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The Illegal Commercial Sex Industry in Portland, OR

Precise data on the size and scope of the illegal sex trade in Portland is difficult to come by. The illicit nature of the trade, in addition to a longstanding belief among citizens and elected officials that it is not a matter of great concern, makes it difficult to track sex-buying in Portland. However, we do know that Portland Metro is home to a robust commercial sex market that is exploiting hundreds of thousands of vulnerable women and children. Two issues unique to this area make the proliferation of the Portland sex trade possible: liberal zoning laws for “adult” entertainment that stem from an expansive interpretation of the Oregon State constitution; and the local, commonly held belief that all forms of “adult” entertainment should be protected free speech.


  • According to The Willamette Weekly, Portland has “…the highest concentration of strip clubs per capita among America’s 50 largest cities.” That number includes over 100 licensed strip clubs along with dozens of other adult bookstores and related venues… one strip club for every 9,578 residents, is indeed the leader among the 50 largest U.S. cities, narrowly edging Tampa at 10,813 and blowing Las Vegas’ 33,002 out of the water. (wweek.com)
  • Portland has over 100 strip clubs/massage parlors, the most per capita in the nation. By comparison, Seattle only has four because of their zoning laws (Washington County CSEC training 2014).
  • “In most states, municipalities have the power to limit where strip clubs can operate and what kind of shows they can offer. But in Oregon, you can open a strip club in most any commercially zoned location, featuring most any kind of show. Or you can take your existing restaurant, install a stage, and start having women take their clothes off.” (Business Insider)
  • “…a club for every 10,000 residents (apparently the highest concentration of strip clubs per capitaamong America’s 50 largest cities)” (Business Insider)
  • “Thanks to Oregon’s Supreme Court, the state has some of the most liberal strip club laws in the country. Up until a few years ago, the state’s liquor control board imposed strict regulations on Oregon’s full-nude, full-liquor bars, but since a 2005 decision, the clubs are essentially unregulated. Live sex shows are technically legal, as long as there’s no prostitution.” (Complex)
  • “Nightline also said Portland has the nickname “Pornland” due to the high number of strip joints and massage parlours in the city.” (katu.com)

Free Speech

  • Related to this is the fact that Oregon has the most liberal free speech laws in the nation, laws that go beyond the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment and protects obscenity. In 2005, the Oregon Supreme Court even declared that live sex shows are a form of “speech” that is protected by the state’s constitution.  According to CBS News, “There have been three attempts in the past two decades to scale back free-speech protections to allow regulation of strip clubs or pornography, but they have all failed at the ballot box, most recently in 2000” (CBS News)
  • “The State Supreme Court has long protected the right of strip joints to host totally nude entertainment…” (Time Magazine)

How CEASE PDX is addressing the problem

CEASE Portland is made up of a group of individuals who work arduously to end the demand for commercial sex in the Portland area. They are using tactics that target the buyers who drive the demand for this illegal and harmful market. These tactics include the implementation of cyber patrols, direct buyer outreach, among others such as the creation of dummy site on “how not to get busted buying sex online”.

Moreover, CEASE Portland collaborates with the EPIK project, whose mission is to engage men to end the demand of prostituted kids in the US by 2020.


EPIK seeks to engage men in two simple but critical ways:

  1. We teach men how to leverage their influence for change.  Men create the demand, better men have to end it. City by city, EPIK builds inspired, equipped and mobilized communities of men by creating practical tools that help them tell the story to the men and boys they influence, and by providing coaching support and leadership development.
  2. We make a way for men to champion the front-line work of victim restoration. Each EPIK member commits to a minimum of $13 monthly donation. These funds flow to our partner organizations in each city to help support the vital work of victim restoration.