SPRINGFIELD – Human trafficking is becoming a bigger problem and local advocacy groups are working to shed renewed light on how predators reel in victims. And on Thursday, April 14, the Springfield Library held a Human Trafficking Awareness panel to highlight the dangers and complicated issues surrounding human trafficking in Lane County, emphasizing how it impacts the unhoused and beyond.

The panel included Rotarian Rae LaMarche, Springfield Police Officer Jamie McMahon and Officer Terry Murry, who work in the excessive sex crimes division, Emily Huff with Kids First, and a representative from Looking Glass, who remains anonymous for their protection. The event was sponsored by a grant awarded to the Springfield Rotary club to promote Human Trafficking Awareness. “I’m very proud to be able to be here to share with you what Rotary has done but also to share with you information about a problem that really is prevalent in our area,” said LaMarche. 

The evening opened with a short video from Rotarian Rebecca Bender, a survivor of human trafficking from Grants Pass, Ore. In a gut-wrenchingly candid speech, she outlined her experience and resilience as a victim. “Trafficking is not always abductions. It’s a slow gradual expansion of boundaries and an increase of trust,” said Bender. “The reality is that my daughter may have gone to school with yours. That I may have stood next to you in the grocery store line. And nobody ever noticed. I didn’t fully understand the complexities of force, fraud and coercion that played out in my everyday life.” Bender detailed the challenges of emerging from that horror, the difficulty she faced with a large gap in her employment history, her criminal record, and the lingering effects of manipulation and insecurity. “It was then the journey began on figuring out how to navigate this new world of normalcy with the same vulnerabilities that got me trafficked in the first place,” Bender said. She said sometimes it’s not always a stranger, or someone who appears dangerous, it’s a slow, deliberate, grooming process. 

After the video from Bender, the panel launched into a discussion on human trafficking and its impact in Lane County. 

Springfield officer Jamie McMahon has been a detective in the child abuse and sex crimes division for nearly 4 years. “Encompassed in this is online sexual corruption of children: child exploitation, child pornography, missing children. And then, of course, human trafficking. People don’t realize that happens here too,” she said. 

Officer Terry Murry spoke directly to the challenges of working alongside the I-5 corridor. “We have hotels that are right off the interstate, and it’s common that they use those facilities. It’s not just a Springfield problem, it’s a Lane County problem,” Murry said. 

Emily Huff from Kids First outlined the resources her nonprofit provides to Lane County, and how challenging it is for victims to come forward, saying, “I think statistics of human trafficking are unreliable in general. It is really hard to get a victim to disclose that they have been trafficked in some way because they’ve been groomed and manipulated so severely.” 

Kids First is Lane County’s Children’s Advocacy Center, whose mission is to provide intervention and advocacy for children who are victims of, or witnesses to, crime. Kids First most often serves children for child sexual abuse, physical abuse, severe neglect, or witness to domestic violence. 

“This also, unfortunately, includes human trafficking,” Huff said. Approximately 3/4 of the children they serve are under age 12. “It’s really just where there’s a large group of people there’s going to be more trafficking involved, and especially a large group of buyers. So that’s why areas like this, where there are big events, the World Games or track events, for example, become target areas,” Huff said. 

The Springfield police officers outlined their outreach and prevention plans, saying they work alongside “local hotel managers,” “restaurant workers,” and “highway patrol officers” to educate others on the visible signs of people who are being trafficked. “It’s a lot. We need reasonable bodies. We have a staffing issue just like every agency in the country right now. 

“But we are out here, talking to you all, trying to spread awareness,” Murry said.