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A solution to human trafficking? Stop the men who pay for it

Thomas Phippen, Glenwood Springs Post Independent
Meghan Lundstrom speaks at the Battlement to the Bells Anti-Human Trafficking Summit Jan. 10, 2020. Thomas Phippen / Post Independent

The demand for commercial sex is higher on the Western Slope than anywhere else in Colorado, according to Dr. Angie Henderson.

That’s been the case since 2015, when Henderson’s firm Avery Research and Consulting began studying the demand side of human sex trafficking.

Henderson presented her research to the 150 people attending the second annual Battlement to the Bells Anti-Trafficking Summit Friday at Colorado Mountain College’s Rifle Campus.

“The Western slope is a big region, it’s a little bit skewed so we have to take that into account, but it’s consistently over the course of the last four years been neck and neck with northern Colorado and Fort Collins,” a far more populated area, Henderson said.

“Lot and lots of men want to buy sex out here,” Henderson said.

To track demand, Avery places false adds on websites used by people seeking commercial sex, often with underage victims.

Going after those who want to purchase sex doesn’t have to be antagonistic and or humiliate would-be sex buyers, according to Henderson.

“I truly believe, based on the research that I’ve done and the men that I’ve spoken with, that if they knew (the trauma of human trafficking), they wouldn’t do it,” Henderson said.

Educating men – and women – about what victims of human trafficking experience could be enough to reduce the number of people seeking to purchase sex.

Demand is important because of the overlap between people seeking to pay for sex and human trafficking.

“Truly the only way to end this issue is to decrease demand,” said summit speaker Megan Lundstrom, who has studied finance and sociological theory, and is the executive director anti-trafficking nonprofit Free Our Girls.

After years of analyzing human trafficking like any other industry, Lundstrom concluded that if selling sex were unprofitable, pimps would be less likely to do it.

According to Lundstrom’s calculations, the risk of arrest and conviction for trafficking are laughably low.

For example, the federal maximum fine for drug trafficking is $10 million dollars, while the maximum for human trafficking is $1.5 million.

“It is cheaper to sell humans than it is to sell drugs,” Lundstrom said.

The risk of arrest and prison is also low for traffickers. In 2016, 994 people were arrested nationwide for trafficking crimes, and 470 were found guilty, according to Lundstrom.

“The odds of ever getting arrested are extremely small, and then if that case makes it to the courtroom, they’ve got a 50 percent chance that they’re not going to be found guilty of trafficking crimes,” Lundstrom said.

One reason human traffickers don’t face frequent convictions is the people directing the criminal enterprise “know how to insulate themselves from the dirty work,” said Jeff Cheney, 9th District Attorney.

“It’s easy to get the Johns, the demanders, if you can catch them. It’s the leaders behind the organization that escape the law,” Cheney said.

Another problem on the prosecution side is whether a jury will believe the victim.

A juror may have questions like, “’Why didn’t she (the victim) leave, why is she a drug user? I don’t understand this victim’s behavior, she’s committing crimes.’ That’s blaming the victim, and when you blame the victim, it causes you reservation as to their credibility as a witness,” Cheney said.

tphippen@postindependent.com


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