One night in mid-October, I met up with the Montavilla in Action neighborhood patrol squad in a parking lot just off 82nd Ave. The group gets together a couple nights a week and wanders the streets in shiny orange vests, shining their flashlights into darkened parking lots and among shrubbery looking for prostitutes. I expected the crowd to be preachy, but the stroll was actually a lot of fun as the upbeat crew laughed about the ridiculous situations they'd encountered and pointed out places where prostitutes used to hang out. Former hot spots like the infamous McDonald's on the corner of 82nd and Stark were now vacant and we went home without reporting a single problem to the police's non-emergency line.
The disappearance of prostitutes from 82nd led me to ask where have they gone? Based on an uptick in Craigslist ads, I thought a good number of women were operating online or in motels instead of from the street corners, but an article in North Portland's Sentinel reveals that neighbors in the areas around Interstate have been seeing more prostitutes recently. That suggests the police stings and city attention on 82nd have pushed prostitutes out to Interstate. This hits home that an effective response to prostitution isn't just a legal crackdown on one area - say, a Prostitution Free Zone that targets only a few miles of the city - but serious treatment programs for people who want to get out of sex work plus jobs and housing accessible for people in danger of being forced into it.
Get the best of the Mercury each week in your inbox!