Oregonians Against the Trafficking of Humans

By The Beacon | March 9, 2011 9:00pm

(Photo courtesy of Brianna Hodge -- The Beacon)

By Jocelyne LaFortune, Staff Writer -- lafortun12@up.edu

Between her senior year of high school and her freshman year of college, senior Brianna Hodge went on a trip to Cambodia with her youth group. They hoped to be immersed in a new culture and see a new part of the world before starting college.

On the trip, Hodge saw human trafficking for the first time.

"This place we went into looked like a bar, but it wasn't really a bar," Hodge said. "It was a brothel – It just wasn't the kind people usually think of."

When she started as a freshman at UP that fall, Hodge did some research and found that human trafficking was an issue closer to home than she thought.

"This is a prevalent issue here in Portland," Hodge said. "But there are ways to get involved."

The Portland Police Bureau reports an average of five cases of human trafficking every week, according to a press release by the Portland Police. On average, two of these cases involve juveniles.

Hodge is the president of the newly formed Oregonians Against the Trafficking of Humans (OATH) club on campus. The club was just approved by the school this spring.

OATH is a statewide organization dedicated to raising awareness and providing resources for those affected by the issue of human trafficking, according to its website.

UP's club will essentially be a local chapter of OATH, and will provide a way for students to get involved with the issue.

"The club here will be very much a part of the larger organization," Hodge said. "But I'm hoping the club will be a centralized place for students who are interested in the issue."

Although Hodge has helped coordinate on-campus events sponsored by the statewide OATH organization to help raise awareness about the issue, the club just received official recognition, which will allow more students to get involved.

"This semester will be mostly groundwork for the club to be prepared for the fall," Hodge said. "We're working on planning some events now."

The club also has an event planned for this spring: Slavery Still Exists, a weeklong event featuring an art show, concerts and speakers. The event will raise money for OATH. Stephenie Steers, Miss Oregon 2010, will be involved in the event as well, according to Hodge.

Steers' platform is based on raising awareness and promoting organizations like OATH to combat the issue of human trafficking.

"We're hoping to make Slavery Still Exists an annual event," club Treasurer Laura Atwell said. "And we're also going to be planning a big event for the fall semester."

The club will also sponsor screenings of informative documentaries, and Hodge hopes to bring survivors to campus to talk about the issue.

"I'm hoping we'll be able to educate the UP community, as well as the greater Portland community," Hodge said.

Hodge also hopes the club will be able to support the new shelter that is planned to open in Portland later this year.The shelter will provide a place for victims of human trafficking to receive support and basic needs.

There are currently no beds dedicated to juvenile human trafficking victims in Portland.

"Once the shelter is opened and the club is established, hopefully we can do fundraisers to help support it," Hodge said. "We can help provide hygienic products for victims and donate money to the shelter to help support it."

Despite just being approved, the club has already generated student interest. About 75 people expressed interest in joining the club last spring, before the club was approved, according to Hodge. Currently, 132 people have joined the club's group on Facebook.

"It's really exciting that so many students want to get involved," Hodge said. "I'm glad I will be able to get the club established before I graduate. Hopefully it will continue to grow over the next few years."

Students who didn't know about the issue of human trafficking are also interested in helping raise awareness.

"I've only heard a little bit about the issue," senior Emily DeWolfe said. "But it's really cool that so many students want to get involved, and that there are so many ways of getting involved."

Brianna Hodge (The Beacon)