Human Trafficking and the Disturbing Activity Within our State

Sadie Bruner, Reporter

Human trafficking is the illegal process of transporting individuals from one area to another regularly for money by the process of labor, sexual practices, or other forms of coercion. Many disturbing encounters of human trafficking have occurred in the state of Colorado and even in our small town of Glenwood Springs. Trafficking cases in Colorado are often hidden or glossed over, due to the notion that we live in an area where things like that don’t necessarily happen. Fortunately, people have started to realize the disturbing trafficking activity taking place in our own state.

The United States is actually known as the worst offender for human trafficking. With 178 reports of human trafficking in 2019 alone, according to the National Human Trafficking Organization, Colorado is 16th in the country for the largest amount of human trafficking activity. In Glenwood Springs, there have been many reports of trafficking in the past five years, one of which resulted in a huge sting operation in September 2019.

Human trafficking can be broken down into a few different groups. Among them, there is sex trafficking, forced labor trafficking, debt bonding trafficking, and many more.

Sex trafficking is one of the more well known forms of human trafficking. In July of 2017, three people were arrested for the trafficking of two juveniles. Only two short months later, another woman escaped from the jaws of human trafficking in the valley. More recently, in September of 2019, there was a massive sting operation in Glenwood Springs, where nine accused child predators were arrested when an undercover police operation led them to an area hotel.

Human trafficking is a very subtle operation. In almost all cases of human trafficking, the victims being trafficked didn’t know that they were being trafficked. This is because victims are “groomed,” a term meaning they are weedled into trusting the person who is selling them. “Grooming” is a process of which a perpetrator will gain the victims trust by working their way into their lives, doing nice things, and then slowly telling them to do things that the victims may not want to do but feel like they need to out of unhealthy pressure. Perpetrators could use the idea of power and control to use the victims to their advantage. This could be shown through minimizing, denying, or even blaming the victim for what they are doing to them.

“It’s a slow process. You pick out the person, you get to know them, you get to know their family, and you enmesh yourself in their life,” says Sarah Buckley, a community education advocate working with The Advocate Safehouse Project.

Another common control tactic is emotional coercion. This is the process by which a person is subtly forced emotionally to feel like they are a burden, a waste of time, and the person could be used by taking advantage of family ties/responsibilities. This process is very sly and very dangerous, but in almost all cases of human trafficking, the victim is walking on a wire without notice.

Deception, or tricking a person into doing something by convincing that there is a job or that they know someone who can help them is another way that perpetrators can control their victims. All of these power and control tactics are not only a way to use people, but also to hide them from the fact that they are being trafficked. Most survivors don’t even know that they were being trafficked until they escape.

“Basically, I saw myself as an escort and never saw it as human trafficking until I actually got out of it,” says Tori, a survivor of human trafficking in Colorado Springs.

It is common that when people think or hear the words human trafficking, they automatically think of movies like Taken where it is very sudden, fast, and brutal. However, though this is a form of trafficking, most processes are much more subtle, and just as equally dangerous.

There are many places that are thought to be more prone to people getting trafficked. There are the sketchy places that first come to mind like rickety hotels and truck stops, however, normal places like nail and hair salons are also places where people may get trafficked. The offenders will clean up their “products,” or the victims. These people, usually women, either don’t know that they are a part of something much bigger (aka a trafficking operation known as a ring) or are already in it and cannot escape. The “ring” is a circle of operation between different forces of human traffickers that make profits off of human trade. Victims also might already be in the “ring”. Perpetrators like pimps will take their “product” to get their hair and nails done and wear “nice” clothes so that they are more, however mortifying it is, appealing to others.

There are many rings and online operations currently going on around the world, and you might be thinking, “why don’t we just shut them down?” Human trafficking operations are very hard to “take down” mostly because the people who run them know how to use their “rights” for their benefit. This makes it hard for police to get substantial evidence to shut down and arrest these criminals, even if a survivor testifies against them.

“That’s where a lot of people don’t actually give credit to how smart these perpetrators are,” Buckley states.

Another accusation is that the victims have control over what is happening to them. There are people who think, “Well, they’re not doing anything to stop this so they must be doing this willingly.” This is unbelievably incorrect. Victims may not be able to leave for fear of their life or wellbeing, or they may feel scared to come out and speak about what is happening because of — if you are one of these people — individuals who think that victims are choosing to be sold, hurt, and used. The Stockholm syndrome is another great example of reasons why victims cannot just leave and escape. This is where the captives or victims will actually develop a psychological relationship and dependency on their captors. The perpetrators will groom them so well that the victims will depend on them for every need, even basic ones like what foods to eat. This dependency makes it nearly impossible for victims to leave.

Human trafficking is not happening just in other places around the world or country. It’s happening right here, right now, in our small town of Glenwood Springs, even though it might not seem like it.

Last month, January, was Human Trafficking Awareness Month.
If you feel you are in danger or someone else is call National Human Trafficking Hotline 1-888-373-7888.
To learn more about human trafficking, read about the Polaris Project