Human Trafficking Blog

Advocating for Change in Colorado’s Response to Human Trafficking

“The anti-human trafficking movement needs evidence to inform not only policy but also service delivery—so that we can stop guessing and start utilizing sustainable, survivor-informed practices to serve our most vulnerable community members.” – Kara Napolitano, LCHT Research and Training Manager

Research-driven insight is a core value of the Laboratory to Combat Human Trafficking, but our mission doesn’t end there. Ending human trafficking in Colorado demands more than research alone. We must be able to translate those insights to actions, options, interventions, and change mechanisms that will help us combat human exploitation. LCHT has always conducted community-based research with the intended purpose of returning the findings and recommendations to our communities. In recent years, we have considered more ways that we can continue to inform social change.

Policy advocacy is one crucial next step.

Why is policy advocacy important for LCHT’s mission and the overall anti-trafficking movement?

While many solutions to human rights issues offer temporary fixes, LCHT’s research aims to address systemic challenges. By connecting with and educating policymakers, we can draw on our extensive research to support thoughtful, effective legislation protecting the groups that need it most.

Quote from Jack Wylie on policy advocacy against human trafficking

“Policymakers are people too, and they need help from experts to become educated and make decisions on complex issues like human trafficking,” says LCHT Board Member Jack Wylie. “Policymakers have limited time and resources, and they rely on advocates to decide what issues are important, to gather accurate information, and to formulate solutions. Advocacy is important because it’s the best way to influence decision-makers to take action and the only way to make sure they take the correct action.”

What has advocacy looked like for LCHT in the past?

Over nearly two decades, our team has examined and recommended changes to state human trafficking laws through various task forces. We’ve testified or responded to proposed legislation during legislative sessions, provided data to lawmakers when requested, and built awareness about human trafficking among community leaders and decision makers across Colorado. In 2017, our staff and Board declared a desired goal for advocacy to become an even more significant focus of our efforts. We subsequently established a Board-level committee to direct LCHT’s broad advocacy efforts, specifically focused on policy to end human trafficking.

Quote from Amanda Finger on policy advocacy against human trafficking

“I’ve been fortunate to work closely with various board members with different experiences and backgrounds—prosecution, lobbying, academia, research, government, and more,” explains Amanda Finger, Co-founder and Executive Director of LCHT. “Together, we are setting a path forward to understand where LCHT can be most helpful in supporting legislation that impacts human trafficking.”

“We want to be able to share important data and findings from our research with those in decision-making roles. We want to be able to shed light on potential unintended consequences of a given bill, including recognizing whose voices may not be at the proverbial—or literal table to critically inform legislation.”

Ten years ago, many of Colorado’s anti-trafficking leaders were testifying to improve state laws around human trafficking, including establishing a Governor-appointed council to consistently monitor the state’s response to human trafficking. LCHT has served on the Council, contributing learnings from hotline calls, partnerships, and research on human trafficking in Colorado. Fast forward to today, and several bills aim to assist survivors or to give prosecutors more tools to hold perpetrators accountable.

In 2022 and 2023, LCHT’s policy work to end human trafficking was reflected in our support of the legislation that created the state Office of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Relatives. “Through our years of managing the Colorado Human Trafficking Hotline, research in our Colorado communities, and conversations with practitioners and survivors, we see direct links between vulnerabilities to violence committed against Native Americans and human trafficking,” Amanda explains. “We supported the establishment of a statewide office to prioritize victims and their families and improve a patchwork response from law enforcement agencies.”

What will LCHT’s advocacy efforts look like in 2024?

LCHT’s advocacy efforts continue to expand with staff members increasing their time testifying and educating before the legislature. We also participated in the Legislative Task Force (2022) for the Governor’s Colorado Human Trafficking Council, reviewing previous legislative recommendations made by the Council that still have yet to be acted upon, as well as other initiatives around the U.S. that Colorado could consider. We will continue to monitor the bills put before policymakers, lend our expertise, and provide a position on legislation that aligns with our research-backed suggestions.

The Colorado Project 2023 Report and Action Plan

In 2024, LCHT’s advocacy efforts are closely aligned with the key recommendations outlined in The Colorado Project 2023 Action Plan. They include:

  1. Prioritize the inclusion of survivor leaders and grassroots organizations that are reflective of underrepresented groups within the community to elevate prevention efforts.
  2. Require evidence-based training for anti-trafficking partnerships to better identify tracking experiences for the populations they serve.
  3. Encourage anti-trafficking partnerships to identify at least one specific goal related to their core mission and plan at least two annual activities to achieve this goal.
  4. Promote networking between partnerships to share expertise, experiences, and goals.
  5. Prioritize housing to protect vulnerable populations.

With those critical areas identified, we recruit practitioners, survivors, and researchers to serve on advisory committees and lend their perspectives to distill all our data into Action Plan recommendations for the anti-trafficking movement throughout the state. This approach allows us to voice data-driven, research-backed recommendations from qualified experts.

Protestors with a sign reading, No More Stolen Sisters

Photo Credit: Missing & Murdered Indigenous Relatives Task Force of Colorado

What bills is LCHT watching during Colorado’s 2024 legislative session?

For the current legislative session, there have been a few bills introduced around human trafficking, and we have been watching two bills in particular that would extend statutes of limitations for victims. It is a common situation where people are not ready or not safe enough to pursue civil remedies or participate in a criminal prosecution against their perpetrator. Colorado Senate Concurrent Resolution 24-001 proposes an amendment to the Colorado Consitution to empower victims of childhood sexual abuse by creating a pathway to bring civil claims at any time, regardless of when the abuse occurred. If passed by the Legislature, voters would ultimately decide if the amendment should be adopted in the November election. LCHT added its name as a supporter of this bill to Justice For Abused Children.

SB24-035 proposes to extend the statute of limitations for adult victims of sex or labor trafficking. Currently, an adult victim has three years to come forward following one’s experience around human trafficking to pursue a criminal case. This bill would increase the statute of limitations for labor human trafficking of an adult or minor and sex trafficking of an adult to 20 years (There is an unlimited statute of limitations for human trafficking for sexual servitude of a minor). SB24-035, as introduced, also proposes to classify Colorado’s human trafficking laws as “crimes of violence,” which would require mandatory sentences for those convicted of human trafficking. Survivor leaders, advocates, and public defenders are expressing concerns as to whether victims of human trafficking could also be subjected to these extra penalties, especially if they were forced to commit crimes during their trafficking experience.

LCHT believes that voices of lived experience experts are vital to this movement and often overlooked, dismissed or worse—retaliation of any kind against survivors who may disagree with sponsors or content of bills is unacceptable. While the intentions of this bill are to hold perpetrators accountable, the negative externalities are not yet sufficiently addressed in the bill.

Finally, a bill was recently introduced to continue the Colorado Human Trafficking Council. LCHT supports this bill as introduced, and more information can be found on the Colorado General Assembly’s website.

Amanda Finger of LCHT involved in policy advocacy against human trafficking

Amanda Finger testifies in support of Colorado Senate Bill SB 22-150 to establish an Office of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Relatives (MMIR). Photo Credit: The Office of Colorado State Senator Jessie Danielson

In what ways do LCHT’s core values guide the organization’s approach to policy advocacy to end human trafficking?

Human trafficking is not typically a singular “event” but rather many events compounded over time. It takes time for survivors to sort through these complexities and heal. Increasing the window of time in which someone has to consider if bringing a criminal or civil claim against one’s perpetrator is what they want is a positive step toward helping victims regain the power to determine their own future. Both SCR24-001 and SB24-035 propose to increase avenues for justice—if that’s the path a survivor wants to pursue. Survivor leaders and others in this movement are expressing fear that enhanced sentencing with a “crime of violence” classification should absolutely be considered. Human trafficking is nuanced, and those forced to commit crimes by their perpetrator could be now punished by the criminal justice system more severely.

LCHT’s perspective is to advance a research-informed, human rights-based approach—with inclusive voices and an anti-human trafficking lens—toward any potential solution. Policy advocacy is an essential step in our work toward ending human trafficking. By sharing the results of our research and educating those in positions to create change, we can promote positive outcomes for survivors and help aid prevention efforts.

Join us in our mission to combat human trafficking. Learn more about our advocacy efforts and how you can get involved.