand why she’s fallen prey to pimps. Westerman says when her daughter was 7, she was traumatized by her father’s murder. Others say she was always wild. Cherise is pretty, articulate, a good writer how could this happen to her? (Mother here is avoiding her own responsibility for her behavior when the girl was in her care - avoiding ( and supporting that avoidance ) does not help anyone - least of all the child victim -- advocates must remain objective and realize that the trauma of a child's life is based in her care giver's behavior which must be named and explored in therapy with therapists who are the child's advocate; not the parent's advocate. Parent's should have their own therapist but the state should fund the child's advocate, not the parent's. THIS DOES NOT MEAN THE PARENTS ARE BAD --we are all products of our own parenting -- people make mistakes -- I do not say these things to judge but to wake up advocates to reality -- well meaning people can be blind but unless the various addictive behaviors are recognized and treated, all our resources will be wasted. Advocates must stop enabling parents who do not recognize their own abusive behaviors just because the male involved is worse.)
Det. Dick says this could happen to anyone’s daughter.
“I can cite case after case of girls coming from average families, (self reported as "normal" but in reality denying responsibility or ignorant of their own responsibility and the child filled with self blame not talking) and once the pimp was able to intervene, the family didn’t matter anymore,” Dick said. “I know of officers’ daughters who got into it, a federal prosecutor’s daughter, a DA’s daughter, a politician’s daughter.” (See what I mean? OOOH a COP'S daughter----such FINE people-couldn't possibly be beating and bullying this child - when in actuality cops/legal system professionals routinely are DV perps and notorious for abuses of power)
Cherise was a rebellious 15-year-old when she met her first pimp, Deandre Green, at Lloyd Center in Portland. Green was a 25-year-old Bloods gang member from Aloha, Ore.
He sweet-talked her to a nondescript, two-story motel and told her the rules: This is business, don’t be out of pocket, respect your pimp and give me all your money.
According to court documents, when Cherise said she had second thoughts, Green said, “I know where you live and where your family lives. I will kill you and your family if you say anything to anybody. You’re mine now.” (and what made her accept this kind of authority? Self blame? How many times in her young life had she been told she was the cause of all negativity ?)
They lived in motels and his mother’s home before moving to California. Eventually, Cherise called home, setting in motion a police raid of the Los Angeles hotel room where she and Green were staying.
In July, Green pleaded guilty to transportation for illegal sexual activity. He was sentenced to 70 months in prison and three years of supervised release.
Though Green was in prison, Westerman was still scared for her daughter, who was being threatened by old friends and strangers. On a Portland MAX train one day, a girl she didn’t know walked up to her and said, “Snitches die, you know.”
That day, Cherise ran away again. (This is a fantasy - the girl relapsed and made up a story only those in denial would buy)
“She made the comment that if she’s out there doing this, living that way, people won’t think that she’s the snitch, the one that told on Deandre,” Westerman said.
Portland Police vice squad Sgt. Doug Justus says there aren’t services for young prostitutes who give up their pimps. (This is true - if Mafia informers can get protection - why can't victims of DV and trafficking?)
As it is, the police bureau has a three-member vice squad, compared with a 10-officer unit in the 1970s and 1980s.
Justus once spent two days trying to place a 14-year-old he found in a home raid. A children’s home agreed to take her for a night, but only if Justus promised to pick her up the next morning.
He says that as juvenile prostitution cases pile up, his supervisors tell him to triage the load.
“But how do you pick and choose which 12- or 13-year-old?” Justus asked. “How do you tell the mom that we’re not going to do your case?” (Advocates can set up DV shelters for trafficked victims -- it is not rocket science -- children's homes -- under court orders if necessary to prevent the minors from walking to avoid the rules -- initially there will have to be court orders and supervision - records can be expunged later)
The Multnomah County Juvenile Justice Center rarely holds girls, either, because prostitution is a misdemeanor. In the past year, juvenile prosecutors filed prostitution charges against 13 minors, including one from Vancouver and two from the Seattle area. Two more were charged with compelling prostitution, or pimping. Clark County has filed just four prostitution charges against juveniles in eight years.
Justus, who lives in Vancouver, says he doesn’t understand why dealing drugs or stealing cars is treated as more important than dealing or stealing children. After a rash of stolen car years back, Portland dedicated a unit to car theft.
“We have little girls raped and beaten, and they won’t give us more bodies,” he said. “How does that correlate?”
Sarah, the young prostitute from Vancouver, was beaten so badly by her pimp, D.C., that she needed facial reconstructive surgery. He was sentenced to prison for abusing her, and she, barely recovered, returned to the track in northeast Portland.
She was recently pulled over by police who found a crack pipe behind the front passenger seat. She told officers she was driving two men she’d just met, but they believe that one of the two is her pimp.
A mother’s relief
As for Cherise, her room hasn’t changed since August, the last time she lived with her mom. The magenta walls match the sheets, and there’s a large framed photo of her father on the armoire. Deandre Green’s scrunched red kerchief is on the floor. On her unmade bed is a novel called “Seduction.”
But Westerman no longer cries when she stands in her daughter’s room. That’s because last week, she found Cherise.
She had checked her daughter’s My-Space page, expecting to see the tragic photos Cherise posts of herself: Never smiling, posing in a skimpy red bikini, staring at the camera with stoned eyes.
But she noticed something different this time. Cherise had a new name, which Westerman suspected meant she had a new pimp.
She scoured online dating services sites and spotted her daughter. She didn’t hesitate to call police, even if it meant taking a chance that’s failed her again and again. But this time, the gamble paid off.
Today, Cherise is at a mental health facility in Portland, looking forward to charting a new life.