Sex in our city: Prostitution blooms in Portland

See why and how three Portland cops are taking on as many as 50 prostitution-pushing pimps throughout the city – and occasionally winning the vice battle …

Portland Police Bureau’s Drug & Vice Division (DVD) chief, Sgt. Doug Justice, tells a group of citizens how they’re trying to stop pimps from using young girls as prostitutes.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
Neighbors and businesspeople who came to the Portland Police Bureau East Precinct Commander’s Forum on June 3 were expecting to hear safe mailing tips from a US Post Office inspector – who cancelled at the last minute.

Instead, neighbors learned why it appears as prostitution is blooming in Portland like June roses. Portland Police Bureau Drug & Vice Division (DVD) chief, Sgt. Doug Justice, was the featured speaker.

Going after the pimps
“The crime of prostitution is a misdemeanor,” Justice began. “‘DVD’ operates with myself and two other officers, and we cover entire City of Portland. For this reason, we focus on putting the pimps in prison.”

Right off, Justice told the group that the “DVD” doesn’t deal with street-level prostitution. “We’re not out in uniform and in police cars.  Most [street prostitution] missions are done at Precinct level. For example, officers here at East Precinct will catch and arrest both prostitutes and johns (customers).”

Justice didn’t blame the Multnomah County District Attorney’s office for the marked increase in prostitution activity citywide, noting “The DA’s office is short-staffed, like we are. They focus on prosecuting cases dealing with dangerous criminals.”

He did add that, if it is a prostitute’s first offence, the case is usually dismissed. “But, many times, the same girl gets arrested over and over again. The cases continue to get dismissed, or ‘written down’ to a lesser charge, like loitering.”

There’s nothing sexy or cute about young teenagers being coerced into prostitution, Sgt. Justice says.

Sex slaves, not ‘pretty babes’
“It’s really troubling. We’re seeing many more girls – and I’m talking about juveniles between the ages of 14 and 16 – being pulled into prostitution by pimps,” Justice proclaimed. “Our highest priority is working on cases dealing with juveniles.”

The vice sergeant told about interviewing a 20-year-old prostitute who talked about her life with him. “She said her dad started raping her at 11, saying this was the way ‘fathers show their love for their daughters’. She ran away from home and fell into the clutches of a pimp. Since then, she’s been pimped out all over the country. When she was arrested, she was sent back home where her father raped her again, until she escaped – sadly, into the arms of another pimp.”

Asked if the young women are drugged, Justice gave a surprising answer. “No, typically their pimps want their ‘girls’ clean and sober. Johns don’t want to be with a sloppy, drugged-out prostitute. Pimps take advantage of the fact the girls are severely emotionally damaged.”

Nailing a Portland pimp
At that meeting, Justice spoke vaguely about a case DVD Officer Meghan Burkeen was putting together against a pimp. He didn’t give details for fear of jeopardizing the case. But what happened subsequently told the story.

Because this pimp kept slipping away from them, Burkeen turned to the Crimestoppers program, and put up cash award for turning in 30-year-old Larry Clement Richardson. This week, he was arrested. At 6’11”, and 250 pounds, Richardson was hard to miss.

On June 10, about 11:24 pm, Richardson was taken into custody at the Arbor Glen Apartments, 2609 SE 145th Avenue. Police spokesperson Officer Cathe Kent reported that two citizen tips led police to the 145th Avenue address.

Police accuse this man, 30-year-old Larry Clement Richardson, of multiple charges involving prostitution.

Used 15-year-old runaways
Richardson was on the run, we learned, because the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office had set $1,045,000 bail on him for two counts of Compelling Prostitution, four counts of Promoting Prostitution, five counts of Sex Abuse in the Second Degree, and two counts of Sodomy in the First Degree.

Sgt. Justice filled us in on this alleged predatory pimp after Richardson was in custody.

“Richardson was using two 15-year-old girls as prostitutes,” Justice related. “One of the girls is a runaway, and then got picked up for prostitution. She revealed her pimp. Officer Burkeen began an investigation.”

Officers doggedly retraced their steps, going to motel after motel along N. Interstate Avenue, where Richardson had reportedly stayed. “The motel managers confirmed that they’d been registered there. The story checked out, and we got an indictment against him.”

One down, 49 pimps to go
However, Portlanders who are concerned about children being used as prostitutes shouldn’t be breathing easy, now that Richardson is behind bars, Justice said.

At any given time, he confided, there are up to 50 pimps “running” women –not all of them under-age – in Portland on any given day. “We have our local pimps, but others travel in – bringing their prostitutes with them – from Vegas, LA, Sacramento, and Seattle.”

Under age individuals arrested for prostitution are often released from the Donald Long Juvenile Justice Center within hours – and back into the arms of their abusive family – or even worse … a pimp.

Flawed Juvenile Justice system
Justice echoed the sentiments of other DVD officials who have preceded him – and social service workers who help prostitutes break free of their pimps: Some jail time helps the process.

“In a real sense, these girls are victims,” Justice said. “We’re trying to get the Multnomah County Juvenile Justice system to hold them. But often, they’re out – and back with their pimp – before we have the chance to interview them. We can’t even get them held for 36 hours. They say they are not a danger to themselves.”

If the DVD officers can talk with a young girl caught on prostitution charges, they’ll often open up, Justice explained. “They tell us they don’t want to be sent ‘home’, where they’ll be abused; but they don’t want to go back to the pimp. If they’re kept in a secure facility for even a few days, these hardened street-wise girls start to become little girls again.”

In other cities, when prostitutes are separated from their pimps for a week, they’ll often talk with detectives, turn in their pimps, and have the opportunity to escape from a life of prostitution, he added.

Sgt. Justice says he’s happiest when yet another pimp – using children as prostitutes – goes behind bars.

Calls effort a ‘Band Aid’
The bottom line, said Justice, is that as long as citizens keep turning a blind eye, and don’t regard prostitution as a “real” crime, we can expect to see an increase in sex-for-sale in Portland.

“Pimps drop off dancers at strip clubs, and take their money when they pick them up,” Justice said. “We have hard evidence of sex being sold in ‘modeling parlors’, but the cases are seldom prosecuted. The word’s gotten out: We’re seeing prostitutes being brought in from China and Korea. We realize that what we’re doing is a ‘Band Aid’ – but we’ll keep doing it.”

Welcome to Porn-land, Oregon
The word is that the District Attorney’s office is hesitant to prosecute – and judges to convict – sex acts for money, if they take place behind closed doors.

Because of this attitude, online services like Craig’s List offers up hundreds of daily listings that openly promote sex-for-cash services; modeling parlors run unabated, and strip clubs keep popping up all over the city.

Coming soon: Part 2
Street Sex — Prostitution blooms on Avenue of Roses

People who operate businesses, live near the street or travel 82nd Avenue of Roses have noted a sharp increase of prostitutes openly plying their trade – and they’re certainly not doing it behind closed doors.

Next: Learn what the police are doing to try and curb this activity – and why they’re getting limited results, even though they make one arrest after another.

© 2008 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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