Rahab’s Sisters seek to end post-modern slavery in Portland

Human and sex trafficking, the modern day slavery of men, women and children occurs in the United States and the Vancouver and Portland areas of the Northwest are no exception. Human trafficking involves the recruitment and transportation of persons into forced labor and prostitution.

“The setting is Jericho, about 1250 BC.  At [a] great risk to herself, a prostitute named Rahab provides shelter for two Hebrew spies and enables the fledgling Jewish nation to gain entrance to the Promised Land,” said Mary Dettmann, the President of Rahab’s Sisters, a non-profit outreach for abused and exploited women.

Depicted after the Biblical narrative of the harlot heroine Rahab, Rahab’s Sisters works as a shelter against post-modern day slavery set in the streets of the Portland. Founded ten years ago by the Reverends Sara Fischer, Marla McGarry Lawrence, Eleanor Applewhite-Terry and Mary Stilwell, the organization hopes to spread awareness and end slave trafficking.

“Portland is on I-5 which is part of the route used by the sex-traffickers to move [victims] along the circuit. The Western Circuit goes from Seattle down the coast to Los Angeles, east to Phoenix, north to Las Vegas and Sacramento and back up I-5 to Portland and Seattle.  There is a Southern Circuit, and Mid-West Circuit and an Eastern Circuit…[victims are] bought and sold from one circuit or gang to another,” Dettmann said.

Victims of human trafficking are often young or homeless women, who are befriended by other women inside the slave trade with the promise of a better life.

“Girls and women who are vulnerable, many of whom have been abused sexually and physically, who have run away from home or have been kicked out,” Dettmann said, “Kids in foster care are particularly vulnerable because there is a lack of protection for them from sexual abuse by adult foster care providers.”

Typically, older men target young victims. The exploiter, or pimp, gains the victim’s trust and instigates a relationship.

“Young girls are enticed by older men. They are shown a good time, they are made to feel special, they feel protected, then the ‘boyfriend’ makes them have sex with ‘Johns’ even if she doesn’t want to [and] all of a sudden this fellow who loved her doesn’t any more,” Dettmann said.

In order gain the boyfriend’s love, the victim is manipulated and forced into slave work—most commonly, sexual favors for money—while he takes the money she earns. More often than not, young women are arrested as prostitutes, even as minors.

“[Young victims] are arrested [for] prostitution charges, thrown into jail and treated like criminals, even though they are minors. Instead of receiving counseling in a safe, supportive residential facility, many are forced to endure the additional trauma of juvenile detention. One reason for this is the lack of training to help law enforcement recognize and assist victims,” said Crystal Kordowski.

Since her time at Rahab’s Sisters, Kordowski has organized a monthly fundraiser at Burgerville in Montavilla, located on Northeast 82nd and Glisan in Portland. The organization receives 10% of store sales between 5 p.m. – 8 p.m. The next event will be held May 14.

“The experience has literally changed my life. After awhile, you develop relationships with these women that come in. They have a voice there. They are safe. It was really really hard to stomach the first time you see a lady come in with a fresh fat lip or black eye. Often their ‘pimps’ are waiting for them outside,” said Kordowski.

In addition to fund-raising events, every Friday evening from 7 p.m. – 10 p.m., women impacted by the sex industry are provided with a safe space at Saints Peter and Paul Episcopal Church, located on Southeast 82nd Avenue.

“All women are welcome whether in the sex industry, homeless, under housed or just wanting a place that offers them a friendly welcome,” Dettmann said, “The women who visit Rahab’s sisters are offered a warm meal, personal hygiene items, stockings and underwear when available, coats, hats, scarves and gloves in the winter.”

On May 11, Rahab’s Sisters will also hold its annual Mother’s Tea Benefit* at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Milwaukie, Ore. The benefit includes a fashion show and silent auction. The cost is $10 or a package of women’s underwear.

For more volunteer information or to donate to Rahab’s Sisters, visit their website: www.rahabs-sisters.org.

*To attend the annual Mother’s Tea Benefit, please call 503-653-5880 to reserve a seat.

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