Saturday, March 3, 2001

Kim Lunman and Rod Mickleburgh

A young man approaches. His eyes sweep from their tight tank tops to their platform running shoes. 'Hey,' he says, flashing a sweet smile. 'Why aren't you girls in school today?'

PORTLAND, VANCOUVER — The Lloyd Center is a mall straight out of Anywhere America.

The entrance to Portland's biggest shopping centre leads to a Nordstrom department store, Toys "R" Us, and a skating rink where parents hold their children's hands tightly as they awkwardly glide across the ice under fluorescent lights.

The escalators channel people to an arcade, movie theatre and fast-food court, where four teenaged girls cluster together early on a weekday afternoon, waiting for Diet Cokes at the McDonald's counter.

A man in his early 20s approaches them. He is wearing a gold earring, baseball cap and baggy shorts. His eyes sweep over the girls' gawky figures, from their tight tank tops to their jeans and platform running shoes. "Hey," he says, flashing a sweet smile. "Why aren't you girls in school today?"

They blush and giggle, and then their attention turns to a friend who has just bought a new pair of Nike shorts and is excitedly pulling them out of a shopping bag. The man shrugs, smiles and walks away.

One of the girls, 15-year-old Jennifer Southavilay, skips down the escalator and spots another friend. "Hey, girl," she says waving. Jennifer, who wears her long black hair in ponytails, sports pedal pushers, running shoes and a tight black T-shirt with the words "Sexy Baby" splashed across her chest.

It was the Lloyd Center that police say an 11-year-old girl wandered into last month — and where she met two men and a woman who would allegedly lead her into child prostitution a few weeks later. A Vancouver officer found her last week on the city's streets, where police say she had been forced into four days of virtually nonstop prostitution.

Jennifer, who is in Grade 10, says she can't believe what happened to a girl she and her classmates may have passed in the food court. "I think it's kind of scary. I thought it was pretty safe here."

Constable Adam Dhaliwal of the Vancouver police's youth squad spotted the 11-year-old last Saturday afternoon at Franklin Street and Commercial Drive, in the heart of a run-down, commercial-residential area known as "the kiddie stroll."

Franklin, one block north of busy Hastings Street, is a desolate stretch of urban Vancouver, marked mostly by warehouses and a scattering of tumble-down, wooden houses built in the city's early days.

Constable Dhaliwal thought that she looked young even for the teenagers who normally work the area. He thought she was 13. He was shocked to discover her true age and quickly took the frightened girl into custody.

The girl said she had met the people who brought her to Vancouver a week or two earlier. She crossed the border into Canada on Feb. 21, police say. The adults she was with told customs officials they were all headed to Vancouver for a wedding.

The girl was quickly put to work. The group moved from motel to motel to avoid scrutiny and keep one step ahead of authorities.

She turned over all money, estimated at nearly $1,000, to her adult controllers, police say. The woman sometimes worked right beside her.

By the time Constable Dhaliwal discovered her, the girl was groggy with lack of sleep, kept awake by a cocktail of acid, speed, caffeine and ecstasy.

She had been assaulted and forced to work 12 hours at a time, with minimal breaks, according to police. She may have had as little as four hours sleep in total.

Her alleged controllers had arranged to come by for the young prostitute at 3 p.m. When they showed up at the meeting place on time, police were waiting to arrest them.

Three suspects, David Martin Walker, 25, Jabari McCory, 26, and Milenda Mae Carter, 24, all of Portland, have been in custody ever since. They are charged with living off the avails of prostitution and abducting a child under 14. Mr. McCrory and Mr. Walker are also charged with assault, while Mr. McCrory and Ms. Carter are charged with sexual interference of a minor.

Ms. Carter's 18-month-old baby, whom she was holding when she was arrested, was placed in the care of B.C. social services.

The three were refused bail this week. Their next court appearance is on Thursday.

Portland, with a population of 500,000, is Oregon's biggest city and is known as the City of Roses, a nod to its moderate Pacific Northwest temperature and annual rose festival. Its historic office buildings spring up around the Willamette and Columbia Rivers in the shadow of nearby snow-capped Mount Hood.

Located about 300 kilometres south of Seattle, Portland also enjoys a reputation as a high-tech centre; new residents are drawn to the outdoors and its affordable housing. In December, Money Magazine rated the city the best place to live in the United States.

The 11-year-old's case has shaken parents in the city, according to Jean Hodges, a sales clerk at a jewellery counter at the Lloyd Center, who said she won't let her children, aged 9, 8, and 7 play outside.

"It freaked me out," she said. "She's just a child. She should be at home playing with Barbies."

The girl's extreme youth also has Portland police concerned. "It's a very distressing and disgusting case that an 11-year-old girl would be in this situation," Lieutenant Mike Hefley said.

However, young girls being lured into the sex trade is a familiar story to Portland police, whose vice unit has a bulletin board that features dozens of mug shots under the heading "Convicted Pimps and Pimpettes."

The drive to recruit new girls is relentless, a scene played out every day in shopping malls, at bus stops and outside suburban high schools, said Officer Doug Kosloske of the drug and vice squad.

"A lot of them will tell us they've been into it since 9, 10 or 11," said Officer Kosloske, who was among the investigators who interviewed the 11-year-old girl after she returned to Oregon this week.

"Once they get into this life, they're emotionally scarred forever."

Portland police are investigating whether they can lay charges in the 11-year- old's case. And the Federal Bureau of Investigation is studying whether a 1910 law known as the Mann Act — banning the transport of women across state lines for prostitution or other immoral purposes — was violated.

State social workers are tight-lipped about the girl's condition now that she has been taken back into their care.

"The safety and well-being of this little girl is our main priority right now," said Patricia Feeny, a spokeswoman for the Oregon Department of Human Services in Salem.

She would not say how long the girl has been in foster care, citing confidentiality. "This child has a history of neglect and abuse," she said, adding that two-thirds of the state's foster children have parents with drug and alcohol addictions.

"This really was an unheard case for us. Our concern is she's 11. … This is a young life ruined."

Of course, underaged prostitution is hardly new. In fact, Vancouver — which an international consulting firm named this week as one of the top two cities in the world to live — is part of an established circuit for young prostitutes that includes Calgary, Edmonton and U.S. cities.

An international report last year called Vancouver a problem area of child-sex tourism, though it did not provide numbers or details.

But city police say the problem is overstated. They hate the term "kiddie stroll," which is now a staple of news stories throughout North America about Vancouver's child-sex trade.

"It makes it sound like 55 12-year-old kids are lined up in the street," Detective Constable Oscar Ramos of the vice squad said as he patrolled in an unmarked car this week, close to where the 11-year-old girl was picked up.

"That's just not the case. Most nights, it's like this."

The chilly, rain-slicked streets known as the "kiddie stroll" are virtually deserted. A pretty, young, blond woman, camped under a streetlight, boldly flexes her leg at passing vehicles. On a nearby side street, another applies makeup as she waits for business. Not too far away, a third is also visible.

That's it. Three young women, known to police, none under 18.

But Vancouver youth workers say most child prostitution does not take place on the street.

"I'm shocked that people are shocked," said Raven Bowen, who counsels underaged prostitutes and tries to provide havens for them.

"This has only made the media because of her age and the fact she was abducted. Why isn't a 15-year-old I talked to that same day just as shocking?"

Although police cannot legally detain an underaged girl, they can turn her over to social workers if they feel she is at risk.

The social worker "tries to get support and a structure for them," Det. Constable Ramos said. "After their interview, however, they can leave. … But we can do this process over and over until finally something clicks."

The main weapon Vancouver police use to curb the city's sex trade is a pioneering data-compilation program developed by Det. Constable Ramos and his vice-squad partner, Det. Constable Raymond Payette: Deter and Identify Sex Trade Consumers, known as DISC.

Police forces across North America are clamouring to become part of the three-year-old, computer-based network. Thirty have registered so far in cities such as Calgary, Saskatoon, Sudbury, Ont., and Seattle. Police in Portland, alerted to DISC through the 11-year-old's case, hope to be next to join.

The program tracks five categories of individuals: youths at risk of being sexually exploited; pimps, johns, people behaving suspiciously, and sex-trade workers. The more police forces that sign on, the greater the ability to trace people according to their activities.

DISC users enter every scrap of information they have on sex-trade encounters, including specific names and descriptions of pimps and their prostitutes.

"Before, all police agencies only had their own information," Det. Constable Ramos said. "They would have to exchange information with other police forces through phone calls or fax. Now, we can all tap in to the same data."

So far, DISC has helped to solve four homicides and numerous sexual assaults. "Prostitution becomes a common denominator for many crimes," Det. Constable Payette said.

Part of the program is increased training of regular patrol officers to make them more aware of underaged prostitution.

In the case of the Portland girl, she might not have been noticed before the DISC program and special training were introduced.

Within an hour after Constable Dhaliwal talked to her on the street, Det. Constables Ramos and Payette were called to the scene, three social workers responded, immigration authorities were notified and calls were placed to police and social workers in Portland.

"Within 17 hours, we had three people in custody and the girl was back in Portland," Det. Constable Payette said in an interview shortly after the arrests.

Portland police speculate that Oregon's tough prostitution laws are sending sex workers to British Columbia and elsewhere to ply their trade.

In Oregon, anyone convicted of pimping a minor under 18 faces an automatic jail term of 70 months for compelling prostitution. Jail sentences for convicted pimps average eight to 12 years. And this week, state legislators were debating whether to raise the legal age of nude dancers in the state to 21 from 18.

Portland has cracked down on prostitution in its inner city, sending the trade underground in about 200 unregulated escort services, nude dance bars and to an outlying part of the city known for its strip of cheap motels.

"All these girls are vulnerable," Portland police's Officer Kosloske said. "They're children, many of them. They're lacking something in their lives, whether it's love, maybe they haven't been doing well in school, maybe their parents have just got divorced. There's a void. … Pimps are very canny in filling whatever these voids are.

"It affects everybody. We've had girls involved in prostitution who have been daughters of U.S. attorneys, doctors, lawyers, police officers, schoolteachers, clergy.

"It has no boundaries. The white picket fence doesn't protect anybody."

"Secure Care"… [Vancouver 2001] [News by region] [News by topic]

Created: March 7, 2001
Last modified: March 7, 2001
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