Multnomah County, OR

Tactics Used

Auto Seizure
Buyer Arrests
Cameras
Community Service
Employment Loss
Identity Disclosure
IT Based Tactics
John School
Letters
License Suspension
Neighborhood Action
Public Education
Reverse Stings
SOAP Orders
Web Stings

Multnomah County is a county of approximately 815,000 residents in Northwestern Oregon. The county seat, and the state’s largest city is Portland, OR. Multnomah County is part of the Portland–Vancouver (WA)Hillsboro, OR–WA Metropolitan Statistical Area. Prostitution and sex trafficking activity have been well-documented in the city of Portland and surrounding communities, and in unincorporated areas of Multnomah County. This activity and the problems and ancillary crimes it generates results in complaints to law enforcement agencies from residents and businesses. Among the more serious crimes associated with the local commercial sex market are the numerous cases of assault, child sex trafficking, child endangerment and neglect, and instances of targeted homicide of prostituted persons.

Consumer level demand provides the revenue stream for all prostitution and sex trafficking, and has therefore been targeted by local law enforcement agencies as a strategy for prevention and response. Within the county, nearly all of the types of tactics known to have been used to combat demand have been implemented. For example, to identify and apprehend local sex buyers driving the prostitution and sex trafficking markets, the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office has worked with municipal police and state and federal agencies to conduct reverse stings since the 1970s. The City of Portland was a pioneer in the systematic use of SOAP orders (geographic exclusion zones for arrested prostituted persons and sex buyers), and has sent “dear john” letters to the homes of sex buyers; public education and awareness focusing on demand; neighborhood group efforts; auto seizures; and community service. The city launched a john school in 1995, the same year that San Francisco, CA started its program (which is widely – but erroneously – regarded as the first.  It was cancelled two years later, and a second john school ran from 2003-2006.  In January 2011, the Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office and the city of Portland launched a third john school program, the Sex Buyer Accountability Diversion program (SBAD),which is currently operating in 2019. More information about these programs is provided below.

John Schools

Since 2012, arrested sex buyers in Multnomah County can be sentenced to terms of probation, incarceration in Lane County Jail, and may receive reduced jail terms if eligible to serve in an alternative program, where they are required to take an eight-hour Sex Buyer Accountability class ran by LifeWorks NorthWest in Multnomah County. There have been two previous programs fitting within the general “john school” concept. All three are briefly described below.

#1: Sexual Exploitation Education Project.

1995-1997

The city’s first sex buyer education program was the Sexual Exploitation Education Project (SEEP).  It was active in 1995-1997, and was run by the Council for Prostitution Alternatives through an informal agreement with Multnomah County District Attorney and the District Court.  SEEP was a three-day classroom program, established as a condition of a sentence rather than as a diversion option resulting in dismissed charges. The program was cancelled due to a lack of support by local law enforcement agencies, including the courts that stopped referring men to the program. Published reports state that the program was considered by local agencies to be too polemic and political, rather than educational and practical. Having never seen the program, we cannot comment on the validity of the claims of SEEP’s detractors or supporters, although references and links to their reports are provided below. The reports also provide more detail about the program’s structure, curriculum, and operation. For a summary of SEEP’s basic features, as well as those of the other two Portland/Multnomah County john schools, click here:  Three Portland John Schools: Summary Table.

#2: Portland Prostitution Offender Program.

2003-2006

The city’s second john school was the Portland Prostitution Offender Program (PPOP). It operated from 2003 to 2006, and was led by the Lola Greene Baldwin Foundation, in partnership with the Multnomah County Community and Circuit Courts. The program was designed as a condition of a sentence, rather than a diversion, as was its predecessor – SEEP. In the PPOP, successful completion of the john school would result a reduction in the number of hours offenders were required to perform community service (another standard condition of their sentence). One of the reasons the program was discontinued after two years was that an unusually small program fee was charged to offenders, which resulted in the PPOP not being financially self-sustaining, as are most john schools. The PPOP charged $83, while the national average john school fee or fine is approximately $400 and can range as high as $1,500 (Norfolk, VA).

#3: Sex Buyer Accountability Diversion program.

2011-Current

Five years after the PPOP ended, the city of Portland and the Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office initiated a third john school program, the Sex Buyer Accountability Diversion program (SBAD). Launched in January 2011, the program was modeled explicitly after San Francisco’s FOPP, unlike its two predecessors. It is a diversion program, where meeting all of the requirements results in a case dismissal. The fee is $1,000, with provisions for a sliding scale based on ability to pay. The program is financially supported entirely by fees from the offenders, and excess revenue is used to support programs for survivors of commercial sex and sex trafficking. In the first two years of the program (January 2011 to May 2013), which was administered by Lifeworks Northwest and the Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office, it served over 200 participants. As of May 2022, the SBAD program is still in operation. For more information on this program, click here: Sex Buyer Accountability Diversion Program.

Reverse Stings

Local police have used women decoys to arrest sex buyers since at least 1974. During 1982, the Portland Police Bureau made 1,600 prostitution arrests, in which 400 buyers were arrested. As a result of these operations, the identities, ages, and images of arrested sex buyers are frequently released to local media outlets. In January and June of 2018, a web-based reverse sting resulted in the arrest of 43 sex buyers. During the operations, investigators communicated online with the people seeking to pay for sex acts. Seven local law enforcement agencies collaborated in the anti-human trafficking effort, with arrests occurring at multiple area hotels. Other agencies involved in the operation included the Portland Police Bureau, Hillsboro Police Department, Vancouver Police Department, Lake Oswego Police Department, Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office, and Oregon State Police. In a similar operation in November 2018, undercover investigators communicated online with people seeking sexual acts in exchange for money, and arrested the sex buyers who arrived at the two hotels in Portland and Hillsboro to complete the transactions.

In May of 2021, The Portland Police Bureau Human Trafficking Unit cited 39 men for the crime of Commercial Sexual Solicitation (ORS 167.008) through undercover operations and directed patrol in high vice locations within Portland. During the undercover operation, officers posted online decoy ads on known websites where human trafficking and commercial sexual solicitation activity have been identified. Suspects who responded to those ads and met the elements of the crime, were cited and released. According to the Commercial Sexual Solicitation (ORS 167.008), any person who pays, or offers or agrees to pay, a fee to engage in sexual conduct or sexual contact is guilt of commercial sexual solicitation. Citations for a Commercial Sexual Solicitation (ORS 167.008) offense allow offenders to remain free until they are required to appear in court at a later date.

The PPB and the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office routinely participate in national reversals such as the National John’s Suppression Initiative (NJSI) and Operation Cross Country. These operations are conducted annually in coordination with other local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies.

Geographic Exclusion Zone (SOAP Orders)

Like most greater metro regions, Portland and Multnomah County have a street with a long history of being a focal point for street prostitution, and that have high concentrations of sexually-oriented businesses, storefront brothels, and motels catering to (or tolerating) prostitution. In Portland and beyond, this is 82nd Avenue, and is akin to strips such as the Miracle Mile in Tucson, AZ and Mannheim Boulevard in Cook County, IL. In 1995, the city passed an ordinance (Portland City Code Sec. 14B.30) and police began enforcing the “Prostitution Free Zone” that focused on 82nd Avenue and an area surrounding it. The geographic exclusion zone (also known generically in some cities as a SOAP Order, for Stay away from Areas with Prostitution) is broadly written and enforced to include both buyers and sellers of sex, and a larger number of orders have been applied to sex sellers than buyers.  However, it is a tool that is used to punish and discourage arrested sex buyers.  In simplest terms, those arrested for prostitution offenses can be ordered to stay out of the defined zone, and violations of this restriction can result in enhanced penalties.  Portland’s ordinance and other reference materials about the Prostitution Free Zone are provided below.

The Prostitution Free Zone was challenged as an inappropriate restriction on individual freedoms and for being unevenly applied across races, and incurred costs in its enforcement. Due to budget cuts to law enforcement agencies and other concerns, the Zone was allowed to expire or “sunset” in September, 2007. Reportedly, soon after the Zone expired residents, businesses, and those traveling through the area observed a rapid and substantial increase in prostitution in the area, and in problems associated with it – e.g., in a rise in street crime rates, harassment of residents and business patrons by sex buyers, prostituted persons, and sex traffickers/pimps, and calls for service to police from the area increased. Police attempted to compensate for the loss of the zone by increased patrols and enforcement efforts. Community groups mobilized and formed a Prostitution Advisory Council, which wrote a report and in late 2009 presented to city officials recommendations for reinstatement of the Zone and other measures such as re-establishing a john school (which was not active at that time).

Neighborhood Action

Portland has had many neighborhood groups and organizations that have formed and mobilized to combat prostitution and sex trafficking. Some of their efforts have been specifically focused on demand. For example, in the mid-to-late 1980s, residents of neighborhoods with high rates of prostitution activity began documenting the license plate numbers of suspected sex buyers, taking photos of suspected sex buyers’ cars and their license plates, posting signs outside homes and businesses, holding protests, and investigating vehicles of suspected sex buyers’ parked outside residential homes. One resident was even reported to have interrupted individuals seen engaging in commercial sex outside. by writing them down or taking photos that were submitted to police for further investigation. Residents also wrote letters to known sex buyers who regularly visited their neighborhoods to engage in commercial sex. After the SOAP orders ordinance had expired in 2007, the community-driven Prostitution Advisory Council wrote a report and presented to city officials recommendations for reinstatement of SOAP orders and re-establishing a john school.

Public Awareness/Deterrence

In 1983, the city unveiled three billboards with the message, “If you’re looking for a prostitute, plan on getting arrested.” According to reports, the creation of the billboards was in response to neighborhood complaints to police regarding the increase in prostitution activity in certain areas. Residents and police believed that the billboards would reduce the demand for commercial sex in certain neighborhoods by deterring individuals seeking to purchase commercial sex from frequenting areas where the billboards were present. In 1985, police reported that in areas where the billboards were present, the number of sex buyers frequenting the areas had decreased from previous years.

Sex Buyer Arrests

Some arrests of sex buyers are the product of police responding to incidents or allegations about prostitution or sex trafficking, rather than the results of proactive revers stings using police decoys. For example, in 1985, police focused on targeting sex buyers in effort to reduce demand for commercial sex in the city and began arresting suspected sex buyers at their homes. According to reports, between October and November 1985, the Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office issued 10 arrest warrants to suspected sex buyers in the city.

Loss of Employment

Loss of employment is also a consequence of buying sex in the city. For example, in August 2013, police responded to a call reporting two people who had allegedly been engaging in sex in bushes off of a boulevard. Upon further investigation, police discovered that the man was a state police tribal gaming detective and had solicited sex from the prostituted women. As a result of his arrest, the sex buyer was placed on unpaid suspension following his arrest on charges of patronizing a prostitute and public indecency. The Oregon State Police initiated an investigation, and later received notice that the man resigned effective Aug. 31. He had worked for the Oregon State Police for 23 years.

In 2016, administrators at Portland Public Schools placed the district’s director of school and family partnerships on administrative leave after discovering that he had allegedly been convicted of the offense patronizing a prostitute in 1998. According to a police report from December 1997, when the former director was 36, he had allegedly paid a prostituted woman $20 so he could film her engaging in oral sex on him in a maroon Dodge Shadow. The report stated that he had picked her up from a North Portland 7-Eleven. The former employee stated that he pleaded no-contest to the charge on the advice of his attorney and because of “the reality that the word of a black man would not be taken over the word of a white police officer.” In Oregon, a conviction for soliciting a prostitute (including a no-contest plea) automatically disqualifies a person from seeking a teacher’s license. PPS administrators say central office staff and principals are subject to the same standards as teachers. According to officials from Portland Public Schools, the offender had been employed by the district since 2013, and had undergone and passed a background check during his hiring process. As a result of the PPS’ discovery, the former director was placed on paid administrative leave pending the investigation.

Key Sources

National Assessment Survey, Interviews, and Site Visit

Research:

John Schools:

#1: Sexual Exploitation Education Project. (1995-1997)

#2: Portland Prostitution Offender Program. (2003-2006)

#3: Sex Buyer Accountability Diversion program. (2011-Current)

Reverse Stings, Identity Disclosure:

Web-Based Reverse Stings, Identity Disclosure:

Operation Cross Country:

SOAP Orders:

Neighborhood Action:

Public Awareness, Education, and Deterrence:

Sex Buyer Arrest, Identity Disclosure:

Loss of Employment, Identity Disclosure:

Auto Seizure:

“Dear John” Letters:

Identity Disclosure:

Sex Trafficking and Child Sexual Exploitation in the Area:

Background on Prostitution in the Area:

Documented Violence against Individuals Engaged in Prostitution in the Area:

State Oregon
Type County
Population 815428
Location
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