The Denver-based Laboratory to Combat Human Trafficking has released fourteen recommendations to strengthen Colorado's response to human trafficking. Among them: form a statewide group of prosecutors focused on trafficking, create a prevention campaign targeted at vulnerable populations, and encourage the development of local coalitions dedicated to the issue.
The recommendations are the result of a three-year project that began with a simple question: What would it take to end human trafficking in Colorado?
Human trafficking is defined by federal law as inducing a person by "force, fraud or coercion" to perform labor or sex acts. LCHT's project, dubbed the Colorado Project, further clarifies the definition by listing several examples.
"In the United States, trafficking can take a variety of forms," says a report released today (and available on LCHT's website), "including pimping, domestic servitude, migrant farm worker abuse in fields, forced begging, forced labor in businesses such as hotels or sweatshops, and exploitation of sheepherders, among many others."
The researchers say they realized early on that in order to figure out how to end human trafficking, they first needed to evaluate what was already being done.
"A lot, when it comes to research or reports around this issue, point out what's not being done," says executive director Amanda Finger. "But we haven't seen a lot of information about promising or best practices, and if that's where this movement needs to go, we need to look at what those practices should be." The goal, she says, was to "celebrate what's happening and see how Colorado stacks up and see how we can improve."
Through surveys, interviews and focus groups with people who work in law enforcement, child abuse, homelessness, immigration and other issues, the researchers were able to assess Colorado's strengths -- and see where the gaps were.
"Because of relative newness of this (anti-human trafficking) movement, a lot of folks ... see things and have hunches," says A.J. Alejano-Steele, the project's research director. "This project moved beyond intuition and assumption to collect data."
For instance, the data showed that while there are several groups seeking to raise awareness about human trafficking, there are fewer that are directly educating the populations most at risk to be trafficked themselves. The researchers also learned that while there are shelters for female trafficking victims, there's a shortage of beds for boys, men and transgender people. And whereas a number of police detectives have come to comprehending trafficking cases and how to investigate them, some attorneys and judges don't understand the nuances of prosecuting a trafficking case or sentencing a trafficker.
The Colorado Project report includes fourteen recommendations, which are broken down into four categories: prevention, protection, prosecution and partnerships.
1. Create strategic statewide human trafficking public awareness and prevention campaign(s) targeting populations that may be vulnerable to human trafficking.
2. Increase the probability of effective prevention efforts.
3. Encourage private sector participation in human trafficking prevention efforts such as through the monitoring of supply chains as well as adoption of existing private sector efforts.
4. Create a cultural shift among and between law enforcement and service providers in anti-human trafficking efforts.
5. Create a comprehensive and streamlined practice of working together across public and nonpublic agencies to address trafficking survivor service needs.
6. Increase education and networking among service providers throughout Colorado and across service areas of expertise to serve human trafficking survivors through increased membership in the Colorado Network to End Human Trafficking (CoNEHT), the statewide victim services network.
7. Form a statewide cohesive prosecutorial group (including law enforcement, prosecutors and judges) focusing on all forms of human trafficking.
8. Create shift in prosecutorial mindset to prioritize human trafficking with the support of public awareness initiatives and successful prosecutions throughout the state.
9. Develop system-wide protocols to increase victim-centered and evidence-based cases.
10. Consult "model" legislation and legislative efforts in other states.
11. Provide an opportunity for collective learning, support, and action by encouraging leaders from community-based efforts to join existing statewide coalitions (e.g. the Colorado Network to End Human Trafficking (CoNEHT)).
12. Cultivate awareness and concern for the issue of human trafficking in communities across the state.
13. Encourage the development and/or growth of locally organized response groups (i.e. task forces, coalitions, alliances).
14. Encourage collaborative anti-trafficking and allied efforts at both the local and state levels to set processes for communication and conflict management that cultivate a culture of openness.
"Colorado has the first state action plan in the country," Finger says. "Our goal is to serve as the backbone organization for this action plan and to steward this and take it around the state so providers, organizations and law enforcement understand how the action plan was developed and can look at where they slot in. The critical piece over the next one to three years will be truly committing to filling these gaps."
Alejano-Steele says the project is already making an impact. "What's happening is that there are multiple communities within Colorado putting together a comprehensive response," she says, including in Denver, Colorado Springs, Fort Collins, Pueblo, Durango, the Roaring Fork Valley and the Western Slope. "The goal is to keep them all connected."
LCHT also released a national report (which is also available on its website). The national report establishes a baseline of promising practices "so every community and every state can look at these promising practices and replicate this model," Finger says.
Read a summary of the Colorado Project below.
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