SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. --
Colorado Springs saw a 35 percent increase in the number of human trafficking cases reported through the National Human Trafficking Hotline in 2016, but that increase may not be as ominous as it initially appears.
“The word is getting out more than ever and people know what to look for,” said Cecilia Smith, sexual assault victim advocate. “When they see something, they’re calling.”
The NHTH website says 391 calls led to 120 reported cases of human trafficking in 2016. In 2015, 315 calls led to 78 reported cases.
According to the Human Trafficking Task Force of Southern Colorado, the increase in reported cases does not necessarily mean human trafficking is on the rise; rather people are being more proactive in reporting.
“There’s more educated citizens and law enforcement that are able to detect what are at least signs of human trafficking,” Roger Patrizio, HTTFSC chair, recently told KOAA. “I think it’s impossible maybe to eradicate the abuse of other individuals for money, but I think we can definitely start to decrease those numbers and start to help those victims.”
Patrizio attributed the increased reports, in part, to local military, business and community groups helping raise awareness.
“There’s so many organizations that are giving out the hotline number and we’re educating citizens and businesses what to be looking for,” he said.
The Sexual Assault Prevention and Response team manages the Combat Trafficking in Persons program, working closely with the Office of Special Investigations and Security Forces to provide Schriever Air Force Base personnel with the information they need to help combat trafficking.
According to the U.S. State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Report 2016, the Department of Justice initiated 257 federal human trafficking prosecutions of 377 defendants, for fiscal 2015. The DOJ successfully prosecuted 297 of those defendants.
The increase in prosecutions is another sign of increased awareness and people taking the initiative to call the hotlines.
Air Force Instruction 36-2921 defines trafficking in persons as “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons by means of threat, use of force, coercion, abduction, fraud, deception, abuse or exploitation.” Examples include forced prostitution, forced labor and debt bondage.
The I-25 corridor is an ideal area for traffickers to operate as it connects Albuquerque, New Mexico to Cheyenne, Wyoming in one, relatively straight stretch of highway. The route also offers access to events and happenings in Santa Fe, New Mexico and Pueblo, Colorado Springs, Denver and Fort Collins, Colorado.
“The I-25 corridor is bringing more than drugs and guns,” Smith said. “Big events draw traffickers. People need to realize it is happening here.”
Smith said personnel should be aware of their surroundings, both at home and abroad, and watch for indicators of a possible trafficking situation, including: signs of physical abuse, poor living conditions, having to live at their work site, being submissive or fearful, inability to speak to an individual without supervision, refusal to make eye contact or constantly looking down, inability or not allowed to speak English and being paid very little or not at all.
“Members need to educate themselves and know what to look for,” Smith said. “Read up on the subject. It could save a life.”
Report suspected human trafficking to the NHTH at 888-373-7888 or the Inspector General hotline at 800-424-9098.