'There were 8 states that still did not make it a felony to purchase a child for sex. Oregon was one of those 8. That's horrific'

'There were 8 states that still did not make it a felony to purchase a child for sex. Oregon was one of those 8. That's horrific' »Play Video
Hundreds of children are trafficked for sex in Oregon on the streets and online.

EUGENE, Ore. - Crystal Midnight was 13 when a man she viewed as a father figure manipulated her into prostitution.

For 5 years, Crystal was sold to men for sex throughout Lane County.

"There was hundreds, and that's probably an understatement," she said.

Midnight often missed school, but she ran into peers from Junction City on outcalls.

"When I was trafficked out of the house, when I went to other houses, there was normally other children or victims," she said. "So, I would see my classmates then."

Midnight's story is more common than you might think.

The Justice Department ranks human trafficking as the fastest growing criminal enterprise in America, second only to drugs.

Between 100,000 and 300,000 American children are trafficked annually.
 
A 2012 Shared Hope International report gave Oregon a D for dealing with the issue.

"Oregon has a reputation," said Rebecca Bender, "because Oregon's laws need a lot of help."

Bender met her trafficker at a bar in Eugene. The man pretended to be her boyfriend, luring her to Las Vegas.

Once there, everything changed.

Bender was beaten, prostituted and traded between traffickers for 6 years.

One night she was running errands for her pimp's secretary. 

"I gave them my ID to buy the phone girl cigarettes and the clerk said,  'Are all you from oregon?' and I went, 'What do you mean?' and he said, 'You know.' And that always stuck with me because so many girls in Vegas were from Oregon," she said.

Bender, now an advocate for victims of sex trafficking, said Oregon has been slow responding to the epidemic.

"Up until August there were 8 states that still did not make it a felony to purchase a child for sex," she said. "Oregon was one of those 8. That's horrific."

Senate bill 673 finally changed the laws surrounding sex trafficking of minors.

Along with stiffening penalties, law enforcement are now trained to recognize victims.

Amanda Marshall, the US Attorney for Oregon, knew about the problem in the state before assuming her post.

"It's been said we have a greater problem than other jurisdictions around the U.S.," she said. "I think there's a lot of anecdotal evidence that supports that, and there are some demographics and geographic factors that contribute to that prevalence."

Eugene, Springfield and Portland sit on Interstate 5, which ties both legal and illegal commerce together on the West Coast.

According to Marshall, Oregon also has some of the least regulations on strip clubs and adult stores. These factors attract a certain group. 

Marshall drew attention to the issue when she commissioned a study by Portland State University to examine social service cases from the Portland area between 2009-2013. Researchers found 469 child victims of the comericial sex trade.

"469 was pretty significant," Marshall said. "It's likely to be an incredibly underrepresented undercounted number."