‘Sometimes, people don’t consider themselves as a victim’
BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) — Bend police and FBI raids this week at three massage businesses amid complaints of possible sex trafficking have brought renewed attention to an issue that has been in the spotlight frequently in recent years.
Police said Wednesday they have been working with the FBI over the past two years after complaints arose from the community about sex acts taking place at the locations.
Nita Belles, executive director of In Our Backyard, says contrary to what some might suspect, sex trafficking is everywhere, even here in Central Oregon.
“It is in every city in the United States,” she said. “If you’ve got internet, you’ve got trafficking,” she said.
The investigation has many wondering just how prevalent it is.
Back in January, the Oregon Department of Justice identified 746 victims of human trafficking across Oregon in a 12-month period ending last October — 48 of those in Deschutes County alone.
But District Attorney John Hummel said Thursday it’s important to make a distinction between reports and criminal cases.
“The DOJ released a report showing the number of people who accessed services for human trafficking,” Hummel said. “This could mean a woman was trafficked in Mexico, she made her way to Oregon, she accessed services here, so she would have been counted.”
Hummel stressed it’s not a list of people trafficked in Deschutes County, but rather those who sought help and services from local officials.
Some also are asking why the investigation has taken so long, and why it’s so difficult to find suspects.
Bend police Lt. Juli McConkey said surveillance and evidence-gathering are the primary reasons.
She also said victims not coming forward is a frequent issue.
“What makes it difficult is to get ahold of victims in the case and get them services,” McConkey said. “Sometimes, people don’t consider themselves victims.”
As of now, no suspects have been charged as the investigation continues.