UCCS hosts seventh annual Human Traffi cking Task Force Symposium

Nov. 3, 2014

Nick Beadleston
[email protected]

During one year, the average trafficked prostitute will have sex with approximately 868 clients.

This FBI statistic was one of many presented at the seventh annual Human Trafficking Task Force Symposium, hosted by UCCS and the Human Trafficking Task Force of Southern Colorado, on Oct. 25 in Berger Hall.

“People think human trafficking happens in other parts of the world,” said Aditi Mitra, a UCCS assistant sociology professor and university organizer for the event. “They think ‘oh it happens, but it can’t happen to us.’”

“[They] don’t realize it’s happening locally. It’s happening in our neighborhoods,” she continued. “It’s targeting young women and children who we are related too.” “It’s so close to home, and that’s something people are unaware of,” she said.

According to Elie Reid, a Colorado Springs vice detective, the department has investigated over 50 cases of human traffi cking this year. She also indicated they have rescued 51 adults and 17 juveniles. Reid also displayed slides showing that in Colorado Springs there have been 1,272 ads posted for female prostitutes between Sept. 12 and Oct. 23. An additional 27 and 48 ads were posted for male and transgendered prostitutes, respectively.

Reid’s presentation was one of several that focused on human and sex trafficking in southern Colorado and across the country.

Other speakers included anti-trafficking experts and representatives from local advocate groups.

“It is great that the community is interested and wants to stand up to protect our vulnerable population,” said Debbie Manzanares, one of the event’s organizers. Manzanares has also served on the symposium’s board for the past six years.

She said the event allowed “students to get a deeper look into the issue and get a local lens from the Colorado experts.”

For many at the symposium, knowledge is the key to combating human traffi cking. “The reason I teach a course on this topic … is because there is a huge need for awareness,” said Mitra. “The most vulnerable groups, the ones who are the victims are young people.”

Early in her career, Mitra worked with nongovernmental organizations that helped women and children in the red light districts of Calcutta, India. She has also worked with Noble Prize winners such as Mother Teresa.

Mitra said she has already seen her efforts to inform resonate with her students.

“I’ve only been teaching this for a couple of years now, but the kind of impact I’ve been able to have on these young minds has blown me away,” she said. “I think they’re going to do even better than I have done, because they’re starting very young and they’re motivated and passionate.”

Joint efforts between local and federal agencies, as well as advocacy groups and educational institutions, were also a reoccurring theme throughout the day.

“Communication and working together is what enables us to be more efficient in identifying trafficking victims,” said Annjanette Alejano-Steele, a Metropolitan State University of Denver professor and speaker at the event. “That collaboration and partnership piece is critical.”

Alejano-Steele is also the co-founder for the Denverbased Laboratory to Combat Human Trafficking.

“It is not someone else’s problem,” said UCCS Chancellor Pamela Shockley- Zalabak, also in attendance. “It is our problem, but we must link to others.”

Though the legal punishment for human traff cking in Colorado was strengthened this past July to align with federal standards, those at the symposium continued to reiterate the importance of citizen involvement on a local level.

“Only the government or the law enforcement agencies cannot do much,” said Mitra. “We the people, the regular people, have to come and do something about this.”