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Marta Oti Sears helps lobby senators in support of new law
by: Courtesy of Marta Sears Marta Oti Sears, right, and her friend, Judi Mittelstaedt of Beaverton, both members of the International Justice Mission, traveled to Washington, D.C., in November in support of a bill to end human trafficking and other forms of oppression of children.

Five years ago, Sherwood resident Marta Oti Sears and her husband Andy had just finished putting their daughter to bed when they flipped on 'Oprah' and heard Ricky Martin talking about the problems of child sex trafficking in various parts of the world.

It shocked both of them.

'That was the first time we had been exposed to this horror,' she said. 'It's something that just shook us to the core.'

As Christians, Sears said that they quickly wanted to find an organization that could help such victims, got on the Internet and soon joined the International Justice Mission, an organization dedicated to working to end human trafficking and other forms of violent oppression.

In November, Sears joined a group of 45 other individuals who traveled to Washington, D.C., in support of the Child Protection Compact Act, a measure aimed at eradicating trafficking of minors who are forced into prostitution or labor in specific countries.

The bill's goal is to provide those countries with multi-year assistance in order to build public justice systems that effectively investigate crimes against children and prosecute perpetrators in numbers large enough to deter and eventually elimated the crime.

During their visit to the Capitol, the International Justice Mission contingent got access to the staffs of U.S. Rep. David Wu and Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden, who Sears said seemed 'interested, engaged and supportive' of the proposed bill.

Bill has bipartisan support

So far, the bipartisan legislation has been endoresed by almost 120 co-sponsors in the House and if passed would add resources to the U.S. Department of State's Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons.

It's estimated that human trafficking is the third largest criminal industry in the world, right behind drugs and weapons, according to information from Sears' organization.

UNICEF estimates there are an estimated 2 million children in the commercial sex trade worldwide and the U.S. Department of State estimates 80 percent of human trafficking victims are women and girls, of whom 50 percent are minors.

'Child sex trafficking is a big problem here in Portland and we need to work to end it,' said Sears. 'But we can't give in to the temptation to look only at our own city. The girl in the brothel in India is just as precious and important as the girl on the street in Portland. We have to stand up for the children of both our local neighbors and our global neighbors.'

Sears said students at Westside Christian High School in Lake Oswego where her husband is principal, have championed the cause of the International Justice Mission through a fundraising campaign. Setting a goal of $2,000 for the organization through a 'Loose Change to Loosen Chains' campaign, they ended up collecting $3,000.

Westside also has a partnership with Grace Ministries, an organization in Northeast Thailand that helps children in danger of getting into sex industry work or at potential risk of falling victim to domestic servitude.

Other laws aimed at protecting children

Sears said even if the Child Protection Compact Act doesn't go through this session, another measure, the Trafficking Victim Protection Act, is already on the books and up for reauthorization next year If approved, it will be the fourth time the law has been reauthorized since being implemented in 2000.

Also, the Wyden/Cornyn Sex Trafficking Bill passed the U.S. Senate in early December.

The bill provides aid for victims of sexual slavery and cracks down on those who exploit underage girls.

Sears said Sen. Wyden has been particularly helpful in such things as finding up to $900,000 to give the YMCA to build a shelter in Portland that aids those trying to get off the streets.

While Portland has a serious underage sex trafficking problem, Sears also said it's important not to forget the exploited girls in other countries as well.

'They're our neighbors too,' she pointed out.

Sears said she's confident that passing legislation and finding funding to combat child sex slavery is beneficial pointing out that the country of Cebu (a province in the Philippines) had a 72 percent reduction in slavery after the Gates Foundation donated to the cause. She noted that training is essential to make officials in other countries aware about the problems created by sex crimes against minors.

Sears said the goals of the International Justice Mission are several-fold, the first being to find relief for the victim, which often means removing a child from a brothel or similar environment along with the help of law enforcement. The next step is to find a safe place for the victim, followed by making sure the perpetrator is help accountable, often through the legal system. The final goal is to create a structural transformation in the system.

'You don't have to catch all the bad guys,' said Sears, 'you just have to catch some of them.'

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