PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Mara Hutchins is a wife, a mother and a business owner. She’s also a survivor of child sex trafficking.
When she was just 13, she was sold up and down the I-5 corridor. It affected her life for decades and spurred her to become a passionate advocate on the topic — and a resource to help other girls in a similar situation.
“It took me 20-something years just to kind of work through a lot of the trauma and a lot of the pain and guilt and shame,” she told KOIN 6 News.
“It’s something I’m actually quite passionate about, the fact that victims of child trafficking can become survivors.”
Hutchins said her life might have been different if she had had access to something like Door To Grace.
“Maybe,” she said, “I wouldn’t have gone through all the domestic violence relationships, drug abuse, severe depression.”
Door To Grace
Jody Noon, the executive director of Door To Grace in Northeast Portland, said the girls who come there share similar feelings.
“They come with so much shame and so much negative feelings about themselves that they don’t really feel like they’re worth it,” Noon told KOIN 6 News. “There are traumatic bonds that they have with biological family, their pimp.”
Specially trained volunteers work to show the girls they do deserve better. Activities, like jewelry making, help them to explore and highlight their strengths.
Door To Grace has become a state-licensed child caring agency, certifying private homes for the girls to live. Right now they have two trained host families, and they’re working to build more.
“We’re looking at homes with no minor children in them so the focus can be on this girl, really a committment with that home of being there for the girl through thick and thin,” Noon said. “So even if that girl runs they’re open to having that girl come back.”
“They need long term care”
Det. Sgt. Michael Geiger with the PPB’s Human Trafficking Unit, said he is encouraged by this.
“It’s clear to me, and it has been for a long time, that this is not a fight that only the police can engage in,” he said. “They need long-term care, they need people who can surround them with a positive influence, a nurturing influence.”
A recent Portland State University study revealed a total of 469 child victims in Portland over a four-year period.
In the past year, Door To Grace has served 14 girls through its day program. Two girls chose to live with host families.
Breaking the cycle isn’t easy. But for Door To Grace, giving up is not an option.
Sgt. Geiger said without the intervention as children, as adults the girl will “continue their life of being exploited.”
Mara Hutchins knows a life can change.
“It’s really exciting to see there’s something out there really making a difference and giving these girls hope,” she said.