WASHINGTON — Portland is believed to have the highest rate of strip clubs per capita and has been dubbed “Pornland,” but a new study by Shared Hope International shows Oregon’s effort to crack down on human trafficking may be paying off.

Catholic women Religious, St. Mary’s Academy and other faith groups have been part of an effort to combat prostitution and forced labor.

According to the Protected Innocence Challenge, a report on the sufficiency of state laws relating to domestic minor sex trafficking in the U.S., Oregon raised its grade from a “D” to a “B” in 2013 with continuing efforts to strengthen state laws.  

Historically, Oregon’s efforts to strengthen anti-trafficking laws paled in comparison to neighboring Washington. Washington created the first state Task Force Against Trafficking of Persons, enacted one of the first state trafficking laws, and in 2007 Washington overhauled its laws criminalizing commercial sexual exploitation of children by removing these penalties from the prostitution context and clarifying that these are crimes of sexual exploitation. As Washington strengthened its laws, enabling more aggressive investigation and prosecution traffickers went searching for states with lower risk and greater tolerance, putting Oregon at risk of attracting Washington’s trafficking market.

Before 2013, Oregon law enforcement and prosecutorial agencies’ proactive engagement in anti-demand efforts were impacted by weak state laws that failed to adequately penalize buyers, individuals who purchase sex acts from minors and fuel the sex trafficking industry by making it a profitable market. Previously, the crime of “purchasing sex with a minor” was only a misdemeanor offense.

But in 2013, the Oregon Legislature passed a new law that elevated the crime of purchasing sex with a minor to a felony. Under the new law, the Portland Police Bureau has conducted sting operations to identify buyers.

The Protected Innocence Challenge was first conducted in 2011 and found 26 states earned failing scores. However, after four years of sweeping legislative advancements, 42 states have raised their grade. Three states, Louisiana, Tennessee and Washington, have earned “A” grades. Only nine states have not raised their grade since 2011 and California, Maine, Michigan and South Dakota are the only remaining states earning failing scores.