PORTLAND, OR (KPTV) –
Oregon Liquor Control Commission inspectors are teaming up to combat sex trafficking in the Portland area.
The OLCC’s public safety program regulates businesses in the alcohol and marijuana industry across the state. That program gives inspectors unique access to bars, restaurants, strip clubs and convenience stores.
Businesses they now view as potential hubs for sex trafficking.
“It’s also occurring in businesses with temporary sales licenses, large sporting events, concerts and in the marijuana industry,” said OLCC Marijuana Regulatory Specialist Amanda Standiford. “We’re hearing about it more in the marijuana grows, there’s lots of labor coming in and it’s happening all over the state.”
Standiford is one of those state inspectors now doing her part to understand how traffickers operate and how best to identify potential victims any time she does a check on a business.
“We’re the regulatory body that has the authority to go into licensed establishments. They put their license on the line if they’re denying us access to their business, so we’re kind of the first front that can go into these places, see what’s going on and report back to police,” she added.
Standiford is one of dozens of state inspectors that sat in on a sex trafficking training in Clackamas back in August. The training, led by guest speaker Nita Belles, focused on the warning signs of illegal activity and how to recognize the signs that someone is being trafficked.
“They have the power to get into places that other can’t, to find victims and help them find freedom,” said Belles.
Belles is an author and managing director of the nonprofit In Our Backyard. She works across the nation raising awareness about sex trafficking.
“All traffickers ask of us is one thing, and that is that we remain silent,” said Belles. “What I want people to take away from this is, let’s not be quiet about it.”
The OLCC is now asking businesses to voluntarily place special stickers in bathroom stalls with a phone number where victims of sex trafficking can call and get help. They consider the bathroom a safe place for victims to go without handlers following them in.
If those stickers are damaged, inspectors say they take that as a sign they’ve potentially identified a problem spot.
“If they’re getting scratched off that’s an indication people are trying to stop the outreach effort,” said Standiford. “So, as part of our checks, I check the bathroom and ask to see if they still have their stickers. If they’re damaged I offer new ones.”
Together, they all hope to take what they learn at the conference and apply it to their daily duties out in the field.
For more information go to inourbackyard.org.
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