On Wednesday, Portland City Councilors unanimously passed an ordinance that would allow the city to seize and sell property used during a crime of prostitution or human trafficking.
Sponsored by Commissioner Dan Saltzman, the ordinance would make any property that is used or obtained through proceeds of a prostitution-related crime subject to forfeiture. The new ordinance specifically says that the property of those selling sex is not subject to seizure, which victim advocates say is a welcome change from treating prostitutes – even those under age 18 – as criminals instead of victims.
"We won't make them feel they are offenders and somehow less than worthy of our full support," Multnomah County Judge Nan Waller told the council.
State law does not distinguish between those selling and those buying sex, treating both acts as "solicitation" crimes. City Council members will be talking with legislators about changing that statute to better reflect a reality in which many prostitutes are compelled or forced into the illegal trade.
"We need to hold pimps and johns accountable," Saltzman said.
Under the new law, johns, pimps and traffickers can have property seized so long as it is used as part of the crime. If a john is driving a car to pick up a prostitute, that car can then be seized under Oregon forfeiture law. Unlike some states which only seize property purchased from criminal proceeds, Oregon law allows for law enforcement to take property that further enables a crime.
Authorities are not allowed to seize property without a conviction for the crime. Seventy five percent of proceeds will be directed to social services for victims and 25 percent will be redirected to law enforcement.
Commissioner Saltzman called the law the "first sustainable" funding stream for victim's services – which would include shelters, counseling and other services for both the public and private sector.
The ordinance was nearly unanimously praised by commissioners and from those who work in victim's services organizations. Two men told the council that the ordinance would do little to deter the world's oldest profession and that the city would be better off regulating the trade like Nevada and some European countries do to make it safer for women who choose – and are not forced – to work in the business.
"You have a trade we've plied for thousands of years," Michael O'Callahan testified. "You think you're going to stop this trade by passing a law? … Let's do the mature things about this."
Commissioner Amanda Fritz scolded the men for thinking that any woman freely enters prostitution and urged them to sit in on survivor's group session.
The new law takes effect immediately.