Imagine your 14 year old daughter Janice is hanging out at the mall. An attractive 17 year old man named Paul approaches her. He tells her that she is beautiful and that she is special. He gets her number and tells her they should hang out some time. Paul calls the next day. Janice is so excited and feels really special. They begin spending time together and hanging. Paul buys her gifts and takes her to nice places.
One day, Paul tells Janice he really needs her help. He cannot pay his rent, but knows a way that she can make some money to help him. Paul takes Janice to a club where she can “dance” and make some quick money. Janice agrees and makes $500 dancing that night. Wow! It is the most money she has ever earned. Paul says, “I know how we can make some real money.” Janice is excited and wants to know more. Paul takes her to a house where she is raped by several men. Paul is never heard from again by Janice. Unbeknownst to Janice, Paul has sold her to a pimp. Janice is no longer human, she has become a commodity. So, when she says she wants to leave, her pimp tells no, and that they will kill her and her family if she attempts to leave. He knows where she lives.
This is one of the ways that modern day slavery is accomplished, also known as child sex trafficking.
The phrase “human trafficking” conjures up images of young foreign women being holed up in foreign countries as sex slaves or being forced into unpaid labor, again in foreign countries. But what has become painfully clear is the fact that girls are being lured or kidnapped and sold into prostitution here in the United States. What is even more shocking is that Colorado is one of the state’s leading the pack.
The scenario described above is known as “boy-friending.” Boy-friending is only one of the ways children become victims. Kidnapping is another. Another common ploy is to offer “modeling,” “acting,” or “dancing” jobs. In our culture of five-minutes of fame, our children are particularly at risk. The Internet has made it easy for predators to target children right under the noses of unsuspecting parents.
There are estimates that there are more people who are victims of this type of slavery than there were in the transatlantic slave trade, and our children once again are vulnerable.
The most heart breaking factor is that victims of this crime are children, generally between the ages of 13 to 18 years old. Many are runaways or throwaways and the perpetrators are manipulative and dangerous to these children. These people most often use physical/sexual violence and manipulation in order to keep control of these children. In addition, because many of these children have no home these pimps create a kind of parent/lover relationship with the child who is extremely confusing and virtually impossible to detach from without help. Another factor is that these pimps are often connected to larger organized crime, which makes them extremely dangerous.
The statistics certainly bear out that the majority of the kids who are at risk come from the most vulnerable communities. Statistics bear out that 70 to 90 percent of the victims have been sexually and or physically abused. According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, one in six runaways will be sexually exploited or trafficked and 68 percent of these victims are under the care of social services or the state system.
Don’t be lulled into the false sense of security that modern day slavery will not visit you at your front door or neighborhood. All children are at risk and we are all responsible for what happens to all of our children. Not just because it is the right thing, but also because they grow up to be adults and have an effect on our lives. At the risk of sounding harsh, if you think that it is just happening on Colfax you are kidding yourself.
In the United States 244,000–360,000 children are at risk each year of being trafficked and sexually exploited.
- Youth who are at risk most:
- Are under 18 years old and under.
- Walk to school or the store alone.
- Are attracted to consumer goods.
- Desire to develop romantic relationships.
- Sometimes feel insecure.
- Feel misunderstood.
- Fight with their parents.
- Sometimes feel that their parents don’t care.
- Want more independence.
- Test boundaries and take risks.
Sounds like a kid you know? It sounds like a kid we all know, knew or were.
Now imagine you grew up and now live in Northeast Denver in the area now known as the Clayton neighborhood. You have a work deadline, so you head to work about 4 in the morning and decide to stop at your favorite convenience store at the end of the block to get coffee. As you enter the store, you notice three girls who are barely five feet tall looking as if they have just entered puberty. One of the girls is speaking with a man who she does not know, asked his name. The stranger appeared to be going to work as he was wearing one of those yellow construction worker vests. To say the girl was flirting is an understatement. No tilt of the head or a bat of an eyelash here. It is full on proposition kind of stuff but you do not see money exchanged.
Now you are leaving the store and notice a large SUV pull up. Two of the girls walk out of the store behind you and approach the man in the driver’s seat. A fourth teenage girl gets out of the SUV. As you get into your car and drive to work, you wonder why were those little girls out so late and why such a young girl was so overtly sexual with this much older man. Now the answer should be clear. These children were being sex trafficked.
This story in the Clayton Neighborhood is a true story and a very real experience for one of the authors of this story. This experience inspired the desire to make others aware.
So what can you do? Get involved, keep your eyes open and act.
- Get educated. Learn the signs of child sex trafficking.
- Get involved in the lives of at-risk children. It takes a community to raise healthy kids. Participate in programs that help children.
- Be aware. Pay attention to inappropriate age differences in relationships. Is your child receiving too much attention from someone much older? Are the gifts the child is receiving a bit too expensive? Do you see an adult or older child that is spending too much time with young girls and boys?
- Tell Others. Educate your children, their friends, your friends, and anyone who will listen about this issue. The way to end child sex trafficking is awareness.
- If you see something, say something. If you believe that a child has been abused report it immediately. The sex trafficking hotline number is 1-888-373-7888.
Editor’s note: Natacha Gutierrez and Jessica Jackson- Barrows are owners of their own individual solo practices in Denver.
Gutierrez graduated from Tulane Law School in 2002 and began practicing medical malpractice defense in her native New Orleans, LA. She started her solo practice in 2003 in New Orleans, LA, moved to Colorado in 2010 and began representing Colorado residents in 2011. Gutierrez currently helps families recover from life’s mishaps by practicing personal injury, medical malpractice, real estate litigation, and debt settlement. She is a member of the Louisiana Bar Association and the Sam Carey Bar Association. She can be reached at 303-900-8291.
Jackson-Barrows is an experienced criminal trial lawyer and former Brooklyn, NY prosecutor. She specializes in criminal defense and appeals; felonies and misdemeanors; drug possession; domestic violence; assault employment law and DUI/DWAI/Traffic Offences. She can be reached at 303-898-2698.