January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month, an opportunity to bring attention to this human rights crime that impacts individuals, families, and communities around the world — including in our Colorado communities.
At the Laboratory to Combat Human Trafficking, we’re committed to spreading the truth about this often misunderstood crime. Human trafficking is a severe form of exploitation of another person involving force, fraud, or coercion for labor or sex. It can happen to individuals across identities and industries. Often, human trafficking goes unrecognized or underreported.
Watch the video below to hear from Amanda, Kara, and AJ about the common misconceptions about human trafficking, as portrayed in Hollywood and on social media — and the realities of how this crime shows up in Colorado.
We sat down with our Executive Director and Co-founder Amanda Finger for her perspective on the state of the anti-trafficking movement and where it’s going in 2023. Keep reading for an inside look.
What are 5 facts most people don’t know about human trafficking?
- Human trafficking impacts adults and minors of all genders.
- Human trafficking does not require an international or state border crossing.
- Human trafficking is larger in scope than most people realize. It can occur in any community across the U.S.
- Many survivors of human trafficking had relationships with their traffickers; they weren’t kidnapped and trafficked by a stranger.
- If someone is not paid for their work, is threatened or their loved ones are threatened, or is deceived about the work they would be doing — this could be labor trafficking.
What is the current state of the anti-trafficking movement?
“As we start 2023, sex and labor trafficking in Colorado continues to gain more attention as well as important resources. Calls to our 24/7 Human Trafficking Hotline, statewide investigations and prosecutions, and caseloads reported by legal and social service providers around the state have all seen an increase. As people gain more awareness of how human trafficking occurs, the need for resources will only increase.
As a movement, there are a lot of great efforts that continue to address human trafficking throughout the state — from the Eastern Plains to the Front Range to the Western Slope. From my perspective, we continue to see significant changes in the anti-trafficking response due to the pandemic. Resources continue to shift for systems and service providers. In recent years, the anti-trafficking response has been primarily focused on addressing sex trafficking. Forced labor has long been an issue in Colorado, well-documented among legal and social service providers… it simply has not had a dedicated response from various law enforcement agencies or other systems to investigate and prosecute these perpetrators.”
What are efforts happening in the anti-trafficking response right now?
- RISING EFFORTS AROUND LABOR TRAFFICKING: Some of the rising efforts around labor trafficking were recently highlighted in a joint forum that we participated in with Western Slope Anti-Trafficking (WSAT), Hispanic Affairs Project, Colorado Legal Services, and Towards Justice, among others. This forum highlighted very real challenges that many Western Slope communities and stakeholders face — survivors, farmers, migrant workers, outreach workers, legal and social service providers. The efforts that WSAT is taking to bridge important conversations holds promise as an example for other rural communities, as well as some important insights for potential policy changes in Colorado.
- NEW LEGISLATION PASSED TO SUPPORT INDIGENOUS CITIZENS: Last year, we actively supported legislation that is now signed into law to create a department focused on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Relatives. This department recently hired its first director, and we’re hopeful that proactive steps will be made to demonstrate Colorado’s commitment to indigenous citizens (including a new alert system, which was activated for the first time last week). We continue to partner with Native American communities around the state, including the Four Corners region, Colorado Springs, and Denver Metro Area for anti-trafficking training and discussions around improved services.
- NEXT PHASE OF STATEWIDE HUMAN TRAFFICKING AWARENESS CAMPAIGN: The Governor’s Colorado Human Trafficking Council is poised to enter a new phase of its public awareness raising efforts, as its multi-year campaign ThisIsHumanTrafficking.com shifts to a grassroots model. For 2+ years, the Council worked to actively promote the campaign in public transit, on radio and TV, and in social media ads. Having this kind of attention on human trafficking has created a measurable increase in the general public’s knowledge and understanding of available resources. The next phase of the campaign will be largely focused on non-profit and business partners promoting campaign materials and sharing resources.
What are the biggest challenges you see for this movement in 2023?
“Over the past 18 years, thousands of people have been identified as having experienced potential or actual labor trafficking here in Colorado. Yet our prosecution numbers at the state level do not remotely reflect this reality. Labor trafficking cases are complex — they often involve legal status considerations, and we don’t have units dedicated to investigating labor trafficking like we do for sex trafficking. As our communities continue to recover from the pandemic and the current recession, we need to dedicate resources to informing people about their wage/labor rights and what resources are available, such as Colorado Legal Services, to help them when they aren’t being paid for the work they’ve done.
At the present moment, I see a lot of attention rightly focused on the influx of asylum-seeking individuals in Colorado. People fleeing serious circumstances and uprooting their entire lives to move to a new country have often directly experienced or witnessed grave human rights abuses. When anti-trafficking efforts first began to be coordinated in the U.S., many refugee resettlement agencies were federally funded to support the identification of victims of trafficking. In fact, when a foreign national is identified as being a victim of trafficking, they are entitled to the benefits provided to refugees and asylees. The identification process involves many stakeholders, from law enforcement to legal and social service providers, and the application process for a T-visa (or other form of immigration relief) is steep. Despite the availability of 5,000 T-visas for survivors of human trafficking, only a fraction are granted annually.
What I am hoping with this recent influx of asylum-seekers is that we create safe situations where people have access to clear instructions for applying for asylum (or other visas). We do not want to create room for scrupulous actors to take advantage of the chaos that can be created from large influxes and a lack of clear information. We do not want exploiters to take advantage of a flustered, piecemealed response. Exploiters win when we dehumanize people, as witnessed in the news media and on social media. If we reduce human beings to a political argument, we no longer see people as people. Human trafficking is a crime against an individual human being, not a crime against a border crossing. To prevent human trafficking or to support those who have already survived it, we must see people first as people and not as ‘other’. Dehumanizing or ‘othering’ people is a root cause of human trafficking, and we can work to be conscious of our own language or ability to first learn more.”
What is your hope for the year ahead when it comes to human trafficking?
“I have a lot of hope for 2023! We’re continuing to carve a new normal post-pandemic, and that includes the anti-trafficking movement. Our research for the third iteration of the Colorado Project will identify the strengths of the current human trafficking response and where the gaps are. We’ll work with local leaders and survivors to develop action plan steps that will guide our collective efforts moving forward. It is my hope that we can streamline these action plan recommendations and commit as a movement to work together to fill some important gaps.”
As an individual, how can I be a part of the solution?
“First, read and learn more. Anti-trafficking organizations like ours need volunteers. We seek and train advocates twice yearly for our 24/7 Human Trafficking Hotline. Other organizations need volunteers to assemble care packages for survivors or to help with translation services. If you have a community group interested in learning more, or if you work in the fields of healthcare, child welfare, or criminal justice — we’d love to connect on how to grow your knowledge. Individuals also power nonprofits with donations — money, time, and talent.”
This year at the Laboratory to Combat Human Trafficking, we are committed to advancing progress in the anti-trafficking movement. We’ll do this through anti-trafficking training, community-based research, operating Colorado’s 24/7 Human Trafficking Hotline, and developing future human rights leaders. We’re looking towards a future without exploitation — one where survivors are supported, human trafficking no longer exists, and our communities are safer. Join us!
How to Help End Human Trafficking:
- LEARN MORE. Read about the common human trafficking myths & misconceptions and how this crime shows up in Colorado.
- VOLUNTEER. Support Colorado’s 24/7 Human Trafficking Hotline by fielding texts & calls and connecting individuals with the resources they need.
- INTERN WITH US. Participate in our Leadership Development Program to gain experience in human rights, advocacy, management, fundraising, research, and more.
- GET TRAINED. Prepare your team to identify and respond to the signs of human trafficking in your workplace with a training session or series.
- DONATE. Your donation will strengthen anti-trafficking efforts in Colorado — and beyond. Make a life-changing difference for survivors!
- SPREAD THE WORD. Forward this blog post to someone you know! Spread awareness about this important human rights issue.