by Jillian Janflone, HTC Provisional Associate
(In photo, from R to L: Ashley Arens, Janet Drake (standing), Sgt. Dan Steele, Rep. Beth McCann, Sen. Linda Newell. Moderating, Beth Harrell, HTC)
Writing and passing human trafficking legislation is no easy task, according to the panelists at the HTC’s Legislative Town Hall on September 23rd. The Town Hall discussed recently passed Colorado House Bill 14-1273 as well as general issues surrounding human trafficking in Colorado. The evening’s panelists included Sen. Linda Newell, Rep. Beth McCann, Sgt. Daniel Steele of the Denver Police Department and Innocence Lost Task Force, Senior Assistant Attorney General Janet Drake, and Ashley Arens of Urban Peak. The event also featured a welcome by Ambassador Christopher R. Hill, Dean of the Josef Korbel School, and opening remarks by Professor Claude d’Estrée, the Director of the HTC.
Ambassador Hill’s welcome underscored that human trafficking is a global problem, not one that exists in one single form or one single place. In his opening remarks, HTC Director Claude d’Estrée called for an increase in research, noting the skewed nature of resources available to researchers. Professor d’Estrée called for a refusal of junk science and a renewed focus on funded study. “There is almost no money put aside for research so that we know the root and the scope of the problem and what programs are effective,” he said.
D’Estrée noted that labor trafficking and sex trafficking should not have been separated in domestic and international legislation. “There is no doubt that sex trafficking is a major problem, but at this point the data is pretty clear. Sixty-eight percent of the worldwide human trafficking is in labor, 60 percent of which is male. Women and girls make up 55 percent of all trafficking victims, but that does leave a substantial 45 percent of men and boys as victims as well.” D’Estrée highlighted the need for proper training of law enforcement, service providers and academics.
The panel then opened with Sen. Newell and Rep. McCann explaining why Colorado’s bill was timely and necessary. Newell stressed the silent and hidden nature of sex and labor trafficking, and both she and McCann shared anecdotes of cases of sex and labor issues they had in encountered in Colorado.
Newell went on to discuss the parameters of Colorado’s new legislation, explaining how the bill came to fruition with cooperation from other states, government agencies, law enforcement agencies and service groups. Newell said the new legislation “strengthens and clarifies” Colorado’s existing human trafficking law.
One of the most important aspects of the new bill is the elimination of the defense of consent, meaning traffickers can no longer claim victims consented to the act of abuse or trafficking. Additionally, traffickers can no longer claim they believed a child to be over 18 and therefore legally an adult who could consent to sexual acts. The bill also extended Rape Shield laws to victims of human trafficking. However, these valuable additions currently only apply to victims of sex trafficking, not those in forced labor.
Sgt. Steele then explained how the Human Trafficking Council intends to work with existing task forces in Colorado. He believed the numerous groups represented will bring their expertise and focus to the Council to “better [form] policy that goes all across the state, not just Denver.”
On the issue of Safe Harbor legislation Senior Assistant Attorney General Janet Drake explained that this legislation generally applies to minors who have been trafficked for commercial sex, though there has been discussion of extending it to adults and to those in forced labor. In creating legislation, Drake said, “we don’t rush into anything that will do harm.” There are ripple effects associated with the implementation of Safe Harbor laws and similar legislation, and as legislation is enacted services and policies for these minors need to be properly established.
When questions were opened to the public, comments focused largely on minors and those exploited for commercial sex. One audience member asked the panel about the vulnerability of youth experiencing homelessness. Ashley Arens, a life skills counselor at Urban Peak, a shelter for at-risk youth, noted that homeless populations are at heightened risk for trafficking.
When an audience member asked how to identify victims of human trafficking and what to do if they come into contact with a victim, Arens stressed the importance of always considering victim’s safety. Many trafficking victims are closely watched by their traffickers, and contact with outside individuals can raise traffickers’ suspicion. Steele encouraged the audience to contact the Human Trafficking hotline if they witnessed any suspicious situations.
The evening ended with a series of questions about the commercial sex trade, particularly concerning the difference between commercial sex and sex trafficking. The final question of the night asked about demand reduction programs for forced labor. The panel said the public must choose to not purchase products from corporations with forced labor allegations in their supply chains.
To conclude, the panel explained the newly formed Human Trafficking Council will focus on public awareness. In doing so, they hope all forms of trafficking will be presented to the public, which will hopefully lead to a reduction in all forms of human trafficking in Colorado.