Sex Trafficking in the City

If someone had asked me a week ago about what the City should be doing to help prevent sex trafficking, I probably would have said that it’s not a problem here.  During my first five years with the City, I never heard a complaint about the problem and was unaware of what the term really meant.  I’ve read about children being victimized by the trade in Southeast Asia, among other places, but did not think the issue was very important here.

A brief presentation at Albany’s last Human Relations Commission meeting made me see things differently.  I learned that an estimated 300,000 children are involved in the trade every year in the U.S. and that the average age of girls entering prostitution is 13.  Most of these girls are runaways who are contacted by a pimp within 48 hours of leaving home.  A subsequent conversation with Police Chief Ed Boyd revealed that the Albany Police Department deals with 4-5 cases a year and that there is reason to believe there are more unreported cases.  Mary Zelinka, the advocacy services manager for the Center Against Rape and Domestic Violence (CARDV), told the Human Relations Commission that most women involved in activities such as prostitution or stripping are victims whose earnings are directed to pimps who use drugs and violence to control their “employees.”  We also heard that Portland has one of the most significant problems in the nation and, according to a report from the organization ECTAP-USA (End Child Trafficking and Prostitution), ranks second in the nation for child prostitution.

I discussed the problem with department directors at our last staff meeting and advised those who have programs for children to make contact with CARDV to arrange training for our employees.  Increased emphasis on the dangers of leaving home; directing children to programs that can help increase self-esteem (YMCA, Boys & Girls Club); and helping adults recognize danger signals may all be ways the City can help to address the problem.

The Human Relations Commission was formed several years ago to help make Albany a more welcoming, diverse community.  The Commission has sponsored a number of educational events, and this year is helping to organize a community picnic at Eleanor Hackleman Park in association with National Night Out on August 3.  Issues such as mental health services, perceptions of minority communities, and bridging differences among people have been discussed and addressed by the Commission over the years.  I have appreciated the positive work done by our volunteer commission members and the value of their educational efforts.  Crimes against our children are crimes against our future, and I regret my ignorance of a threat that poses a particular danger in our region.  I hope some new emphasis by City staff will make Albany not only more welcoming but safer for all children.

Learning from Boy Scouts

I will be spending some time with a few Boy Scouts over the next three days on a camping trip to the Oregon Coast.  As anyone who regularly reads this blog knows, a campout that includes hiking, fishing, and a good run along the beach is no great sacrifice on my part.  The only drawback, from my point of view, is that I have to be a responsible person throughout the trip.

The Boy Scouts of America has changed since the days I entered the organization as a Cub in the early 1960s.  Adult leaders are carefully screened and required to take training on appropriately dealing with sensitive issues, such as allegations of sexual abuse.  Hard lessons have been learned about the risks associated with taking boys into wilderness areas or to places with special hazards like those found on the Coast.

Despite the changes, taking responsibility for the safety of young men who never seem to appreciate their own vulnerability is inherently risky business.  Part of our preparation for this trip was my lecture about three of my high school classmates who were killed by a sneaker wave while on a field trip to the Coast in 1970.  The easy and safest choice would be to stay home and let the boys’ parents assume responsibility for exposing their children to the dangers of the world.  Making that choice, however, would deprive these young men of experience they will need to become mature and responsible themselves.

My hope is that our trip will be uneventful, yet interesting and fun.  Each young man has to plan for and prepare one group meal, in addition to packing all the necessary gear for an outdoor adventure.  Over the years, I’ve seen many a soggy Scout who learned the value of a good tent the hard way.  As a former Scout myself, I’ve prepared by securing my own emergency food supply and will, of course, have my own mountaineering tent.  I’ve also noticed how the ground becomes progressively harder with each passing year; so I’m hoping to slip a foam pad into the truck.  I really prefer backpacking to car camping, but I’ve learned to never waste an opportunity to get a decent night’s sleep.

I think we undervalue the problem solving skills our young people gain by accepting challenges and adapting to different environments.  Most of our lives are not spent in classrooms, and we need to apply our knowledge in a variety of settings.  A group camping trip is a good challenge and a test of our ability to adapt to things literally outside of our comfort zones.  I will let you know how this exercise in character building works out in next week’s blog post (assuming I make it back).

Getting Things Right

Last week I wrote a letter to the editor of the Democrat-Herald correcting some misinformation about sewer rates from another letter writer.  The DH has a feature that allows for online commentary, and my letter prompted a few interesting responses.  The one below was submitted by a modest commentator who uses the nom de plume “Ultimate Judge.”

“Isn’t it interesting, City Hall never ever makes a mistake and they never own up to anything that even smells of an error.  They drag their feet on new industry or business, we are a very depressed business area, and yet, they want to raise sewer rates, and this rate and that rate, and this permit fee and that permit fee.  I say we throw the whole bunch of “bums” out….they don’t deserve to be there.  I know school kids that have more brains than this bunch and they can prove it….”

If the commentary above was intended to provoke an admission of fallibility, I’m happy to oblige.  Last week’s newspaper carried an article and editorial pointing out some errors in the publication of our approved budget.  The reader who noticed the errors provided an important public service and helped us correct some procedures so that we are less likely to repeat the mistakes in the future.  Like everyone else, people who work at City Hall make errors; and I don’t think there is anyone here who “wants” to raise rates or fees for services.  Albany’s utility rates are rising primarily because the City was required to build a new wastewater treatment facility and chose to construct a water treatment plant some years ago at a combined cost in excess of $100 million.  It’s really a little late to throw out the “bums” most responsible for those decisions, and it would be an act of ignorance to do so even if they were still around.  Communities need updated water and sewer infrastructure to serve residents, business, and industry; and the combined cost for both in Albany is less than what most people spend for television service.

Anonymous rants seem to be increasing in number and vitriol as electronic media continue to carve into the role of the daily newspaper.  Our best antidote is objective truth and greater transparency in all we do.  Bob Woods and Matt Harrington’s latest creation, “Where Does My Money Go?” is another unique resource available on the City’s website that helps citizens understand more about local government.  It was refreshing to see the following commentary in the Salem Statesman-Journal this morning:

This week’s winners and losers in the news

WINNER: City of Albany. It’s a model of financial transparency, with a comprehensive website called “Where Does My Money Go?” The website is updated nightly, allowing residents to track city spending of their tax dollars. City staff members created the site, without needing to hire consultants or incur special expenses. Other local governments, school districts and the state can learn from Albany’s example.

We will make mistakes in the future; and, with the right attitude, we will learn from them and perhaps gain the wisdom of “school kids that have more brains….”  In the meantime, we try to get things right and, as noted by the Salem paper, occasionally do.