Sex trafficking is something many Americans imagine happens in faraway places — certainly not in the United States of America in the 21st century. That assumption is, unfortunately, wrong.
Not only does sex trafficking of underage girls happen in America, it happens right here in Southern Oregon. Activists determined to shine a light on this shadowy travesty, including women who were victims of trafficking themselves, have brought a national traveling exhibit to Southern Oregon University and other places in the Rogue Valley this month.
"More Than a Survivor" showcases photos and stories of 22 survivors who have triumphed over their traumatic history and gone on to be leaders in their communities.
"Walk in Her Shoes," a conference at 6 p.m. on Saturday in Stevenson Union on the SOU campus, will feature speakers that include a Grants Pass resident who survived 6 years of sex slavery after being a varsity athlete and honor-roll student in high school.
The goal of the sponsors of this month-long spotlight on trafficking in rural communities is to raise awareness among the public, among high-school students who might become victims and to educate police and emergency-room personnel to recognize the signs so victims can be identified. Activists also are calling for changes in the law so traffickers, not their victims, are prosecuted.
The problem is not just here, it is growing, with 14,000 to 17,000 individual victims, male and female, trafficked every year. The greater the awareness of the problem, the better the chances of combating it.