Human trafficking in Utah growing by the numbers
A worldwide business bringing in $43 billion a year trafficking humans is closer to Utah than most residents realize.
Peace and Justice Studies, joined by the Honor society and Phi Theta Kappa hosted “Slavery in Utah: Human Trafficking” on Dec. 2 in hopes of raising local awareness.
Human trafficking is the buying and selling of people.
“Most people associate this with just sex,” said Jacque Baumer, a student of Peace and Justice Studies and coordinator of the event. “But it’s more than that, it is also labor and domestic slavery and it happens in Utah all the time.”
The panel included: Brad Manuel, executive director of Operation 61; Lindsay Hadley, executive director of Child Rescue; Gina Bellzatine, program coordinator of Victims Services-Utah Health and Human Rights; Detective Rob Woodbury, Utah State Trafficking Task Force; and Virginia Sudbury, state human trafficking attorney.
“It’s happening in the playground, in peaceful neighborhoods, in malls and at school,” Baumer said. “The main targets are children in elementary and junior high schools, as well as men and women of all ages.”
According to Baumer, there are about 300,000 American children and youth in the world who are at risk for sexual exploitation and sex trafficking every year, making up 50 percent of the victims in the world.
“Trafficking victims come from a range of backgrounds and many may come from middle and upper class families,” Sudbury said.
Since trafficking victims can be rich or poor, man or woman, child or adult, foreign or local, according to the panel, anyone is at risk of being trafficked.
“However, traffickers prey most often on individuals who are vulnerable in some way because they are easier to coerce and control,” Woodbury said. “Most vulnerable individuals include undocumented immigrants, runaways, at-risk youth, and oppressed or marginalized groups.”
Woodbury also said that while human trafficking occurs in illegal and underground markets, it also happens in legal settings such as nail salons, restaurants, large fancy hotels and even in private homes. Nonetheless, shopping malls ranked among the top.
The number one destination in the world of sexual exploitation, according to the panel, is the United States. The average age of exploited victims is 13.
“The reason is because we in America tend to believe that we live in a perfect society,” Sudbury said. “We can’t wait until tomorrow or the next day to bring awareness, do something about this, the time is now.”
All members of the panel asked and challenged every member of the audience to go out and build awareness by using their individual talents.
“Watch and observe; pay attention to the subtle signs of something out of the ordinary,” Sudbury said.
The solution, according to Manuel, is the students and the citizens, who unknowingly walk side-by-side with victims or victimizers.
“It’s going to be you, the ones to teach the rest that these things are not OK and educate them about the issue. That’s when we’ll be the most effective,” Manuel said.
Student, Tyler Nelson, also a member of the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society, plans to work closely with Love 146, a nonprofit organization to build awareness throughout campus.
“I feel that it has made me more aware of the problem,” Nelson said. “With 33 thousand students on campus, hopefully we can make a difference and build the awareness needed to defeat this problem.”
Sharon Dauwalder, Phi Theta Kappa Task Force Committee Chair was pleased with the attendance and the reaction from the audience.
“Our goal is to bring local awareness of the issue and I think we are accomplishing that. We had a much larger turnout than expected,” she said.