“Say their names and remember them:” Board proclaims January 2022 Human Trafficking Awareness Month

January 21, 2022

Correction: an earlier version of this story misspelled Joyclyn Bell's name. We have corrected the record, and we regret the error. Click here to watch the full proclamation. The remarks begin at 39:09.

As a survivor of sex trafficking, Kat Salas spent seven years in the sex trades. Through privilege, luck, and community support, she says, she was able to transform her life. She has now spent the last four years working in the anti-trafficking realm. 

Today, she is the manager of the County-funded New Day program at New Avenues For Youth, which supports survivors of sex trafficking. In Fiscal Year 2020-21, New Day served 200 unique youth identified as sex trafficking victims or at high risk of being trafficked.

Salas was among invited guests Thursday, Jan. 20 as the Board of County Commissioners proclaimed January 2022 as Human Trafficking Awareness Month in Multnomah County. The annual proclamation raises awareness about the use of force, fraud, or coercion to exploit human beings for sex or labor. 

“As we take time hopefully to read this proclamation and recommit ourselves to ending human trafficking and sex trafficking,” Salas said, “my challenge to everyone is also to take a moment to recommit ourselves to end the root causes, to look beyond human trafficking as a crime, and to see it truly as a societal issue.”

As of Dec. 20, 2021, an estimated 587 minors and 2,055 adults were victims of sex trafficking in Multnomah County. Marginalized communities face disproportionate rates of trafficking, including youth, LGBTQIA+, Black, Indigenous and immigrant communities. 

Other factors exacerbate the human trafficking crisis. Criminal justice involvement, homelessness, poverty and domestic violence contribute to the conditions that harm people at risk of being trafficked. 

“These communities continue to experience both the highest needs and the least support,” said Commissioner Susheela Jayapal, the proclamation’s sponsor and chair of the Multnomah County Sex Trafficking Collaborative. “Human traffickers prey on those who are most vulnerable: those experiencing poverty, those feeling isolated or unheard, and those who look for acceptance or support because those essential elements of support have been lacking in their lives.” 

Centering the experience of survivors

Multnomah County established the Sex Trafficking Collaborative in 2009 to coordinate across systems to better serve survivors. The collaborative includes representatives from law enforcement, prosecutors, mental health providers and culturally specific advocacy programs. 

The collaborative aims to create a survivor-centered, trauma-informed, sustainable system to address sex trafficking among youth and young adults. Together, members are working to undo the systemic issues connected to trafficking.

“I’m grateful that the Multnomah County Sex Trafficking Collaborative is there to provide the kind of space and approach that is holistic and responsive in our community and is centering the voices of those most impacted,” Commissioner Sharon Meieran said.

In order to center the experience of survivors, the collaborative created a Community Advisory Board. The Board, composed of people with lived experience, guides the collaborative in their work, ensuring that survivors have a voice in the community effort to end sex trafficking. 

Claire Barrera, the County’s sex trafficking senior strategist, helps coordinate the Sex Trafficking Collaborative. In 2021, Barrera said, two cohorts of survivors helped provide recommendations on housing, racial justice, and funding policies. Looking forward, Barrera said, those voices will continue to be important in evolving the collaborative’s work. 

“Moving into 2022, I want to emphasize that following the leadership of survivors is the number one most liberatory and impactful approach we can take to ending human trafficking,” Barrera said.

"I really want to commend the great work that's been happening to center survivors' voices and leadership in both our county's work and in the work of the community-based organizations that are responding to this issue," Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson said. "Survivors absolutely should be believed."

The intersectionality of human trafficking

As a sex trafficking expert with lived experience and a member of the Community Advisory Board, Joyclyn Bell said that there are three forms of human trafficking: forced labor, sex trafficking, and domestic servitude. All three intersect with each other, Bell said, along with other forms of violence.

Bell said her first experience with exploitation happened when she was in elementary school. That encounter continues to present daily challenges, she said, and will likely impact her for the rest of her life. Because of her lived experience, she said, she will continue to speak out about the need to support survivors.

“Had I had the services, had I had the education, had there been prevention and legislation, maybe things would have turned out differently for me, and I wouldn’t be struggling,” Bell said. “It requires a multidisciplinary, holistic approach that is culturally responsive, trauma informed, and covers areas like safety, cultural historical gender context, relationship building, collaboration, and mutuality.”

Bell said sex trafficking is a public health issue rooted in colonization and patriarchy. Sex trafficking too often takes a heavy toll on communities of color, including Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. It’s important to focus on the social determinants of health that make people more vulnerable to trafficking, she said. Income affects other areas of life, including housing, education, food security, wage equity, and access to legal representation. 

Watch Bell's full testimony here

At the end of her remarks, Bell recited a poem for all survivors of human trafficking at every point in their journey. She dedicated the poem to her foster cousin, Precious Amore Anderson, who was sexually exploited and died by suicide.  

“There are far too many women and men, and all individuals that have been impacted by these injustices,” Commissioner Lori Stegmann said. “It’s important to say their names and remember them. Precious Amore Anderson, we miss you.”