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COOS COUNTY — “We want to help people understand that we’re rural, but we’re not immune,” said Coos County District Attorney Paul Frasier about human trafficking.

The Kid’s HOPE Center is hosting the Human Trafficking Awareness seminar next week over two days, one open to the public and the other for law enforcement and other professionals.

The public meeting is Wednesday, May 29 from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. in the Salmon Room at The Mill, located on 3201 Tremont Ave. in North Bend.

Then on Thursday, May 30, the morning seminar is from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. The afternoon seminar runs from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Both require pre-registration.

“All of this got started last summer, early fall,” said Ashley Matsui, director of the Kid’s HOPE Center.

While going through grant applications, it was realized that having a trafficking taskforce was important, something the rural county never saw and never thought was needed. However, during Matsui’s first year as director, she discovered that was no longer the case.

“When people talk about human trafficking and child exploitation, people think of deceiving children, kidnapping them and putting them in prostitution or as slaves in an industry,” Frasier said. “Some definitions include kids on the internet in contact with other people and are exploited to do things like ‘send me a naked picture’ or ‘talk dirty to me’ on the chat or what have you.”

Though Frasier’s office has not seen someone accused of kidnapping or bringing a child to the county for sexual purposes, it has seen local kids on the internet being sexually exploited. Those are called “luring cases.”

A couple years ago, Frasier remembered a case where a man in Chicago made contact with a local child and set up an arrangement to come to Coos County to have sex with her. However, her parents intercepted what was happening and law enforcement caught the predator before it happened.

“There was also someone here caught in a federal sting who made arrangements online to have sex with an underage girl, went to California to meet her and was met with the FBI,” Frasier said. “Those are the types we see here. That’s part of why we want to do the awareness training because we suspect more of this is going on, but don’t have people reporting it.”

At the center, Matsui said she and her team had cases that fall into the domestic labor situation where sexual abuse occurred.

When Matsui saw this and approached the multidisciplinary team, they discussed creating a human trafficking taskforce but weren’t sure what that would look like for Coos County.

To get in front of the issue, she spearheaded a steering committee to see who could be brought on board. What began with six people grew to now 14 members.

With the upcoming seminar, Matsui hopes to provide a clear definition of what this topic looks like.

“It’s very sensationalized and people have the perception of hotels and brothels, they think of the movie ‘Taken,’ or think that it’s not a problem because we aren’t in the metro area and so don’t have to worry about this,” Matsui said. “But we do have to worry about it. Technology has changed things for our children.”

In fact, she pointed out that human trafficking cases happen in all 50 states and can be found in any community.

“What’s promising about the steering committee is wanting to get on top of this issue in Coos County, have a protocol in place and a response team and services for children and parents,” she said.

For this upcoming seminar, the center is bringing down a member from the Department of Justice who heads the trafficking unit. This person will lead the training next week at The Mill, then meet with the steering committee afterward to go over the community action plan.

“The goal is by the end of 2019, we have a response team framework put in place,” Matsui said. “It’s promising for me as the director to see so many partners step up to the plate. Zonta was interested, the Coquille Tribal Police and The Mill. Other entities have stepped on board with sponsorships, including Coos Health and Wellness, North Bend Medical Center and the Waterfall Clinic.”

For Frasier, he hopes the seminar will increase awareness and help the county understand the depth of the problem.

“There are things out there people may see that looking at it mean nothing, but another little factor could change everything,” he said.

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Reporter Jillian Ward can be reached at 541-269-1222, ext. 235, or by email at jillian.ward@theworldlink.com. Follow her on Twitter: @JE_Wardwriter.

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