It's one of the fastest growing crimes in the world: child trafficking. Portland is considered a hub, and the Portland branch of the national group, Stop Child Trafficking Now, which targets the buyers, predators and pimps, is holding a walk this weekend to raise awareness.
"The suffering of these girls has got to stop," said Chelan Rene' Russ, the Portland ambassador of SCTNow. The group aims to prevent child trafficking by targeting buys and predators for prosecution and conviction.
"We work directly with operatives, special operatives that are comprised of former Navy Seals, former CIA agents and FBI agents who are used to going after terrorists. Now they're going after child predators," said Russ.
Russ' friend, a local trafficking survivor, knows firsthand the importance of the group's work.
"The healing never ends," said the survivor, whom Fox 12 is identifying as Sara.
She allowed Fox 12 to watch as she received a new tattoo from Adorn Body Art in Beaverton Thursday. It's a tattoo to symbolize freedom, strength and growth, which covers an old tattoo of her former pimp's name, which he branded on her skin.
She was forced into the lifestyle at age 17 by a man she met while working at a local department store, a job she held while waiting to begin school at PSU.
"I actually worked in the suit department, measured suits for men. A gentleman came in there quite often to get suits, and he was just amazing," she said.
Sara says he invited her to a dinner party but instead took her to a house in Portland where her nightmare began.
"I thought that night after multiple rapes by his friends, I thought by the morning that was the end of it, but in morning when I woke up, everything out of my purse was gone."
Leaving the lifestyle wasn't easy, out of fear for her life and the lives of her loved ones.
"In my case, they showed me pictures of my sister, getting into her car, walking out of her apartment...When they showed me pictures, they said, ‘She's next,'" described Sara. "Even if my mom called, he would get a gun on the table, set the phone on the table, put it on speaker, and just watch me as I talked to her."
After nearly three years, she decided she had to try and escape.
"I was finally like, ‘I have no worth, no value, nothing to live for, not going to do this anymore,'" she said.
She tried to run from the house but didn't make it far. She was beaten by three men to the ground. A person passing by reported a dead body, and police arrived and took her to the hospital.
Sara spoke to Fox 12 to raise awareness. She's now working with local groups, including the national non-profit Stop Child Trafficking now, to reach out and help others.
Survivors and advocates say addressing the problem must start with keeping it in the public's eye and watching out for potential victims.
"It's as small as that, a small step, but can make a world of difference," said Sara.
Stop Child Trafficking Now's Walk will be held Saturday, Sept. 17 starting at 9:30 a.m. at Oaks Park in Southeast Portland. People can register day of, and the event is free.
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