Human trafficking is defined as any “severe form of exploitation of another person involving force, fraud, or coercion”. Those last three words, “force, fraud and coercion” are perhaps the most important components of the definition, but can also be the most difficult to discern.
When it comes to youth specifically, recognizing force, fraud or coercion is essential in identifying trafficking victims, but it can also be challenging. Often these young people don’t identify as victims. They have been groomed and manipulated into believing they deserve what’s happening to them, or that it’s necessary for survival, or that they’re doing it for love or on their own free will.
Still, the one thing that ALWAYS makes it a case of human trafficking, whether or not the youth identifies as a victim, is if they are under the age of 18. Legally these youth are not old enough to consent.
Take for example, Michelle*, a former client of Excelsior who was rescued from a large trafficking ring in Aurora, CO. It took weeks for Michelle to accept any help from her therapists because she didn’t understand the tragic situation she had been manipulated into. She considered herself a “girlfriend” of one of the pimps in the trafficking ring, and prostitution was simply her means to earn money, contribute and survive. But Michelle was only 16 so she could not legally consent.
Fortunately, after weeks of hard work with a therapist, Michelle recognized she was being manipulated. Later, she told us “a light bulb just went off in my head. I never knew he was using me like that”.
Human Trafficking in Colorado
If you tend to think that human trafficking is only a problem elsewhere, think again. The unfortunate reality is that it is an international problem, affecting every country and every state, including Colorado.
Sadly, Colorado’s political, socioeconomic, and geographic landscapes create an environment in which labor and sex trafficking can thrive. An abundance of risk factors in our state provide opportunities for these crimes including the presence of substantial agricultural and tourist economies that rely on low-cost labor and attract temporary visitors (top consumers of sex trafficking), and one of the largest populations of homeless youth in the U.S.
Homeless youth are a particularly susceptible population for sex trafficking as they are targeted due to their vulnerability and desperation for help. A simple promise of food, clothing and shelter can be enough to lure them in.
Along the same lines, youth involved in the child welfare system are also incredibly vulnerable as they are often desperate for a feeling of belongingness. Extensive evidence suggests that children in the foster care system specifically, are overwhelmingly at greater risk of being trafficked than those children who are not. Human traffickers prey upon their desperation for inclusion and innocence to manipulate children into exploitative situations.
Despite the risk factors and prevalence of this crime in our state, there is currently no system-wide anti-trafficking training for Colorado’s child welfare system. Fortunately, one Denver-based nonprofit organization is determined to change this.
The Laboratory to Combat Human Trafficking (LCHT) has an ambitious vision – the end of human trafficking. Through training, education, leadership development and research, the LCHT works toward this vision by informing social change that eliminates human exploitation.
The LCHT and Excelsior – Partnering to Elevate Communities
When LCHT recognized that Colorado’s child welfare system was lacking a system-wide anti-trafficking training, they made this one of their priorities. They are determined to give child welfare providers, like Child Placement Agencies (CPAs), foster care families and court appointed special advocates (CASAs), the tools and resources needed to identify and treat survivors of this tragic crime.
To develop this training, LCHT already had a strong foundation in place. LCHT has been providing similar trainings to healthcare providers, like doctors and nurses, for years. These trainings are focused on helping providers identify and support survivors that they encounter in their everyday work. Professionals learn things like how to recognize or investigate whether an individual is being trafficked – specifically whether force, fraud and coercion is at play; and they learn the many pathways that can lead an individual to become a victim – like kidnapping, peer recruitment, false promises and even relationships.
This comprehensive training has been incredibly beneficial for healthcare providers, but to develop a training for the child welfare system, LCHT needed a partner with clinical expertise. Providers in the child welfare system need to be able to not only identify trafficking victims, but also must know how to provide trauma-informed care to help these survivors throughout their recoveries.
This is where Excelsior comes in. After having worked together for years, the LCHT knows that Excelsior’s has proven expertise and decades of experience in providing trauma-informed care to survivors of trafficking. As such, the LCHT approached Excelsior to collaboratively develop a trauma-informed anti-trafficking training for child welfare providers.
The trauma that human trafficking survivors endure is severe. In fact, it has been categorized by the U.S. Department of State as “in the same range as treatment-seeking combat veterans and victims of state-organized torture”. As such, to effectively treat survivors of human trafficking, we must provide evidence-based therapeutic interventions that are tailored to support this population.
The Anti-Trafficking Training Project
With input from the Colorado Department of Human Services, Excelsior and LCHT are developing a comprehensive anti-trafficking curriculum with a special focus on treatment considerations to address the special needs of CSEC (commercial sexual exploitation of children) survivors.
The Goals of this Training
- Develop and deliver a Colorado-focused, survivor-informed, training curriculum for case managers, child placement agencies, and foster parents to identify and appropriately refer victims of human trafficking
- Increase capacity to identify victims of human trafficking
- Increase access to institutional and community resources to support victims of human trafficking
This training program will address a critical gap within the child welfare system in Colorado and support at-risk youth who are most vulnerable to the crime of human trafficking.
The Training Plan for Ultimate Impact
Together, LCHT and Excelsior want to share this knowledge with as many agencies and individuals as possible in order to foster a community that is collaboratively focused on preventing and ending human trafficking.
As such, the finalized training will specifically target Excelsior staff and case managers, our child placement agency (CPA) partners, and the foster parents we serve. Using a train-the-trainer model, Excelsior’s staff will undergo training with the intention of providing this training to our CPA partners and the foster parents we serve, as well as continuing to train our staff internally as needed.
This strategy will significantly improve access and availability of resources to foster care children who have fallen into the cycle of exploitation in Colorado in two ways – by training partners on how to recognize and identify signs of trafficking; and providing comprehensive, trauma-informed, and survivor-centered care for them.
All in all, this training helps our therapists, our partners, and our communities at large, better learn how to identify victims, how to implement the most therapeutic responses to help survivors heal, and how to help prevent future victims by educating and protecting vulnerable youth. Ending human trafficking takes all of us – from the state and community level, all the way to the individual level of those at risk.