January is national human sex trafficking awareness month, but the Guardian Group is determined to take on this issue year round. Central Oregon Daily’s Austin Reed sits down with members of Guardian Group who organize self defense classes and educate women on how to fight and avoid sex trafficking.
Andrea Benson, a Portland native and a victim of human sex trafficking, spoke this month at a Guardian Group’s weekly self defense class at Clarks Martial Arts in Bend. Benson met her trafficker through the online dating site Plenty Of Fish when she was 22.
Benson had what many would consider a normal life with a loving family and would not be what most would consider “high risk” for sex trafficking.
Benson eventually escaped her trafficker, who plead out in court and was sent to jail.
Benson said she plans to go back to school, this time to study law, to help more women and girls like her seek justice for their traffickers. She also hopes to speak to more women and girls to raise awareness with group like Guardian Group.
Guardian Group is a non-profit started in 2010 by Jeff Tiegs of Bend. The group is made up for former law enforcement and special ops officers and works year round to tackle the problem of sex trafficking here in the Pacific Northwest.
Tiegs said Guardian Group has a variety of program but the weekly self defense classes are meant to help women and build confidence, self esteem and skills to ensure that they aren’t an easy target for trafficking.
Interstate 5, that runs through California, Oregon and Washington, was spotlighted as a hot spot for human trafficking on the west coast in a 2010 report to Congress. Both Portland and Seattle have struggled with the issue in recent years and legislators in both states have worked to strengthen sex trafficking laws.
To find out the signs and report human sex trafficking, visit the Oregon Hotline.