Esther Nelson runs Safety Compass to help children who were lured into prostitution

FBI officials recently presented their national Community Leadership Award to Esther Nelson of the Clackamas County-based Safety Compass organization.

PHOTO COURTESY: FBI - Esther Nelson receives the Community Leadership Award from Assistant Special Agent in Charge Steve Palmer of the FBI's Portland Division on Jan. 18 during the local presentation. She will receive the award from FBI Director Chris Wray himself at the national ceremony later this spring.Renn Cannon, special agent in charge of the FBI in Oregon, said the work Safety Compass does is critical to helping some of the most vulnerable people in the community — the women and children suffering at the hands of abusers and those being sold on the street for sex.

Nelson said she often has to combat the public's misperception that victims of commercial sexual exploitation are mostly brought in from other countries.

"It's very much a local issue," Nelson said. "The kids that we're working with are kids from our own community who got sucked into selling themselves, and the people who are buying them are people from the community, too."

But Nelson said FBI officials understand how sexual exploitation affects communities. FBI officials say Safety Compass is a great law-enforcement partner in ensuring justice for the people both organizations encounter in the course of their work to stop sex trafficking and abuse.

"Our partnership with Safety Compass helps ensure victims can be wrapped in medical, mental health, education and job resources," Cannon said. "We know the advocates in this nonprofit agency care for our shared community as much as we do, and we're honored to recognize them."

Each year, one person or entity in each of the FBI's 56 field offices receives this distinguished award for exemplary service to his or her community. While the local award service was held in January in Portland, Nelson will travel to Washington, D.C., this spring to receive her award directly from FBI Director Christopher Wray.

"Being recognized by the FBI, and the unit that works to combat commercial sexual exploitation in particular, is an indicator of how well we've worked together, which really is a testiment to them in how willing they are to work with organizations outside of themselves," Nelson said.

Nelson's program focuses much of its work in Clackamas County, with the rest of it in Marion County. Anyone up to the age of 25 who is considered a commercial sexual trafficking survivor is eligible for free support services.

"You see a broad range of needs and underserved populations," Nelson said. "Our work is the beginning of unraveling a big picture of isolation by their pimp."

Nelson's organization works with hundreds of survivors of commercial sexual exploitation, which equals thousands of contacts for each of its clients. Safety Compass provides direct services to survivors in addition to online support for families of missing and chronically exploited youth and adults, specialized training for professionals and community members, and advocacy as survivors work through the criminal and social service systems in our area.

You can find out more about the organization at

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