FBI, local police say children saved from sex traffickers; one found working at strip club
The Federal Bureau of Investigation and local law enforcement announced they've recently rescued two children from sex traffickers in KATU's viewing area.
Police said they discovered one of those children worked at the Cheetah's strip club in Salem.
No one was arrested when police searched the business with a warrant last Friday.
"We have hit the streets to try and find and rescue children," FBI Director James Comey said during a news conference in San Diego, California Monday as he announced the results of a nationwide effort to hunt down sex traffickers and their victims.
"Operation Cross Country this year, just in the last week has rescued 82 children between the ages of 13 and 17 and locked up 239 traffickers involved in exploiting those children," Comey said.
Locally, officers involved in the operation said they rescued one child sex trafficking victim in Portland and arrested or cited 10 adult prostitutes, including nine women and one man.
In a separate operation, Beaverton police said they discovered a girl they saved in an undercover prostitution investigation in July worked as a stripper at Cheetah's.
The club serves customers 18 and older and doesn't offer alcohol, which means Oregon's Liquor Control Commission doesn't check the age of the strippers.
Police said they don't routinely check ages either, but a spokesman for Oregon's Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI) said it makes random checks of strip clubs and other businesses to make sure everyone who works there is of age.
The BOLI spokesman said Cheetah's has no record of complaints.
"I feel thankful that there's help on the way," Esther Nelson, founder and executive director of the organization, Safety Compass, told KATU on Tuesday.
Nelson said she's worked with local police and other caregivers to help sex trafficking survivors for more than a dozen years.
"If they're looking for shelter, we help them get to a shelter," Nelson said. "Most importantly, it's just emotional support because that's the element that they've been lacking in that environment is any sort of humanity."
Nelson's new group, Safety Compass, serves sex trafficking survivors in the Salem area.
She said she's been busy.
"We've had 29 referrals in the last six months," Nelson said. "To give you some perspective, that is equivalent to what a Portland-based advocacy group like ours would receive in a six-month period. So even though we're dealing with a significantly smaller population than Portland to draw from, we're having the same if not a little bit higher number of referrals."
Nelson said she does help minors in the Salem area but wouldn't say how many.
“I don’t feel comfortable disclosing," Nelson said. "I would just say probably that we have a good breakdown of both adults and minors. That’s as much as I’d like to divulge.”
A KATU reporter made multiple calls to Cheetah's and its owner that were unanswered. No one immediately responded to voicemails, a message left via Facebook and a note left on the front door of the club.
The Center for Hope & Safety in Salem officers a 24-hour hotline for survivors of sex trafficking, sex assault, domestic violence and stalking. It's 503-399-7722.
The state's Bureau of Labor and Industries offers a hotline for live entertainment workers so that they know their rights. It's 1-844-304-BOLI (2654).