PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – Portland is known as a hotspot for sex trafficking. Experts say its location, dense population and many strip clubs make it fertile ground.
Andrea Benson didn’t work for a strip club, but she found herself deep in the seedy world of sex trafficking. She said it was someone she loved who got her involved.
Benson was just 22 when she met Michael Knight on a popular dating website. The recent college graduate was looking for a boyfriend at the time. She said she and Knight fell in love quickly and moved in together just weeks after they met.
“He promised me everything that I would ever want,” Benson told KOIN 6 News.
But then their relationship took an unexpected turn. Benson said Knight told her she could have a family, a house and cars if she did certain things for him.
“I didn’t think that he would ever force me into being a prostitute,” she said. “Once I started, then everything changed and he turned into this very manipulative person.”
Benson said Knight threatened to tell her family everything if she ever tried to leave him. She said he told her they wouldn’t love her anymore if they knew the truth.
She said she made him tens of thousands of dollars through ads he allegedly posted on Backpage.com and TNA board. Lawyers, firefighters and police officers were among some of the clients she recalled meeting at a hotel near the airport.
“I would be in that hotel room for, you know, 1 or 2 days on end, not being able to leave. Not sleeping, barely eating,” Benson said. “It’s like you are someone’s slave.”
After her clients left the hotel, Benson said Knight would text her and ask how much money she made. He would then stop by to pick up the money from her.
Police eventually caught Knight in an undercover sting. He was convicted of promoting prostitution and sentenced to prison. He served time and was released.
Benson said she’s telling her story so others know it can happen to them, too.
“I’m still trying to forget and tell myself [the lies he told me] aren’t true,” Benson said. “I always felt like if everyone in my life knew what I had done they wouldn’t love me.”
She took a leap of faith and posted about her traumatic experiences on Facebook, not knowing how her loved ones would respond.
“Everyone still loved me,” she said.
In a statement to KOIN 6 News, Michael Knight said, in part:
“I take full responsibility for my actions and participation in everything that transpired during that brief span of activity. I remorsefully apologize to Ms. Benson, her family, and all others that were effected by my poor choices and behavior. Those choices had a tremendous impact on my life and my family. I have chosen to use this experience as a teaching tool and to reach out to others about the dangers and impact sex trafficking has on individual lives and the community.”