Portland is often placed on a pedestal as the environmentally-conscious, socially-aware modern American city. In many ways, the city lives up to this reputation with its well-planned public transportation system, biker-friendly streets, and culture of social advocacy. Yet, in the midst of Portland's clean air, green hills, and social engagement, a growing problem has been brought to the attention of both city officials and city-dwellers.According to a 2008 F.B.I. investigation, Portland has the second largest network of underage sex trafficking in the country. Few permanent programs are in place (besides juvenile detention facilities and foster care) to offer victims safety from life on the street and opportunities to improve their future.The lack of services in place for underage girls coming out of the sex-trade in Portland reflects the limited assistance country-wide. Out of the estimated 300,000 children trafficked in the country each year, there are only 39 beds for trafficking victims in the United States.In Portland, city officials and law enforcement recognize that this issues cannot be solved through legal punishment of minors. Rather individualized support to meet the physical and emotional needs of these girls combined with alternative opportunities for their futures are what public officials admit is needed. However, between city-wide budget cuts and the snail-like pace of change in public bureaucracy, local non-profits and individuals are stepping up to address the need.Transitions Global, a non-profit in the Portland area, has started planning and fundraising for a safe house to serve underage victims of the sex trafficking. The house would act as a long-term residence for 22 girls, meeting their immediate need for physical safety while also addressing deeper psychological impacts (such as post-traumatic stress syndrome and abused notions of self-worth or potential).To build and operate this kind of safe house is estimated to cost $800,000. To raise awareness and money, Transitions Global is hosting a cross-city bike ride. By having riders contribute or get sponsored by friends, family, neighbors, local businesses, Transitions Global is hoping that Portlanders will own the issue and take advantage of their ability to meet a need in their city.Check out The Portland Mercury's article on underage sex trafficking in the city: "Confessions of a Teenage Prostitute" To find out more about Bike for Shelter or make a donation to the Transitions Global's efforts, go to bikeforshelter.org
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