by Rob Schwarzwalder
October 31, 2011
I went to theological seminary in Portland, Oregon. That might sound rather ensconced and safe, but I worked at a large commercial bakery in a run-down industrial section of the city. This exposed me to some things I would rather have not seen, as when, driving along a side-street one evening, I found myself running a narrow gauntlet of hectoring prostitutes; I drove away as fast as I could.
Portland has a justified reputation for urban renewal and natural beauty. Bisected by the Willamette River and set among lush, fir-laden hills, Portland’s charm is hard to forget.
Yet now, as Katelyn Beaty documents in her moving article about the sex trafficking trade in the City of Roses (that would be Portland; I proposed to my wife in the city’s massive rose-test garden, albeit in the winter when none were in bloom), Portland has become perhaps the single most dominant city in one of the ugliest “industries” ever devised - the trafficking of persons for sexual purposes. Veteran journalist Dan Rather has called Portland “Pornland,” and according to Joslyn Baker of the Multnomah County (Portland area) unit that specializes in child prostitution, “most Portlanders accepted the ubiquitous strip clubs as part of their premium on individual freedomuntil February 2009, when the FBI swept the Portland-Vancouver area and found seven underage girls, the most in any FBI raid at the time. With the ensuing national media coverage, Portlanders began realizing that their lucrative sex industry is the main ‘gateway’ for pimping children.”
Christians are fighting back, with love and tenacity. They have now started the Oregon Center for Christian Voices (OCCV), which over the past four years “has … become Oregon’s flagship nonprofit for passing laws that make it harder to sexually exploit children. In the same four years, two Christians in Portland’s leading assault advocacy group and police department have created a unique model for assisting underage victims. Their model earned their county a $500,000 federal grant that created a special committee on CSEC (‘commercial sexual exploitation of children’).” Additionally, Oregon State Legislator Andy Olson (R-Albany) “has worked with OCCV to try to amend Oregon’s Constitution (whose free speech provisions open the door for prostitution and illicit sexuality among youth). A Christian, he calls trafficking a ‘family values issue.’”
Rep. Olson is dead right, and the noble efforts of committed Christians to change Portland’s culture of prostitution and sex trafficking are animated by the same spirit of sacrifice and compassion that led the early believers to rescue unwanted babies from the Roman ash-heaps. As Shoshan Tama-Sweet, executive director of the Oregon Center for Christian Voices, told journalist Beaty: “The church has something special: We have the Good News. We have a vision of the way the world is supposed to be. And it doesn’t include the rape of children on our streets. When you realize that God loved every victim when they were born, that he’s with them every day they’re traumatizedit’s incumbent on believers to protect them, to help them become whole, and to insist that, in our society, we are not going to tolerate the antithesis of God’s beloved community.”
I believe Mr. Tama-Sweet is among those Jesus is unashamed to call brothers (Hebrews 2:11). May God bless him and his colleagues in their efforts.