Written by Christine Pitawanich, Posted: Tue, November 26 2013 at 6:18 PM, Updated: Wed, November 27 2013 at 9:34 PM
A two-month investigation leads police to two women they say were held against their will and forced to have sex for money.
On Monday, police arrested 23-year-old Dennell Smith who has addresses in both Medford and the Bay area in California. Smith is behind bars at the Jackson County Jail, charged with compelling prostitution as well as two counts of promoting prostitution. His bail is set at $90,000.
Authorities also arrested his girlfriend 49-year-old Rebecca Eilenberger. She is charged with two counts of promoting prostitution. She was cited and released.
It All Started with a Tip
Police said the investigation began when they received a tip. Someone calling from the east coast said their friend was being held against their will at a Medford hotel. However, when authorities went to investigate, they were confronted with a very different story.
"The person assured me that the call was a mistake, that everything was fine, that the person she was with was someone she wanted to be with," recalled Detective Jim Williams with the Medford Police Department.
Williams said he left his card and a couple weeks later, got a call from the woman asking for help.
"They [the two women] knowingly came forward knowing they were going to be at risk," said Williams.
One of the women is in her 40s and the other is 19-years-old. Police said both of them were brought to Oregon from out of state.
"He was running her ads and having her engage in sexual contact with people," began Detective Williams.
"The money that was made Dennell kept," he continued.
It Happens All Too Often in Medford
While unfortunate, police say women in the Medford area, every day, are forced to have sex for money.
"In Medford this type of activity is happening everyday. I would tell you virtually every hour throughout the day."
According to police, the women are safe outside of Medford now. However, police say they're following up to make sure the women stay safe...even if Smith posts bail.
"I've stayed in daily contact, either via e-mail or telephone calls with the victims in this case and will continue to do that to make sure they are safe," said Williams.
Similar Cases Prove Tough to Prosecute
He said typically it's extremely difficult to find enough evidence to move forward in the investigation like this one.
"[The women are] so indoctrinated to not talking to the police that it's a huge stumbling block for us to be able to proceed," Williams said.
"Getting the trafficked victims to trust law enforcement [...] is very difficult," he continued.
A Paradigm Shift for Police
In the past, police have approached prostitution in a different way. While the act itself is still a crime, Williams said police are now in the middle of a paradigm shift where people who are forced against their will to work as prostitutes are viewed more as victims. Williams likened the mental state of victims to domestic violence.
We're told Eilenberger was also involved with renting rooms and transporting the women to and from sexual contacts.
Police believe she may have been manipulated by Smith to believe they were in a relationship.
Detective Jim Williams said his investigation suggests there are more victims out there.
He says if you want out or you know someone who does, call him at 541-774-2232.
Christine Pitawanich was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest. In 2010, she received a master's degree in Broadcast Journalism from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University in New York.
Christine also has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communications from the University of Washington.
Before joining the NBC5 News team, she had the opportunity to file reports from Washington D.C. for WFFT FOX Ft. Wayne News in Indiana. Christine has also interned at KOMO-TV in Seattle.
Christine loves to ski, try new food and have fun in the outdoors.