CEDAR CITY – Tears flowed freely in the Southern Utah University Starlight Room in Cedar City Thursday night as slides showing the progressive deterioration of girls involved in the sex trade over a five-year period flashed across the screen. The room was packed from wall to wall, with standing room only for latecomers, as expert Senior Assistant Attorney General of Colorado Janet Drake presented a small glimpse of human trafficking for slave labor, but mostly focused on trafficking for sex and prostitution.
The hour-and-a-half lecture and discussion was sponsored by the SUU Center for Women and Families and the Canyon Creek Women’s Crisis Center as part of The Michael O. Leavitt Center for Politics & Public Service’s “Politicalpalooza” series, as Director Eric Kirby called it.
Prostitution and sex trafficking
The biggest difference between prostitution and sex trafficking, Drake said, is any of the added elements of force, fraud and coercion. Some women say they have entered into a mutual agreement and like the freedom and the money, she said, but many more are in exploitive relationships with a man who is typically controlling them through the basic necessities of life – shelter, food and clothing – or through physical violence and fear; and sometimes both.
Teenage runaways are the highest targeted group for recruitment, Drake said, and many times they are recruited by another teenage girl who has been in the life for a period of time. Often these girls are noticed by recruiters wandering on their own and offered a meal, then a safe place to sleep, and before they know it they are caught up in a world they never anticipated.
Many of these woman are forced to take up to 40 customers in a day to meet the demands of their “pimp,” Drake said. If they do not meet their quota they are reprimanded through a variety of tactics including withholding of food and shelter and beatings.
In one real-life Colorado case that Drake gave as an example, the “pimp” used a Rottweiler to keep his women in line; and if they would break from the prescribed behavior in any way, he would sic the dog on them. They learned all of this from a juvenile who had been reported as missing. When law enforcement found her, she was committing commercial sex acts. Drake said:
She described that he had a handgun, and he had a Rottweiler in the apartment that he would sic on her to teach her what she needed to do. And she had a notebook that was full of rules; and he told her exactly what to say when somebody called in response to one of the ads; and she had to say the script exactly; and she used to get it confused, because she was high all the time; and so she wrote it down, because she didn’t want to mess it up, because she always was beaten up if she did it wrong.
One out of six chronic runaways are lured into the lifestyle, Drake said. A chronic runaway is defined as a juvenile who has been reported as a runaway four or more times.
Many of the runaways are already running from something troubling in their lives, Drake said, so they tell law enforcement that they are with their boyfriend, or that they are choosing the lifestyle of sex for cash.
During the slideshow including progressive images over a 5-year timespan of women who claimed to have been voluntarily choosing to sell themselves, Drake said the photos were compiled by a colleague of hers to show how drastically these victims of the sex industry age in such a short time.
Each photo was a mug shot, because the women – using the term “women” loosely, because many of them were young girls – had been arrested for their trade. As each new image of the same individual would appear on the slide, the changes were so dramatic that most of them were unrecognizable by the time the final snapshot was revealed.
The results were astonishing.
Four P’s for recovery
There is hope through the “Four P’s,” a system of recovery established by the United Nations, Drake said. The Four P’s stand for prevention, protection, prosecution and partnership, she said, placing the largest emphasis on partnerships.
“Honestly, I think partnership is the most critical,” Drake said. “We cannot fight human trafficking alone.”
Commercial sex operations take place in the middle of sleepy-town communities, on ranches where there are few neighbors to monitor traffic, in apartments and basically anywhere that everyday people live, Drake said. It is important to report any suspected activity, and there are both state and national hotlines to facilitate identification of this specific type of criminal activity.
SUU criminal justice major Maria Voeks said she was shocked to learn so many kids are involved, because in her mind they were always older people.
Her friend Makayla Mortensen said that when she thought about sex trafficking, she envisioned a scenario similar to that in the movie “Taken,” and believed it was mostly something that happened in other countries, not in the United States.
Breaking down these types of media-hyped, sensationalized ideas and getting the reality across to the public was one of the predominant goals of planning the lecture, Kirby said. With the minimal time available for the event the discussion could not cover both sex trafficking and slave labor, he said, but he hopes to plan another human trafficking lecture in the future on indentured servitude that still takes place in the U.S.
Drake’s presentation was the second in an ongoing series of four planned by The Leavitt Center to tackle some of the more difficult topics from immigration reform to the lengths one would go for their freedom. The next “Politicalpalooza” lecture, “The Global Role of Pacific Islanders,” will be held at noon on Thursday in the Sharwan Smith Student Center Living Room.
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- Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault | 801-200-3443
- National Human Trafficking Resource Center | 1-888-373-7888
- Operation Underground Railroad:
- Text alerts | Text “Update” to 51555
- Canyon Creek Women’s Crisis Center | Rape & Sexual Assault Hotline | (435) 867-6149
- SUU Center for Women and Families | (435) 865-8752
- Attorney General Sean Reyes urges legislation to prevent online sex trafficking of youth – 2014
- So. Utah journalist goes undercover: 123 rescued, including 55 children, 15 perps apprehended in sex trafficking operation – 2014
- St. George Police Chief discusses crime, collisions, drugs, gangs, prostitution – 2014
- Convicted sex offender arrested for sexual abuse of 6-year-old girl
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