Kim DeRose shows a fact sheet regarding human trafficking. DeRose is the new coordinator of the Tri-County Anti-Trafficking Task Force. The task force covers Malheur County and Payette and Washington counties in Idaho. (The Enterprise/Pat Caldwell)

VALE – A large federal grant will help drive a local effort to prevent human trafficking in a three-county region of Oregon and Idaho.

The $250,000 from the U.S. Department of Justice was allocated to the Malheur County District Attorney’s Office and used to hire Kim DeRose as the new coordinator of the Tri-County Anti-Trafficking Task Force.

The task force covers Malheur, Payette and Washington counties and has existed about eight years.

DeRose was hired in November to educate the public about the dangers and prevalence of human trafficking locally.

DeRose said her focus will be on sponsoring trainings, creating community awareness programs and media outreach.

According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, “human trafficking involves the use of force, fraud or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act.”

DeRose said educating the public helps combat the crime locally.

“People are unaware of what trafficking is, what actually constitutes the crime and once it is committed, how to report it,” said DeRose.

According to the Oregon Department of Human Services, the state detected 746 victims of human trafficking between October 2018 and October 2019.

“We are rural and everyone is uneducated about human trafficking so it isn’t talked about,” said DeRose.

Dave Goldthorpe, Malheur County district attorney, said DeRose’s role with the task force is to get ahead of a potential crime crisis.

“I don’t want it to be a problem we don’t look for or try to address in our community,” said Goldthorpe.

Just how much of a problem it is locally is difficult to pin down, said Goldthorpe.

He said anecdotal evidence suggests there is a human trafficking issue in the area but Goldthorpe said he prosecuted “less than five” cases in the past five years.

“I’ve done at least one or two human trafficking situations where someone was being exploited for their paycheck,” said Goldthorpe.

He said he also was involved “with investigating human trafficking of minors.”

“But only one of them cooperated with law enforcement to get a prosecution done,” said Goldthorpe.

Goldthorpe said he knows through other, unrelated cases, that human trafficking is “happening at truck stops and hotels” locally.

“It is a problem. But I couldn’t give you an accurate number as to how big a problem it is,” said Goldthorpe.

Goldthorpe said one justification for the grant was to develop a clearer picture of the human trafficking locally.

“We can find out a little bit through these outreach efforts and get more people coming forward to get help. That may lead to a more accurate idea of what is going on,” said Goldthorpe.

DeRose said she feels there is human trafficking in the area but wants to find out more.

“Why, if everyone feels it is prevalent, we are not getting anyone arrested or prosecuted?” said DeRose.

The trafficking challenge is growing across the nation, she said.

“Numbers are going up in Idaho and Oregon. Doesn’t matter whether its rural or if they are in Orlando. Everybody is telling me it is going up because of Covid,” said DeRose.

DeRose isn’t a newcomer to law enforcement. She said she worked in California for the Stockton Police Department as a field evidence technician before moving to Idaho.

DeRose said she already completed one anti-trafficking training session for the Malheur Education Service District and is planning more for other area organizations.

“People are not necessarily looking for it so it can be right under their noses and not see it,” said DeRose.

Goldthorpe said that DeRose’s position will help.

“I think it will be good for our community to have her here and to get awareness raised,” said Goldthorpe.

News tip? Contact Pat Caldwell at [email protected]com

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