Medford, Ore. — Medford Police are sending a message to the community that sex trafficking won’t be tolerated.
Nearly two dozen people are facing charges after a sex trafficking sting in Medford.
Medford Police say this sex trafficking operation has been on their radar for quite a while now, but they weren’t expecting to catch as many people as they did.
“The fact that we had twenty really showed us that we certainly have a problem here,” Lieutenant Mike Budreau said.
20 people were cited after Medford Police and the Medford Area Drug and Enforcement Team conducted an undercover sex trafficking operation late last month.
“This is much more organized, much more violent, and a lot of these women are beaten, coerced, manipulated and their really pawns in a very horrible game,” Lt. Budreau said.
As part of the investigation, police posted and responded to ads on popular sex trafficking sites.
Over a series of nights at local hotels, police cited 11 suspected johns with ages ranging from 21 to 52.
“All the men that we encountered had wives or relationships and that was their most concerning issue,” Lt. Budreau said.
They also arrested Lafayette Toney of Stockton, California and Anterion Dante Lavar Suggs of Sacramento, California.
Two men police say are responsible for ‘compelling prostitution’.
All this after Medford Police spent the year getting trained and educated on how to investigate sex trafficking.
“Human trafficking is not a siloed crime. Drugs, foster care, child abuse… all of it kind of comes together. we tend to see the same people all involved. And so it’s really important that we have the different units trained on what to look for,” Rebecca Bender said.
Rebecca Bender is an expert in domestic trafficking. She helped train local law enforcement, showing them how victims of human trafficking are most often manipulated.
The training cleared up common misconceptions.
“We could not understand why she was engaging in this, and if she wanted out why she couldn’t just leave,” Lt. Budreau said.
Now, officers are focused on helping the women cited in the sting, connecting them with people like Bender who will give them a second chance.
“Sometimes women have hit rock bottom enough that they realize ‘I gotta get out of this, this guy’s hurting me’. Sometimes they’re just so involved in their brainwashing and the trauma that it’s really hard to convince them to leave in one meeting,” Bender said.
Bender says it takes time and intentional relationship building.
She says so far, she believes Medford police are doing a great job at gaining the trust of the victims.
“I think it’s just showing that there’s a lot of progress. And so I’m just I’m excited and I’m proud of the work they’ve done,” Bender said.
According to Medford Police, the investigation is ongoing and they hope this sting was the first in a string of operations to crack down on sex trafficking in the valley.