In 2010, then President Barack Obama made a White House proclamation. In it he said, “During National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, we rededicate ourselves to preventing and ending human trafficking, and we recognize all who continue to fight this serious human rights violation.”
President Obama went on to detail the global travesty that is human trafficking, calling on the world to stand firm in defense of freedom, and bear witness for those exploited by human trafficking. He recognized that while every country is making strides, we must continue to do the work of “prosecuting traffickers and dismantling their criminal networks, and protecting victims and survivors…and empower survivors to reclaim their rightful freedom.”
President Obama was right to bring a renewed focus on this crime. Human Trafficking is a complex, often hidden crime, that takes many forms.
In 2014 lawmakers approved House Bill 1273 to redefine Colorado’s laws on human trafficking, to better align with federal law. It is at this time that the state’s Human Trafficking Council was established and tasked with a multitude of legislative mandates, one of which was the launch a statewide campaign.
The goal of the campaign is to educate the people of Colorado about all types of human trafficking including labor trafficking that is often overlooked. Labor trafficking can mean domestic servitude, agricultural work, factory work, restaurant work, or any type of forced labor with little or no pay. Sex trafficking is compelled sex work. There is no one type of victim; men, women and children are all vulnerable.
The state’s campaign aims to dispel misperceptions and show various types of human trafficking, spanning multiple industries, and situations. Using lived experiences that are composite narratives from true life, the campaign is survivor-informed, sensitive to those who have experienced trauma, and protects the identities of victims and survivors.
The Statewide Campaign: Lived Experiences of Human Trafficking
These are short synopses of the lived experiences from the awareness campaign. For the full narratives, visit the website at ThisIsHumanTrafficking.com.
Luke is a young man who needed a place to stay, and wanted to be with people who were more like him.
Luke was trafficked for sex. His experience dispels the misperception that human trafficking only happens to women. Anyone, no matter their gender or how they identify, can be lied to and coerced by traffickers who exploit any vulnerability.
Antonio came to the United States legally to work, he wanted an opportunity to make money to send back to his family. Antonio was manipulated by a recruiter and coerced into a large restaurant trafficking ring. His experience dispels the misperception that labor trafficking victims are in the U.S. working illegally.
Brian wanted a job and a group he could belong to. He took a job selling door-to-door. He never got paid and was threatened and abused. Brian’s experience dispels the misperception that traveling salespeople who come to your door have a legitimate job, are being paid, and are treated according to law.
Daniela fell in love with a man from the US she met online. He offered to bring her and her two daughters to Colorado from Venezuela with promises of a job, a home, security, and marriage. Instead, he forced them all to work long hours, he never paid them, and he held all their identification so they could not escape. This dispels the misperception that someone can “just leave”.
Elena was a young woman whose boyfriend trafficked her for sex. She believed he loved her and that they were going to save up money and move to California together. This experience dispels the misperception that girls who are trafficked for sex are “snatched” off the street by a stranger.
James took a job on his cousin’s farm, bringing his wife and son with him. They were put to work, working long hours, but were never paid. They were provided poor living conditions and were threatened by their trafficker—a relative. James’ experience dispels the misperception that a family member could not also be a trafficker.
These types of lived experiences only touch the surface, but they do an excellent job of giving all of us a tangible picture of what human trafficking is. They show the different ways it can look, the different people and industries it can touch, and how truly horrific the crime is—ruining lives and taking away basic human rights and dignities.
The public plays a role in learning more about and reporting this hidden crime. You can educate yourself and learn more at ThisIsHumanTrafficing.com. Mostly, you can be aware and report suspicious circumstances. Resources are available to help potential victims access services for needs addressing housing, food instability, substance use, mental health, legal services and more.
Let’s remember our nation’s commitment to end human trafficking and do our part as a community and a country to bring traffickers to justice and to protect and empower victims and survivors.
If you suspect human trafficking is happening to you or someone else, call Colorado’s Human Trafficking Hotline at 866-455-5075 or text 720-999-9724.