A Brief History of Colorado’s Human Trafficking Council
As a quick summary, the Colorado Human Trafficking Council was written into HB14-1273, which made sweeping changes to Colorado state laws on human trafficking. Much of HB14-1273, sponsored by former Representative Beth McCann (now Denver’s District Attorney), followed recommendations set forth in the Uniform Act on Prevention of and Remedies for Human Trafficking prepared by the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws at its annual conference in 2013. Governor-established state councils were a key recommendation in the model law, and Colorado became the first state in the 2014 Legislative session to implement this provision (though several other states around the country certainly have statewide councils, most not originating at the request of a governor). The Council’s membership was prescriptive (with a few additions in the intervening years) to fulfill eight mandates and report annually to the State Senate and House Judiciary Committees every January. The Council was established for four years, currently scheduled to sunset in 2019. There are efforts to extend the Council beyond 2019 already underway.
When I first began serving on the Council in 2014, the anti-trafficking landscape looked very different in our state compared to that of today. LCHT and 40+ partners had just wrapped up the three-year Colorado Project study; some of the policy recommendations from the Colorado Project were included in HB14-1273 and we were part of the numerous stakeholder meetings organized by the Denver Anti-Trafficking Alliance to help inform HB14-1273. The appointment of a council from the highest political office in the state was an important signal to Colorado communities that addressing human trafficking was a priority. At LCHT, we observed a shift toward state-organized efforts versus Federal directives or grassroots movement building.
Highlighting Labor Trafficking
The Council’s annual reports provide a good reflection on the work of a multidisciplinary partnership over the course of a calendar year. Three reports have now been published and are compilations of thoughtful deliberations from several perspectives. The 2017 Annual Report highlights efforts of the broader Council (versus task force work) to bring greater awareness and understanding of labor trafficking to the forefront. As sex trafficking continues to be the dominant narrative around human trafficking, Council leadership created multiple avenues to learn about labor exploitation – from voices of survivors to attorneys to community service providers. While these efforts were more focused on knowledge building, I’m hopeful that the 2018 work of the newly established Labor Trafficking Task Force will bring much-needed recommendations for action in Colorado.
Colorado Prosecution Data Findings
Also of note from the 2017 report are the findings of the Data & Research Task Force, on which LCHT served. The main focus from this task force was the conclusion of a two-year study of prosecution activities throughout the state. A total of 97 cases between 2014 and 2016 have been filed under state statutes related to trafficking; the vast majority of which involved sex trafficking. While the report shares the full findings from the interviews and surveys, there is a trend toward a racial disparity between those who are charged and those who are convicted of human trafficking (pg. 55). Coupled with an average prison sentence of 48.9 years, we must be absolutely diligent not to repeat a national trend where men of color are disproportionately criminalized. As local district attorneys and the Attorney General’s Office in Colorado continue to increase prosecution efforts, which we applaud, we have an opportunity to critically assess and thereby intervene early to correct any potential systemic biases.
As the Colorado Human Trafficking Council begins its fourth year of fulfilling its legislated mandates, we encourage our networks and partners to follow and engage with its work. The Council is strengthened by the many voices of our state – both supportive and critical – so that deliberated recommendations can better inform both top-down and bottom-up, grassroots solutions.