'I feel heard and acknowledged,’ County proclaims January 2020 as Human Trafficking Awareness Month

January 10, 2020

On January 9, the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners declared January 2020 as Human Trafficking Awareness Month.

Most of my energy was focused for so long on surviving the day to day, said Levi.  

Like the vast majority of houseless and impoverished youth, Levi told the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners, “I didn’t have the time or privilege to consider my future.

The realities of being young and homeless are bleak.”

But the New Day Program, which provides culturally-specific, survivor-centered services for young people who have experienced or are at risk of experiencing sex trafficking, “helped take some of that weight off my shoulder and allowed me to branch out and create new pathways for myself aside from mere survival,” Levi said.  

“As someone with intersecting identities, it’s been really important to have services that support my whole person-hood, beyond just words and labels that have been assigned to me. Services that support my identity as trans, male, disabled, etc. but don’t center entirely on that. 

[Services] that acknowledge I’m a survivor, but also allow me to have multiple narratives and experiences beyond those things.”  

On Thursday, Levi’s appreciation for the New Day program and the continued need to keep the voices of those most impacted by human trafficking front and center, were acknowledged at a County board meeting in which January 2020 was proclaimed Human Trafficking Awareness Month.   

Human trafficking disproportionately impacts the most marginalized people in the community, said Commissioner Susheela Jayapal, who sponsored the proclamation and leads Multnomah County’s Sex Trafficking Collaborative.

Commissioner Susheela Jayapal leads Multnomah County's Sex Trafficking Collaborative.

“It’s not just about smuggling somebody somewhere or moving someone somewhere: It's about human exploitation,” said Jayapal. 

“It’s the stealing of freedom for profit — a stealing of freedom that can be physical and can involve violence. But even more often it involves non-physical coercion, fraud, manipulation, isolation and emotional abuse or threats.

It’s a problem of global scale and very local impact.”

Multnomah County’s Sex Trafficking Collaborative launched in 2009 under then Commissioner Diane McKeel. It was designed to provide a comprehensive, community response to trafficking with a focus on support for survivors. 

Today, it has grown to a robust, regional organization including Multnomah County’s Victims Services Unit, Domestic and Sexual Violence Coordination Office, the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office, the Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office,  Metropolitan Public Defender, the Oregon Department of Justice, the Oregon Department of Human Services and many more community members and organizations.  

Since 2009, some 1,049 suspected traffickers have been identified, and more than 1,000 individuals have been cited for purchasing sex. Another 97 have been charged with purchasing or luring a minor in the Portland area. 

Still, trafficking remains a complex and pervasive problem — with vulnerable populations at the forefront of the abuse.   

In 2018, the County established the New Day Program. New Day, a partnership with New Avenues for Youth, Call to Safety and Raphael House of Portland, was designed to meet the unique needs of sex trafficking survivors ages 12 to 25, with a focus on communities of color and LGBTQ+ communities.

“The New Day collaborative is an example of what we can do,” said Alix Sanchez, senior manager for the County’s Domestic and Sexual Violence Coordination Office. 

“Youth who have very few reasons to trust our systems of support consistently self refer to the New Day collaborative, which is one of the strongest measures of success when working with this population," said Sanchez.  "If they are showing up to engage, you are doing something very right,”

In the first year of the program, connections were made with more than 200 young people — over 60 of them enrolled in formal case management. Of those enrolled: 

  • 70-percent of them identify as people of color. 

  • 50-percent identify as LGBTQ+ and 

  • 26-percent have children of their own.

“What these stats don’t represent is the diversity and identity, personal experience, personal narrative and the tenacity, resilience, resourcefulness and the hope that they all have,” said Sarah Nedeau, Director of Community-Based Services at New Avenues for Youth.

New Day has been there to truly listen, help with tangible needs, and even take feedback and apply it to their work speakers told the board.

The program is a one-stop shop for everything from food, showers, transportation and other basic needs to financial stability, employment, housing options and relationships with mentors who have lived experience. 

“If the relationship with the mentor is not solid, then youth are not going to show up,” said New Day mentor Krystal Menafee.

The program is driven by trust, community, flexibility and responsivity — down to the outreach materials that use common, non-stigmatizing language. 

“I feel heard and acknowledged,” said Levi. 

Before working with New Day Levi said, “I found myself barely clinging to sobriety and safety and unable to meet my basic needs, and my mental and physical health rapidly deteriorating."

Since entering the New Day program Levi continued, "I and many others have been willing to accept help again. I know how to ask for help when I can’t always advocate for myself. And I know I can trust these people, who truly have my best interest at heart. 

I probably wouldn’t be here today, if it weren't for the services.”

For more information on Human Trafficking resources: 

Call to Safety (503.235.5333): 24/7 crisis line for sex trafficking victims