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Community Spotlight: Human Trafficking—Is Your Child in Danger?

on June 5 | in Community Spotlight, Issue 7 | by | with No Comments

Human trafficking in Colorado:
This isn’t a world away…. It’s here and can happen to your child.

body rub signWhen driving around your neighborhood, take a closer, more critical look at what you see in the farm fields or what businesses are in that local mini mall.

Human trafficking is in Colorado and could be right up the street from you, hidden in plain sight.

Conservative approximations suggest 600,000 to 800,000 people worldwide are trafficked annually for labor or sex. Human trafficking is the fastest growing criminal industry in the world, generating at least $30 billion every year…and it’s right here, in Colorado.

young prostitutes-WEG SpotlightThe National Human Trafficking Resource Center says sex trafficking is defined as minors under 18 induced into commercial sex or adults induced into commercial sex via force, fraud, or coercion.

The same source defines labor trafficking as children and adults induced to perform labor or services through force, fraud, or coercion.

The Polaris Project, a nationally recognized leading authority in trafficking, noted that in 2013, Colorado was #20 of all states in the highest number of calls to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center.

Sex trafficking can take the form of fake massage businesses, residential brothels, street prostitution, hostess and strip clubs, escort services, and truck stop work. In March of this year, Colorado Springs police busted a trio of women and charged them with felony pimping and human trafficking. According to court records, the women were “Mamasans” who ran spas and massage parlors in Colorado Springs and Pueblo. They would reportedly pay a “broker” $200 to bring them prostitutes flown to the Denver International and Colorado Springs airports.

Labor trafficking takes the form of an agricultural or domestic work, including restaurants and food service jobs, factories, peddling and begging rings, hotels, or hospitality work.

sheepherder-WEG SpotlightA report by the Colorado Legal Services Migrant Farmer Worker Division shows that sheepherders in the state are victims of labor trafficking.  One worker lucky enough to escape told authorities, “Finally there came a point when I couldn’t continue to put up with the terrible working conditions and mistreatment. So I decided to leave. I took care of all the animals, and I walked toward the highway. It took several hours to reach the highway but once I got there, I got a ride from a passing car. The driver took me to Denver.”

the average weekly income for a pimp in Denver between 2005 and 2011 was $31,200.

Victim demographics from Polaris show that 76 percent of victims from all their cases in 2013 are females and 31 percent are minors.

Colorado trafficking is very lucrative. One statistic shows that the average weekly income for a pimp in Denver between 2005 and 2011 was $31,200.

STOP Violence against women

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and the U.S. Department of Justice state that somewhere between 100,000 and 300,000 children or trafficked or at risk of being trafficked for commercial sex annually. (In 2010, NCMEC estimated that 100,000 children are commercially sold for sex in the U.S. annually, while the U.S. DOJ estimates that 300,000 children are vulnerable.) This means that since April 16, when 230 schoolgirls were abducted in Nigeria, there have been an estimated 274 to 822 American children sold commercially for sex each day.

Women Engaging Globally

Alice being honored

Alice Borodkin being honored for her activism with Women Engaging Globally

Women Engaging Globally was founded in Denver in 2012 by Alice Borodkin.   Her name is likely familiar, as she served in the Colorado House of Representatives for eight years before being term limited in 2009. Borodkin is a graduate and Flemming Fellow of the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Policy Alternatives and a graduate of the Center for Women Policy Studies Foreign Policy Institute and their Women, Peace and Security Program (which is now an action plan and Executive Order from President Obama).

Borodkin was also the first legislator to bring a bill that totally focused on Human Trafficking. She is the founder and past editor/publisher of Women’s Business Chronicle, a newspaper for and about business for professional women.

Women Engaging Globally is a unique forum featuring discussions about human trafficking, violence against women, reproductive health, peace, and security.

The group and its fight against local human trafficking is a natural extension of her work at the state capitol.  “I carried a lot of bills in the legislature that have to do with women. I was the first woman to ever bring a bill focused on human trafficking. I created a task force to see if it was here in 2005. Once the report came out, the reality of this in our backyard became clear.”

Women Engaging Globally has monthly Colorado town hall meetings as well as a very active social media presence on Facebook and It also closely monitors what’s happening in the state legislature. Borodkin has been closely watching House Bill 1273 this year as it moved to passage. The bill defines human trafficking to match federal and other state guidelines, establishes a Rape Shield Act protection for victims, repeals defense options for offenders such as the minor consented to involvement, and makes sex trafficking of minors classified as a sex offense against a child. It also compels the Colorado Human Trafficking Council to study the problem and make further recommendations to the legislature.

People do not realize that when I say your kids are in jeopardy, they are.

Borodkin says she’s seen evidence of trafficking just up the street from her home. “It’s here and it’s very common,” she says. “People do not realize that when I say your kids are in jeopardy, they are. Foster kids, kids not happy at home, they get picked up. Traffickers compliment them, and boom, they’re gone, working truck stops, working state to state.  Or a fast spa pops up in a neighborhood and they’re working there.”

In Borodkin’s case, she says a spa up the street in a small mall appeared but then disappeared months later, almost certainly a front for trafficking. Borodkin says, “No one knew the massage parlor was a front for human trafficking, including me. It was closed in a sting operation that raided 16 other massage parlors in Denver.”

Why They Need Your Help

Why can’t sex and labor trafficking victims leave? Traffickers spin a complex web of coercion and circumstances to make sure they can’t.  If they’re flown in from overseas with the promise of a legitimate job, all their identification and travel papers will be taken from them. Most victims are isolated from everyone.

Many victims are given money and taken to Black Hawk or Central City and lose it, only to be told they now have to work to pay off the debt. In some cases, they are plied with drugs.  In other cases, the threat is much more direct, being told if they escape, all their family members will be murdered.

Imagine if you were in this situation, knew no one, had no place to go, had no idea what to do, didn’t trust authority, had lost your identity, and were mentally and physically beaten.

This is why the victims still out there today need modern gladiators’ help.

What to Look For

Actively looking and listening in a situation may show you the signs of trafficking. Women Engaging Globally and its partner organizations say these are some of the things to look for in sex trafficking:

  • Women who are never left alone
  • A situation that looks suspicious, perhaps a younger girl with an older man
  • People with no form of identification
  • People together who aren’t interacting in a normal way
  • For young girls in local schools in Colorado, they at first dress simply but suddenly have expensive electronics, nice clothes, and heavy makeup
  • Girls who miss a lot of school with no explanation
  • Very withdrawn behavior
  • A younger girl becomes more distant from family and a male stranger cuts her off from her family and friends

Labor trafficking is harder to pin down, but here are some of the questions you may want to ask any person you may suspect is a trafficking victim:

  • Are you in control of your personal documents? Who is?
  • Were you recruited for one job and are doing another?
  • Has someone asked you to engage in sexual activity in exchange for anything?
  • Have you been asked to do something for pay that you didn’t want to do?
  • Are you in control of your own money?
  • Do you have a debt you cannot pay off?
  • Are you paid for your work? Or are you paid only in tips?
  • Can you leave anytime if you want?
  • Has anyone threatened to harm you/your family if you leave your job?

How You Can Help

manpower and money are the calls to action

Alice Borodkin says manpower and money are the calls to action—as well as a healthy dose of education.  Get involved with Women Engaging Globally, attend the meetup groups, and learn as much as you can about the issue.

You can also lend your support to the Metropolitan State University Human Trafficking Academic Response Team program. So far, fifty-four survivors of human trafficking in Colorado are being served by the program, which seeks to help survivors regain their independence and pursue an education.  Borodkin says, “These girls need mentors, people to look up to. They need good jobs at excellent companies in Colorado to make them economically stable and independent for the long-term.”

Most importantly, be ready to report anything suspicious.  Always have these phone numbers handy: The National Human Trafficking Hotline number is 1-888-373-7888. CoNEHT’s (Colorado Network to End Human Trafficking) is available at 1-866-455-5075. Both contacts are available 24/7.

For more information or to learn how you can better get involved, please contact: Alexis Newton,

Photo Credit: FajitaGate via Compfight cc
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