Sexual exploitation of children is at a crisis point in Oregon, but it is an issue most people don't know about, or want to talk about.
But Cassie Trahan, the executive director of A Village For One, decided to do something about sex trafficking. On Sept. 18, she and her board of directors and community partners broke ground on a safe haven to support survivors of sex trafficking and abuse.
The house will be located on a four-acre site in rural Clackamas County, and Trahan hopes it will open next spring.
A Village for One is a nonprofit developed to serve children who have experienced commercial sexual exploitation, defined as any activity where a child is treated as a commercial and sexual object to be used, sold or traded in exchange for something of value.
The organization's aim is to bring the community together to serve youth who have been impacted by sexual exploitation.
A report by WalletHub in 2018 noted that Oregon ranks first in the nation for the rate of homeless children and youth. Metrics include the percentage of children living in poverty, the rate of child food insecurity, the state's share of children who have been reported abused and other factors.
The home will be called Anisa's House, named in honor of Anisa Marie Swearingen, 18, of Portland, whose decomposed body was found in a storage locker in Gresham in 2012, Trahan said.
A Village For One
The two-story home will have eight bedrooms, a communal kitchen, a mother-in-law suite for the house parent to live, and a garden. It will serve youth under 18 who are female or who identify as female, and who have been in the Department of Human Services custody.
The young people will have "faced sexual exploitation or been exposed to strip clubs or commercial pornography," Trahan said.
Referrals for possible residents of the home will come from A Village For One's two outpatient mental health clinic locations, one in Clackamas County and one in Marion County.
The two outpatient clinics served over 70 exploited youth last year, she said, adding that she knows more youth are out there, but sexual assault is often underreported.
"The DHS also will refer youth to us and they can live here for 10 to 14 months," she said, noting that eligible youth can come from anywhere in the state, not just Clackamas County.
Services offered to the young people will include rehabilitation, therapy and counseling, but "we want the house to be as family-like as possible," Trahan said.
Trahan said A Village For One could not reach this goal alone, and noted that the community has come together to make the therapeutic home a reality.
"The home belongs to the community; we are honored to direct it," Trahan said.
Funding for the house has come from the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust, which granted $100,500 to A Village For One.
"Human trafficking is a growing concern in the Pacific Northwest, and we must work together to address these crimes at their source, but we must also identify ways to serve and support victims and their families," said Steve Moore, executive director of the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust, in a news release.
"We are grateful for nonprofit organizations like A Village for One, whose new therapeutic home will be a place where girls and young women can heal from trauma and escape the cycle of violence," he added.
Funding has also come from a grant from the Agnew Family Foundation, "which is dedicated to (helping) our young people," Trahan said.
In addition, "NW Natural has chosen us as one of their programs of focus to receive $35,000 over three years. We are excited to have this partnership."
Home Builders Foundation
The actual building of the house will come from the efforts of the Home Builders Foundation, which is the "philanthropic arm of the Homebuilders Association of Metro Portland," said Brenda Ketah, the executive director of the HBF.
The HBF works with nonprofits that tie in to homelessness. It is a way for builders to give back to the community, Ketah said.
The organization is committed to building "safe and dignified housing for the homeless or those at risk of homelessness. (The Portland metro area) is a mecca for the sex industry, and we are excited to provide safe housing" for these at-risk youth, she said.
The HBF has donated $50,000 to A Village For One, along with in-kind donations of windows and doors and other building materials, Ketah said.
Veteran builder Jim Standring, of Westland Industries, is the volunteer general contractor and builder for the therapeutic house. He is a longtime member of the HBA and a board member of HBF.
"He is donating his services and will be hiring contractors," Ketah said.
HBF has chosen A Village For One as its chosen charity, she noted, adding that the organization highlighted the nonprofit in its presentations at the recent Street of Dreams. She estimates that 40,000 people learned about A Village For One and some donated money to the organization.
To donate to A Village For One, visit avillageforone.org and click on the Donate button. For more information about the Home Builders Foundation, visit buildhopepdx.org.
Cassie Trahan, executive director of A Village For One, graduated from Oregon State University with a bachelor's degree in human development and family science with minors in psychology and sociology.
Following graduation, Trahan worked in a residential treatment center for children who had faced abuse and neglect. She received her master's degree in social work with a focus in clinical practice.
Trahan practiced as a child and family therapist in an intensive outpatient treatment program during which time she became a licensed clinical social worker.
While working in community practice, Trahan became aware of commercial sexual exploitation of children, and the reality that she lives in one of the areas with the highest rate of domestic sex trafficking.
She continued her formal education and earned a nursing degree through Oregon Health & Science University while continuing her work with survivors.
It was the overwhelming realization that there are inadequate resources, as well as a lack of education within the community, that led Trahan to co-found A Village For One in 2012.
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