Human trafficking hits close to home

Colorado State Patrol officers attended the Human Trafficking training that was held at the Southern Ute Museum on Thursday, Jan. 16. Many tribal departments and community members showed up to learn about how to identify and prevent human trafficking here on the Southern Ute Indian Reservation.
Trennie Collins | The Southern Ute Drum

Forced labor, debt bondage, involuntary domestic servitude, sex trafficking and use of child soldiers are all forms of human trafficking. So, is human trafficking really what we think it is?

On Thursday, Jan. 16 the Laboratory to Combat Human Trafficking (LCHT) in partnership with Sexual Assault Services Organization (SASO) held a human trafficking training at the Southern Ute Museum presented by LCHT’s Research and Training Manager, Kara Napolitano.

What is human trafficking? According to the LCHT, human trafficking is a severe form of exploitation of another person involving force, fraud or coercion for labor or commercial sex purposes.

“We do have all forms of trafficking here [in Colorado] labor trafficking and sex trafficking,” explained Napolitano. “I know of six or seven cases that are currently happening right here within a 20-mile radius, so if you didn’t think trafficking was happening here, now you know.”

The State Department recently released a report stating that the United States was ranked among the worst countries in the world for human trafficking. Within the U.S., Colorado is ranked 16th.

According to the Secretary of State, there were 24.9 million people who are involved in human trafficking in some capacity in 2019. The U.S. State Department also estimates that 600,000-800,000 victims are trafficked annually across international borders and of those numbers, half are under the age of 18.

In April of 2016, Governor Hickenlooper signed Colorado House Bill

HB 16-1224, Treat Trafficking of Children as Child Abuse, into law — making Colorado history and changing the way human trafficking is treated in the state of Colorado. Colorado has 17 task forces in different communities around the state who have started the anti-trafficking movement. In Colorado, human trafficking is a felony. Trafficking an adult could land you in serious trouble, and is punishable for up to 16 years in prison; trafficking a child is punishable for up to 48 years in prison.

The Colorado Human Trafficking Council, a group of leaders across various levels of government and community who work to address human trafficking in Colorado, help advocate for trafficked victims. The recommended standards set by the Colorado Human Trafficking Council are community-based victim advocates who help and play a crucial role in providing long term help for survivors. Mental/behavioral health professionals help provide clinical intervention and support, while housing providers provide safe and clean housing to those in need.

Even though the council doesn’t have regulatory authority over the recommended standards they work through those to help guide them when working with human trafficking clients.

“In order to fight crime as diverse and array as human trafficking is, you need trust. You need trust between law enforcement and service providers and community members, so we know we are all on the same page,” said Napolitano. “No one organization is going to solve the trafficking problem, it’s going to take literally every type of identity in this space and more.”

A huge population of Coloradans believes that human trafficking is sex trafficking, leading to a misperception of stereotyping when it comes to trafficking in general. Reality is that yes, sex trafficking is a huge part of human trafficking, but in Colorado, there are some risk factors that may lead to being trafficked. Age, poverty, gender, inequality, unemployment, sexual abuse, health issues, mental health, police corruption and high crime are just some risk factors to take into consideration.

So, what does that mean in the name of safety? It is important to know what it means to be safe from being trafficked. Communication is key, having a phone or letting a family member know your whereabouts is an important part of being safe. Keep all important documents, an ID or passport in your possession at all times. Many traffickers hold onto their victim’s identification so that they feel like they have leverage over them.

“This region also includes two sovereign nations, the Southern Utes and the Ute Mountain Utes. The data collected does not include tribal participants although it is important to understand how cultures vary; therefore, we do not assume that the vulnerabilities are similar in the sovereign communities, but we expect that some of the risks to trafficking for individuals might be the same,” stated The Region 5 Colorado Project Community Profile which was conducted by LCHT.

It’s important to know that traffickers can be anyone. Being aware of trafficking itself is an important step to helping your community. You are the first line of defense in human trafficking detection. Here are some common indicators of human trafficking:

  • Unexplained injuries (multiple scars, broken teeth or burns).
  • Evidence of prolonged infection or time since injury occurred.
  • Bacterial infection and/or yeast infection or frequent STI’s.
  • Work-related injuries.
  • Multiple or frequent pregnancies/abortions.
  • Signs of malnourishment or general poor health.
  • Tattoos or branding.
  • Evidence of sexual trauma.
  • There is no sure sign of human trafficking, instead take these signs into consideration.
  • Individual claims of “just visiting.”
  • Someone claiming to speak for, or on behalf of a victim.
  • No legal documentation and not in control of their own identification documents.
  • Dissociation disorders such as memory loss, lack of sense of self-identity.

“People are coming in and out of these experiences,” explained Napolitano. “Trafficking is not just cut and dry and nobody is just a trafficking victim or survivor, it’s not their only identity.”

For more information on human trafficking visit: combathumantrafficking.org or to report human trafficking contact Colorado’s Human Trafficking hotline at 1-800-455-5075 or text 720-999-9724.

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