Human Trafficking – it’s something we avoid talking or even thinking about. As Americans, we often tell ourselves “it’s not our problem”, we say “it only happens to young people overseas, not in the United States”. Many people actually believe this and others turn a blind eye to the reality because they don’t want to imagine this horror happening in their backyard.
Well the ugly truth is that Human Trafficking is an international problem, affecting countries overseas as well as the U.S. Internationally, it’s estimated the 4.5 million people are trapped in forced sexual exploitation at any given time. In the U.S., 3,609 sex trafficking cases were reported in 2013 by The National Human Trafficking Resource Center. That same year in Colorado alone, 60 children as young as 11 were rescued throughout the state, up from 49 the previous year.
Perhaps most disturbing is how profitable selling and exploiting human beings has become. The sad truth is that human trafficking is a lucrative industry. Now considered the fastest growing criminal industry in the world, human trafficking is second only to drug trafficking when it comes to profits in illegal industries. According to the United Nations, in 2010 the total annual revenue for human trafficking was $32 billion.
What is Human Trafficking?
Human Trafficking is a crime against humanity. It is defined as the “recruitment, harboring, transporting or obtaining a person through the use of force, coercion or other means, for the purpose of exploiting them”. Child trafficking, also known as CSEC (Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children), encompasses child sex trafficking, child pornography stripping, escort services, child sex tourism and other related offenses. Victims of this crime are treated as commercial and sexual objects, forced to engage in sexual acts for the profit of a third party.
The issue of CSEC is a shadowy issue in the United States – about which adults are uncomfortable discussing and victims often don’t seek help to protect themselves, either due to fear or misunderstanding. Sometimes these young people simply don’t know they’re victims. They are groomed and coerced for so long that they believe they are acting out of their own free will. But the fact is that children do not have the ability to fully understand their situation, so they are never acting freely in these situations.
There is No Such Thing as a Child Prostitute
The term “child prostitute” has been used time and again to describe young children involved into sex trafficking, but this term is misleading. A child, by law, cannot consent to sexual acts and therefore, does not have a choice in the matter. Whether these children are physically forced, emotionally coerced, or promised money, goods or services for engaging in these acts, it doesn’t matter. The minds of young people are not capable of fully understanding the situation, so cannot consent. The term “child prostitute” is disturbing and also dangerous for young people to hear because it leads them to believe they are not victims.
Many of the children who get involved in sex trafficking are runaways, who have left their homes on their own, often in an effort to escape dysfunction or physical and sexual abuse at home. Others are homeless, impoverished or “thrown away” – asked or told to leave home by their parents for any number of reasons. Children in these situations are targeted by human traffickers because they are vulnerable and easily manipulated. A simple promise of food, clothing or shelter lures them in, then they are manipulated into believing they must repay their debts.
Human Trafficking in Colorado
The problem of Human Trafficking continues to expand all over the world. Many people struggle to believe this actually happens in their own hometown. The Polaris Project rates Colorado as the 4th worst state in the country for human trafficking. Colorado is a prime location for traffickers for many reasons. I-70 and I-25 are easily accessible routes to transport people across the state. Coupled with our proximity to Mexico, Colorado’s I-70 is a heavily traveled route for trafficking rings. Additionally, our agriculture, tourism and international airport bring many temporary visitors to Colorado, providing human traffickers a large transient population to which they can market. Temporary visitors are top consumers of CSEC because it allows a certain level of anonymity when using trafficking services.
Sadly, Denver also has one of the largest populations of youth experiencing homelessness in the country – prime targets for human traffickers. Traffickers take advantage of the vulnerability and desperation of these kids and profit from their misfortune.
Victims of Human Trafficking
The effects of human trafficking on youth can be disastrous. The trauma experienced by survivors increases physical problems, dissociative disorders, anxiety, paranoia, isolation, depression, shame, anger and rage. Survivors have high levels of fear and considerable mental health needs due to the traumatic disruption of their normal psychological development. The U.S. Department of State categorizes the level of trauma experienced by human trafficking survivors as “in the same range as treatment-seeking combat veterans and victims of state-organized torture”.
Excelsior Youth Center and Trafficking Survivors
When youth escape these unfathomable crimes, they are left with extensive trauma often requiring years of treatment services to overcome. Unfortunately many of these survivors are simply placed back into foster care, or even jail, instead of receiving the support they need.
Fortunately, a few treatment centers do exist that are equipped to help these survivors overcome their trauma – Excelsior Youth Center is one of them. We have been working with trauma and trafficked girls for years and our therapists have developed an expertise in the most effective treatment interventions. A considerable challenge for these girls is developing trust – trust that they are out of harm’s way, trust that the people around them will not harm them, and trust in themselves that they have the power to create a different life for themselves. Excelsior created a CSEC cross-disciplinary working group several years ago made up of therapists and behavior coaches to increase our knowledge and expand our treatment strategies for trauma and trafficked girls.
Additionally, Excelsior offers Animal-Assisted Therapy programs, specially designed to serve trauma victims. Our Canine and Equine Therapy programs are two of the most effective treatment strategies we use to help girls overcome trauma. These programs help girls build trust, develop their ability to bond with others, re-stimulate under-developed areas of their brains, and accomplish feats they never thought they could do which gives hope to other parts of their lives.