Board proclaims January 2023 Human Trafficking Awareness Month in Multnomah County

January 27, 2023
When Gia Hudson was 19 years old, she was trafficked from her home in rural Washington. Now, two years after escaping, she finally feels like she has a voice again. 
Board members listen to testimony during the Human Trafficking Awareness Month proclamation.

Hudson’s daughter was the motivating force behind her decision to escape trafficking. She had to go into hiding to prevent herself from being victimized again. Still, she’s chosen to leverage her own lived experience to help improve services for other survivors through her involvement with Multnomah County Sex Trafficking Collaborative’s Community Advisory Board.

“I ask that there be more awareness of human trafficking,” she told commissioners during the board meeting on Thursday, Jan. 26. “It was a very scary thing to experience.” 

Hudson was among invited guests as the Board of County Commissioners proclaimed January 2023 as Human Trafficking Awareness Month in Multnomah County. The annual proclamation raises the visibility of human trafficking and highlights the County’s ongoing commitment to addressing it.

“I am so glad that this is something that the County takes the time to focus attention on  each year,” Chair Jessica Vega Pederson said. “This is another chance for us to stand strongly and supportively with this community.”

Human trafficking is a global issue that disproportionately impacts youth, LGBTQIA+ individuals, and Black, Indigenous, and other communities of color. The County-funded New Day program serves people ages 12-25 experiencing, or at risk of, exploitation and trafficking. In fiscal year 2022, New Day was able to serve 184 youth who were identified as sex trafficking victims or at high risk of being trafficked.

“This is obviously a big problem for our community — nationally, too,” Commissioner Diane Rosenbaum said. “Anything we can do to bring attention to it, and what some of the solutions are, I’m glad to see that moving forward.” 

A collaborative approach to preventing trafficking 

The Multnomah County Sex Trafficking Collaborative includes law enforcement, prosecutors, mental health providers and culturally specific advocacy programs. Together, they are working to end trafficking and improve outcomes for survivors. 

Over the past four years, a team from the collaborative partnered with people who have experienced sex trafficking and those who support them to build up a robust community advisory board that provides insight, guidance, and leadership to their efforts. The board is composed of survivors, community members, government officials, and others from across the nation.

In 2022, at the request of survivors, the County and its partners increased survivor participation in the board by creating stipended seats on decision-making committees. They also created a platform on their website for survivors to speak about the criminalization of sex work and its impact on the County’s human trafficking response.

“In 2023, I hope we can do even better at sharing our power with survivors,” said Claire Barrera, the Sex Trafficking Senior Strategist and Coordinator of the Sex Trafficking Collaborative.

Investing in more shelter options for survivors

When Hudson escaped trafficking, she said, she had to go into hiding because there weren’t enough safe shelter options available. She urged commissioners to consider investments in shelter for human trafficking survivors.

“There’s not really places for people that have dealt with human trafficking,” she said. “I hope in the future there will be some type of sheltering based on trafficking, because the places that they have available now aren’t really that safe for victims of human trafficking.”

Just last week, the Board approved approved funding for a new full-time position that will help survivors of domestic and sexual violence access long-term affordable housing. Among the domestic violence survivors surveyed in the County’s 2022 Point In Time Count, 24.8 percent said it was a reason they were homeless. 

Commissioner Susheela Jayapal celebrated other recent expansions in the shelter system for survivors, while underscoring the need for continued investments. “I was really pleased that the board was able to make an investment at the last budget,” she said. “And we obviously need to make more investments.”

“We do need to increase our investments in shelters,” Commissioner Sharon Meieran added. “Not just shelter, but actually shelters dedicated to understanding and taking into account the trauma experienced by victims of human trafficking.” 

“Twenty, 30 years ago, we didn't talk about this stuff,” Commissioner Lori Stegmann said. “The fact that we are talking about this openly and it is becoming part of the mainstream is really important, and I think it’s because of people like Gia, because she did come forward and share her story.”