Van Beek: Trafficking takes many forms, all cruel
This series is presented in three parts. Part I focused on child sexual exploitation through incest. Part II was about online predators. This part of the series is human trafficking.
Child sexual exploitation is a highly sensitive topic and should be discussed in families. Children don’t always understand what’s happening to them and while it is not common in Eagle County, if it only happens to only one child, that is one child too many.
Oftentimes, predators are hidden in plain sight because as a small community, we give people the benefit of the doubt and may ignore signs of danger. It is within that comfort zone that dangerous deviants will prey.
Lately, we have seen a rise in child sexual exploitation cases in Eagle County. It’s important that we all become vigilant in protecting our most vulnerable. These children live in constant fear. Their time of innocence is replaced by pain, grief, and life-altering trauma.
Human trafficking involves people of all ages and genders, but it primarily affects young women and children. The danger is not limited to foreign countries; it occurs here in Colorado. The initial circumstances range from direct abduction, to blackmail, to serve as payment for debts to gangs, to pay off illegal transport to the United States, to drug addicts working for their next hit, to runaways seeking protection, and often it involves those we described in earlier segments of this series (online predators and incest/sexual abuse from trusted sources).
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According to the FBI, not only is human sex trafficking slavery but it is also big business and has become much more organized and violent.
What is human trafficking? Human trafficking is forced slavery. Those who are trafficked are often abducted, drugged, locked up, beaten and starved, as they are required to work extended hours every single day, in areas of dangerous or illegal activity, but most commonly they are sold in the sex trade.
Targets: While young girls and women are the primary targets, boys are also victims. The younger the victim, the easier to convince and control. New intimate partners may have ulterior motives. It is estimated that over half the victims are under the age of 18. They are generally transported to areas where they are unlikely to be recognized.
How: Control is maintained through promises of a better life or securing legal status, torture and violence, forced drug addiction, threats against family, blackmail, coercion through guilt (like their circumstances are their fault), and isolation from anyone they know, using shame and threats, removal of identification like their driver’s license or passport. They will often withhold basic needs and substances such as food, shelter and health services.
They can be sold as property for prostitution, farm labor, housekeeping, sweatshops, panhandling, or even forced marriage. The FBI notes that rescue can be even more difficult for those in captivity for extended periods of time, as they may begin to suffer from Stockholm Syndrome, where they feel an attachment to their captors, who have been their sole source of contact and support, and have established a bond of control.
Signs: Oftentimes, a trafficked person often shows signs of physical abuse, is disoriented (doesn’t know their address, where they are, or even what day it is), is anxious, avoids eye contact, tends to be significantly underweight, has no personal possessions, and is never left alone.
Who: The FBI states that traffickers represent every social, ethnic, and racial group. Some perpetrators are involved with local or national street and motorcycle gangs, others are members of larger nationwide criminal organizations, and some operate independently, having no affiliation with any one group or organization. Traffickers are not only men; women run many established rings.
Task Force: In 2000, Congress passed the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, establishing the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons in October 2001. Enforcement is through U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Human Smuggling and Trafficking Unit, as much of the trafficking occurs across state lines and national boundaries.
In July 2004, the Human Smuggling Trafficking Center was created. The center serves as a fusion center for information on human smuggling and trafficking, bringing together analysts, officers, and investigators from such agencies including the CIA, FBI, ICE, Department of State, and Department of Homeland Security.
In April of 2022, our state established the Colorado Human Trafficking Council, which meets on the fourth Friday of each month (except in November and December). The council provides training and works on legislation. The council has 35 seats, with some members appointed by the Governor and others appointed by Executive Directors of state agencies.
Colorado Organization for Victim Assistance’s Human Trafficking Program Survivor Support Services, provides referrals and case management services to eligible victims of both labor and sex trafficking in Colorado. Case managers can work with survivors who have recently left a trafficking situation to identify goals and connect to supportive resources to restore self-sufficiency, safety, and autonomy.
There are over 800 members throughout Colorado dedicated to victim rescue and assistance. For more information at 303-861-1160 or email HumanTrafficking@ColoradoCrimeVictims.org
Results: In June 2003, the FBI, in conjunction with the Department of Justice Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section, along with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, launched the Innocence Lost National Initiative to address the growing problem of domestic sex trafficking of children in the United States. The initiative has successfully rescued nearly 900 children and convicted over 500 predators. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, these convictions have resulted in lengthy sentences, including multiple 25-year-to-life sentences, plus the seizure of real property, vehicles and monetary assets.
Contacts: For immediate response, call 911.
Eagle County Sheriff’s Office: 970-328-8500.
The National Human Trafficking Resource Center’s Hotline: 888-373-7888.
You can also text for HELP: BeFree (233733).
Colorado’s Human Trafficking Hotline (including shelter): 866-455-5075 or text: 720-999-9724.
Colorado Crisis Services (mental health emergencies): 844-493-8255.
Colorado Division of Criminal Justice on Human Trafficking: 303-239-4454 or https://ThisisHumanTrafficking.com.
James van Beek is the Eagle County Sheriff. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.