Catholic Sentinel photo by Jose Salame
Washington County Deputy District Attorney Paul Maloney speaks at St. Matthew Church.
Catholic Sentinel photo by Jose Salame
Washington County Deputy District Attorney Paul Maloney speaks at St. Matthew Church.
HILLSBORO — Law enforcement can’t battle human trafficking alone. That’s why Detective Keith Bickford has been talking nonstop for six years.

The Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office detective who leads the Oregon Foreign-Born Human Trafficking Task Force spoke recently at St. Matthew Church. It was one of many community outreach events in which Bickford and other law enforcement officers educate the public about the problem.

“Whenever I do these presentations, I want to take the blinders off,” the detective said. Often members of the audience want to know what a trafficker looks like, Bickford said. They look just like everyone else, he tells them, and they’re all over the world.
Many of the kingpins in the trafficking trade are also highly organized and intelligent, Bickford said. He ranks them with terrorists in their ability to infiltrate organized crime, arming and training gangs, but also to place associates in diplomatic positions, such as consulates.

“There have been pastors, doctors, dentists, lawyers — high level people who we are supposed to trust,” Bickford said. “Even law enforcement’s been involved.”

A neighbor, perhaps a smartly dressed doctor, is not above suspicion if you spot something fishy going on, the detective said.

Fueled by economic problems and increased international mobility, the modern-day slavery trade is a global network that has been compared in scale to the illegal trade of guns or drugs.

With its proximity to Interstate 5 and large agricultural industry, Oregon is a hub for human trafficking.

A 2006 Trafficking in Persons report, released by the U.S. State Department, estimates that 900,000 people are trafficked each year internationally, with 17,000 coming into the United States. Those figures don’t include the many American citizens trafficked within U.S. borders. However, Bickford points out, there really is no way to know how many people are being trafficked because so many are undocumented immigrants who are in hiding.

Traffickers exploit people by forcing them into prostitution or other sex trades. They are forced into domestic servitude and labor exploitation in places like restaurants, cleaning services, farms and factories.

Georgia Perry, co-chairwoman of St. Matthew’s Respect for Life committee, helped coordinate the presentation. She said it was hard to hear the terrible details of human trafficking, but the information is crucial because it could save lives.

“I felt the presentation was heartbreaking,” she said. “I don’t have enough hands to grab all those victims to help them, but our prayers surely are the beginning.”

According to law enforcement, some signs to look for include people who work and live in the same place, or who owe a debt to their employers or whose employers have control over their immigration documents. Trafficked people could have signs of trauma, fatigue or injuries, or they could be withdrawn or show signs of censored communication.

Traffickers don’t always use physical restraints or violence to coerce and control victims. They may also confiscate legal documents or misrepresent U.S. laws about entering the country illegally. They also threaten to harm or kill family members, use debt or fines to create a “peonage” situation, or isolate victims who do not speak English.

To report suspicious behavior, call the Oregon Human Trafficking Task Force Hotline, 503-793-9221; Catholic Charities Outreach and Support to Special Immigrant Populations, 503-688-2713; Sexual Assault Resource Center, 503-640-5311; or the National Human Trafficking Hotline, 1-888-373-7888 or text BeFree (233733). If someone is in immediate danger, call 911.