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Portland police prostitution stings now focus on catching johns

A sheriff's deputy slaps the cuffs on a man who walked into a law enforcement prostitution sting. (KATU Photo)

Portland police set the scene: a room at a Portland area hotel with decoy officers posing as 19-year-old girls, an ad posted online with dozens of men responding.

"It's a very big problem," Sgt. Norman Staples of the Portland Police Human Trafficking Division said.

One by one 'johns' knock on the door expecting to hook up with a 19-year-old.

"It's a big issue for Portland as a whole, but also the metro area around it," Staples said.

Instead, just behind the door were officers from Portland, Vancouver and Multnomah County ready to arrest them for Patronizing Prostitution.

"We have probable cause to arrest them before they get to the door. So when they come inside we want to make sure the actions still represent the probable cause that has developed," Staples said.

Over the last decade law enforcement agencies across the country have changed their focus.

"In the past we went after the victims, the females and charged them and sent them away," Staples said.

With thousands of new ads going up daily, we asked what keeps the officers going. Their answer was simple: the girls.

"These women are victims. They are not wanting to do it, and they are being forced and hurt. .. We want to save them and protect them," Staples said.

Andrea Benson was one of those girls.

"I was 22 years old. I was living at home with my parents. I was working for a nonprofit, online dating meeting guys," Benson remembered.

That's when she met Michael Vincent Knight.

"He was older. He seemed to have his life together. He said he had a great job, and I thought he would be ready to settle down and have kids," Benson said.

After turning her seemingly normal life upside down, Benson says he manipulated her into prostitution.

"The first night he set it up, he had a date set up for me that was just a massage, that was the first date then it progressed from there," Benson said.

Thanks to a sting by the Human Trafficking Division of the Portland Police Bureau and one undercover officer in particular, Benson got out.

"I can't thank him enough for what he did. I think had it continued someone could have hurt me," Benson said.

The officer helped to turn her life into one she could feel proud of.

"It feels great and it feels like Michael didn't win. We won, I won," Benson said.

Officers with Portland police allowed KATU in on this exclusive sting as a part of their month long event called "More than a Survivor, More than a Story." They have exhibits all month long and are sharing more stories like Andrea Benson's.

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