CFBF annual meeting to address human trafficking in rural communities
Cathie Swanson, a Colorado Farm Bureau Federation member from eastern Colorado’s Lincoln County was appointed to serve a four-year term on the Colorado Human Trafficking Council, filling a seat reserved for a representative of the state’s agriculture industry.
Swanson, who has a military intelligence and law enforcement background, is a rancher with a deep commitment to raising awareness of human trafficking in rural communities, making her an ideal addition to the council.
As part of the 100th Colorado Farm Bureau Annual Meeting to be held Nov. 16-18 at the Renaissance Denver Stapleton Hotel, Swanson and others will offer information about the council and a trailer will be available to walk through to learn about trafficking, a crime that is a reality in rural Colorado.
“I thought maybe it’s time people in Colorado, especially rural Colorado, understand what’s going on,” Swanson said.
Human trafficking, according to Maria Trujillo, Human Trafficking Program Manager, happens in all Colorado communities. In rural communities, she said it’s a chicken and the egg situation as it’s difficult to say whether it is more pervasive in rural Colorado or the awareness is growing with more cases identified. Trujillo said trafficking isn’t the stereotypical Hollywood case of foreign women lured into commercial sex trafficking, though that certainly occurs as well.
“Human trafficking can happen to any people,” Trujillo said.
She said there have been cases in Colorado of highly trained and educated women entering the state on work visas to accept high level health care jobs trafficked into forced labor in nursing homes, a case in rural southern Colorado of an intellectually handicapped individual romanced into trafficking and forced into labor and sexual exploitation. Multiple cases of trafficking individuals into labor have been investigated on the Western Slope, and trafficking of young U.S. citizens forced into commercial sex and children trafficked into forced criminality.
“It runs the gamut of who is vulnerable and what the victim profiles are,” she said.
Trafficking cases are on the rise in areas, often rural, with heavy activity from the energy industry.
“Traffickers see this as a primary opportunity to entice a group of people who are mostly men, who are away from family, who are making good money to engage in commercial sex acts so that’s something to be aware of,” Trujillo said. “We saw that in North Dakota, we see that in Weld County.”
Specific to rural communities, trafficked individuals are being transported along the interstate highway system, often making stops at truck stops and in rural communities. Many cases of trafficking are reported by keen bystanders.
“Something to look for is the relationship between people and if something is amiss,” Trujillo said. “Do you see a controlling relationship between these people? Are there signs of branding like a derogatory tattoo or a tattoo that multiple people share and what are their demeanors?”
Personal safety should be the primary consideration when faced with this situation and Trujillo recommends reporting suspicions to either the state or federal help lines. Callers may remain anonymous, but she said law enforcement often relies on the ability to call the reporter during an investigation for potential information.
Truckers Against Trafficking has been vocal and vigilant raising awareness and identifying and reporting trafficked individuals, often displaying stickers on windshields of trucks and in truck stops displaying hotline information.
Training in rural communities is a role of the council. Recent and upcoming trainings in Morgan County, Rifle, and Lamar are on the books with more scheduled. It is Trujillo and Swanson’s hope that educating attendees at the Colorado Farm Bureau Annual Meeting will help raise awareness in rural areas.
The Colorado Human Trafficking Council has 31 available seats prescribed by legislation representing law enforcement, agriculture, Department of Human Services, Chief of Police Association, survivors of trafficking, labor department representation, and seats from both rural and urban communities.
— Gabel is an assistant editor and reporter for The Fence Post. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (970) 392-4410.