By Bailey Boggs
When the term “human trafficking” is mentioned, minds may conjure a scene from the movie “Taken,” in which actor Liam Neeson’s daughter is kidnapped and held as a sex slave in a faraway country. While a very small percentage of cases may have similarities, Hollywood didn’t get it right.
Human trafficking is often broken down into two categories: sex trafficking and labor trafficking. The Polaris Project, which operates the National Human Trafficking Hotline, defines sex trafficking as “the crime of using force, fraud or coercion to induce another individual to sell sex. Common types include escort services, pornography, illicit massage businesses, brothels and outdoor solicitation.” Unlike in the movies, traffickers often work to gain a victim’s trust through romantic or familial relationships before eventually using coercive tactics.
Recently, Fort Collins was named as the city with the highest demand for commercial sex trafficking in Colorado. Over the past few months, the Fort Collins Police Department has conducted 10 stings and charged 127 men for crimes related to trafficking. Within Northern Colorado, the Larimer County Community Response Team, comprised of numerous law enforcement agencies and community organizations, has been working to identify and rescue victims and prosecute traffickers. It has been quite successful, having uncovered a brothel operating under the guise of a spa in Fort Collins in January. In 2018, a sting led by Fort Collins Police intended to help curb the demand for human trafficking resulted in 282 responses, nine citations and two arrests for soliciting a prostitute.
Another common form of human trafficking is labor trafficking, which is defined as “the crime of using force, fraud or coercion to induce another individual to work or provide service.” While sex trafficking is the most commonly talked about form of human trafficking, labor trafficking is a huge issue in Colorado as well as around the world. Labor trafficking is prevalent in industries such as agriculture (including the sheepherding industry in Colorado), domestic work, restaurants, cleaning services and carnivals.
Misconceptions About Human Trafficking
Myth: Sex traffickers often find victims through kidnapping or following people at the grocery store.
Fact: Although a favorite on social media, Fort Collins Police have yet to connect anyone being approached in a grocery store to human trafficking. People are significantly more likely to be trafficked by someone they already know than a stranger. Most traffickers rely on cultivating relationships with victims in vulnerable situations. Victims are often trafficked by romantic partners, spouses, or family members, including parents.
According to a report from the Laboratory to Combat Human Trafficking, which runs the Colorado Human Trafficking Hotline, there are several factors in Northern Colorado that contribute to vulnerable situations. A lack of access to affordable housing plays a significant role in the community. Social factors such as trauma or violence within the home, addiction, a lack of education, a lack of citizenship status or marginalization of LGBTQ+ individuals also play a role. In Larimer County specifically, poverty, an unsafe family environment, drug use and lack of affordable housing are often cited as contributing factors.
Myth: Only women or girls can be victims or survivors of human trafficking.
Fact: Many studies estimate that as many as half of all victims are men or boys. LGBTQ+ boys and young men are particularly vulnerable to being trafficked, especially when they are living in a situation that is not supportive of their identity.
Myth: People who are being trafficked are being physically held against their will.
Fact: While this is the sometimes the case, more often than not the restraints that hold victims back are much more complicated. Some victims are not able to leave due to a lack of safe housing, transportation, or means to support themselves on their own. Others may be battling addiction and dependent on their trafficker for drugs. Some victims fear for their safety if they were to leave, while others have been manipulated so much that they no longer recognize the situation they are in. According to the Polaris Project, “fear, isolation, guilt, shame, misplaced loyalty and expert manipulation are among the many factors that may keep a person from seeking help or identifying as a victim even if they are, in fact, being actively trafficked.”
Myth: All commercial sex is human trafficking.
Fact: Any commercial sex that involves a minor is automatically classified as human trafficking, as minors are unable to give consent. Commercial sex in which an adult is being forced to participate against their will through force, fraud or coercion is also classified as human trafficking.
Second Annual Northern Colorado Human Trafficking Symposium
The College of Business has been stepping up in the fight against human trafficking. As a host of the second annual Northern Colorado Human Trafficking Symposium, the College seeks to engage and educate on the issue of human trafficking through research, training and collaboration.
The theme for the 2020 symposium is ”Joining Forces on the Frontlines.” The event will feature several keynote speakers including Sean Reyes, Utah Attorney General; Ruth Dearnley, CEO of Stop the Traffik; and Megan Lundstrom, founder and executive director of Free Our Girls, as well as presentations by survivors, professionals, leading academic researchers in the field and influential allies against modern slavery.
The 2020 symposium offers three tracks in which participants can engage. A 101 Awareness Track offers free registration for community members, a 201 Professional Track is geared towards professionals seeking advanced training ($45 registration) and a 301 Research Track geared towards researchers and academics intended to highlight cutting-edge research in the field ($45 registration). The 301 Research Track aims to be the largest gathering of its kind in terms of research paper submissions and seeks to highlight innovative and rigorous quantitative and qualitative research that will inform policy and practice and contribute to the ongoing development of theory and research in human trafficking.