COLORADO — In recent weeks, the issue of human trafficking has received renewed attention online with the hashtag #SaveOurChildren in addition to protests held locally.
It’s a crime that’s been going on for years in Colorado, and law enforcement, lawmakers, and local advocacy groups have been working to combat the issue impacting dozens every year.
The Department of Homeland Security defines human trafficking as the use of force, fraud, or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act.
However, the stereotypical image of how trafficking is often portrayed- isn’t the reality for most in Colorado. In a technology driven world, it’s also happening virtually.
What it looks like in Colorado Springs
“People envision kids being hustled into a business, sex trade, labor trade,” Lt. John Koch, Metro, Vice, and Narcotics unit with the Colorado Springs Police Department (CSPD) said. “Generally here we don’t see that.”
Koch says in Colorado Springs, typically trafficking involves higher risk juveniles or adults, becoming involved in prostitution, and then being pimped out.
“Is there awareness? Yeah. Is the right awareness for people looking at it for what it is? I don’t think so,” Koch said.
Lt. Koch says it’s going to take a widespread effort from the community to tackle the issue.
“It’s not just a police matter,” Koch said.
When it comes to the data in Colorado Springs on human trafficking, Koch says it’s not as black and white as other crimes. This makes it difficult to pinpoint how often it’s happening.
In CSPD's case, the unit that investigates human trafficking has a wide array of cases between sex and labor trafficking. Koch says where the investigation stops and starts, is often blurred.
“We may get involved in a tip on trafficking that may lead to someone selling a child for prostitution," Koch said.
When it comes to measuring human trafficking, it's not as direct as a homicide count. "When we start an investigation, it goes so many different ways that it's extremely hard to measure," Koch said.
In 2014, the state established the Colorado Human Trafficking Council. Each year a report is released to breakdown arrests specifically related to human trafficking.
According to the report, in 2019 Colorado Springs reported three arrests for sexual servitude, El Paso County reported one.
A Survivor’s Story
Jaden Davis was 11 years old when she was first trafficked in Colorado. It lasted for seven years.
“I ended up in this situation for a long time,” Davis said. “It kept happening because I would bump in to these people who would do these awful things to me.”
She says it started out by getting involved with the wrong people, she would return home- keeping everything that happened hidden.
“I was naive, I thought oh these men love me and they’re not doing anything wrong,” Davis said.
In many cases, perpetrators of human trafficking will groom victims- making sure they don’t get caught.
“The choices I made were not my choices,” Davis said. “In order to make a choice, you’re in control of your body and I was not in control of my body”.
Afraid to speak up and later battling a drug addiction, she was rescued by someone she knew- something she can only describe as an act of God.
“I genuinely do think my faith is what saved me,” Davis said. “I didn’t know at the time that I had a purpose, I know now that I have a purpose.”
She received help from a few programs, ultimately ending up at Sarah’s Home, a place for sex trafficked girls in El Paso County.
Today, she’s married with a baby boy and passionate about helping other children who end up in situations like hers. One of the accomplishments she’s most proud of through Sarah’s home, is graduating from high school.
A faith-based organization, Sarah’s home provides a program for girls aged 12-18 who have been sex trafficked.
“The emotions when they come in are anger, fear, resentment,” Vicki Proffit, Executive Director of Sarah’s home said. “You never get used to that it’s happening in every neighborhood with every socio-economic group.”
The program, which offers a variety of therapy and education programs for girls, is one of only a few homes in the state.
Proffit adds there needs to be more resources and awareness for all children who have been trafficked.
Proffit says it starts with parental involvement. She says in many cases, perpetrators of human trafficking are luring in victims through popular cell phone apps.
“Children aren’t grabbed, nabbed except on social media and that’s where it’s happening,” Proffit said.
The Human Trafficking Task Force of Southern Colorado, based in Colorado Springs was created in 2008.
Lisa Brandt, who serves as the education awareness chair for the group says more needs to be done at the local level.
“If we don’t have the eyes to see it then it’s not reported and if it’s not reported then it’s not going to be addressed,” Brandt said.
Brandt has held training for school districts in El Paso County- she says getting training to various professionals is one step in the process.
“Most parents aren’t even aware that this is going on,” Brandt said.
The task force also encourages education through various organizations,including A21, a non-profit working to fight human trafficking on a global scale.
CSPD says they’ve also provided training for workers in the motel and business community to spot some of the signs.
The Human Trafficking Task Force meets monthly, for more information visit the following link.Human Trafficking Task Force of Southern Colorado.
For a look at other groups around the state, click here: Human Trafficking Organizations.
While training is done for industries such as trucking, motel workers, physicians, and educators. CSPD and others advocating for survivors say there needs to be more awareness on spotting signs of trafficking.
There are many different signs to look out for, including reference to a boyfriend or girlfriend that is significantly older, and an increase in material items.
For more resources, visit the following links.
Colorado Human Trafficking Council.
To report human trafficking, the National Human Trafficking Hotline is 1 (888) 373-788 you can also text HELP or INFO to 233733.