RBC | Ask someone what comes to mind when you say “human trafficking” and you’ll to get a handful of differing responses. What those answers will likely have in common is the notion our rural Colorado communities are somehow immune. The facts indicate otherwise.
That was the revelation that came to Jim Weber, president of Global Connection International (GCI), as he sat across a table from a family friend who described the trauma of a close relative who had been trafficked in Colorado. That story prompted Weber to turn the focus of his mission—educating and empowering everyday people to engage in the fight to end human trafficking—to the U.S.
What is human trafficking?
“The recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation.” (From the Palermo Protocols)
Who is at risk?
Men, women and children. No one is exempt. There is no single profile for trafficking victims. “Our young people are being groomed and enslaved by traffickers through the use of force, fraud and coercion. Most victims are not kidnapped and held in a locked room, but they are definitely enslaved. Many victims are runaways or have been placed in the foster care system and are sold out of inner-city motels or on street corners; while a growing number of kids (who are still living at home and going to school) are being sold online and out of their own homes in our local gated, upper class communities,” Weber said via email.
Where is this happening?
Worldwide, but also in our own home state, and the problem is increasing. “We need to make sure that our young people who have grown up in relatively safe and tight-knit communities are fully aware of the dangers that they will potentially face as they grow up and leave home to continue their education and explore job markets in ‘big world’ out there.We certainly do not want them to leave home with a false sense of security, or ignorant of the dangers that are out there!” Weber said via email.
What’s driving this crime?
Greed. According to GCI, human trafficking is the fastest growing and second largest criminal enterprise worldwide—$152 billion a year. According to Weber, a “pimp” in the Denver Metro area “makes in excess of $50,000 a week, and often does so by way of three to six victims.”
Increasing awareness can help prevent trafficking
Weber, who has been involved with GCI since 2006 and became president of the organization in 2012, has worked to make the battle against human trafficking the organization’s main focus.
“This has always been a vital part of their mission in Cambodia, but awareness of an ever-escalating problem right here at home in our own backyards, has now caused the organization to make it their top priority,” he wrote. “About five years ago, we started to hear first-hand stories from families and individuals – (many living in some of our most affluent, high-end neighborhoods) about how their children or grandchildren had been victimized by highly organized traffickers via the use of fraud, coercion and violence. As we began following up on these stories and the stories of young people who had been victimized themselves, it became evident that the rescue and restoration process was extremely difficult, terribly costly, and the chances of a victim being found and rescued was only about 1 in 100 to begin with. How much better we thought it would be if we could attack this horrific problem at the front end, and keep it from ever happening in the first place,” Weber states.
Weber, familiar with the vendor trailers present at public venues, came up with the idea to customize a mobile trailer into an educational media exhibit—a traveling billboard—that could be taken to various events and locations and share a message centered on internet safety. The Ford F-350 dually pickup and 44-foot customized display trailer provide a mobile educational experience.
“The trailer exterior has been wrapped with powerful graphics that draw attention to human trafficking in the United States. The interior experience clearly explains the problem by describing the ways traffickers are targeting our kids, outlining major indicators of trafficking activity, and by providing tools to help people respond appropriately when they see those signs in their community,” according to a GCI press release.
“In just our first 27 days of formal set-up at special events, we have exposed over 700,000 people to the campaign plus all those who see the traveling billboard as we go down the highway,” he said via email.
The message is largely about internet security. According to GCI, in 82% of online sex crimes against minors, offenders used the victim’s social media to gain info about their likes and dislikes.
Weber is quick to thank the experts who have helped create the state-of-the-art exhibit. “We are grateful for those who have spent hundreds of collaborative hours evaluating and processing every detail of the exhibit,” said Weber. “This is a very sensitive topic, often driven by a lot of hype and emotion—and we knew that we would only get one chance at a good first impression by the very audience that we are committed to help.”
Law enforcement nationwide and in Colorado is also tackling the problem.
“The FBI Innocence Lost Task Force is doing a very effective job networking with most of the other law enforcement agencies throughout the State to investigate, and follow-through on suspicious activity that looks like it could be related to human trafficking,” Weber said, adding,
“Another key thing that is being done … is a very sophisticated effort on the part of ICE and the Department of Homeland Security using state of the art cyber-security tools to intercept communications and the transfer of funds related to the whole human trafficking industry.”
Thanks to local Rio Blanco County donors, the family-friendly exhibit will be in Meeker on Saturday, April 27 during the 9Health Fair at Meeker Elementary School from 6 a.m. to 12 p.m. and Sunday, April 28 for a community open house at Meeker Public Library from 12:30-3:30 p.m.
Rangely Jr./High School students will have an opportunity to go through the exhibit on Monday, April 29 following an assembly at 11 a.m. On Tuesday, April 30, the trailer will be at Colorado Northwestern Community College until 3 p.m., and at the Rangely Chamber of Commerce for the public from 4-8 p.m.
For more information, or to make a donation to GCI to support the campaign, visit www.gciworld.org, call 303-858-1181, or text the keyword “INFO” to 66866.
To report Human Trafficking Activity, call 1-866-347-2423
To get help, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888 or text HELP or INFO to BeFree (233733)
Special to the Herald Times