The trafficking of young people for sex is something that goes mostly unspoken, yet it is prevalent worldwide and in Salt Lake City.
Without identifying the underlying causes, human trafficking will continue unabated, said Claude d’Estree at the 4th Annual Human Trafficking Symposium Friday at the University of Utah’s S.J. Quinney School of Law.
Traditionally, law enforcement has approached the phenomenon with prosecution, protection and prevention — the three Ps — said d’Estree of the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver.
And often, the discussions focus on international trafficking.
But localities should be considering causes and conditions that lead to trafficking, d’Estree said, as well as cures for the prevailing attitudes and economics that underwrite it. He dubbed them the three Cs.
“The causes and conditions are often unique to a community and therefore the cures are different,” he said. “The cure for trafficking in Albania, India and the U.S. are completely different. We ought to be talking about this on a community level, rather than internationally.”
It is difficult to quantify the number of victims but estimates are in the tens of millions globally. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), victims of sex trafficking can be women or men, girls or boys, but the majority are women and girls.
They can be lured into sex trafficking by a promise of a good job in another country, according to the agency, or by a false marriage proposal turned into a bondage situation, being sold into the sex trade by parents, husbands, boyfriends and being kidnapped by traffickers.
d’Estree’s comments stand in contrast to those of Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes, who told the symposium audience that a global approach is necessary.
“We can’t believe that if we only work here in Utah we will solve the problem,” he said, prior to d’Estree’s presentation. “By eradicating it worldwide, we will keep it from coming here.”
The attorney general noted that law enforcement sting operations, like the one in Cartagena, Colombia in 2014, in which he participated, would go a long way to crushing out child sex trafficking.
“How amazing, you can’t buy kids for sex any more in Cartagena,” he told the audience. “If that can happen in Cartagena, it can happen here.”
d’Estree, however, took exception with that approach, saying 20 years ago he would have agreed. But the prosecutorial approach, he said, has not worked, largely because it is not based on data analysis.
The vast majority of funding goes to rescue and rehabilitation work, d’Estree said, while money for research, data collection and analysis is scarce. The result, he explained, is that governments and international organizations make important policy decisions based on little analysis.
“The main mission of sound research methodology is to create reasonably policy making,” he said. “Research in human trafficking is difficult but possible.”
Nonetheless, prosecution of traffickers must continue, said Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill, in an interview. But the complexities of human trafficking in the internet age make it much more difficult.
A pimp and his prostitutes can make appointments in Salt Lake City over the internet from another location, Gill explained, come in for a week and then disappear to their next stop along a multi-city route.
However, the district attorney said he does support a hybrid of the three Ps and three Cs.
“If we do not recognize the [underlying] economics of exploitation and sex trafficking, we cannot have a systemic response, only a reactive one,” he said. “Changing cultural attitudes that women aren’t chattel and providing them with education changes that economic system.”
Attitudes about sex trafficking are slowly changing to a recognition that sex workers are victims, rather than perpetrators, said Alana Kindness of the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault (UCASA).
Salt Lake City police are now reaching out to women on the street in an effort to keep them out of the criminal justice system, Kindness said. Nonetheless, she remains concerned that police arrest far more women than they do their male customers.
Trafficking is not just the realm of pimps and is more prevalent than people realize, she said. Economics plays a significant role in making young women and young men vulnerable to trafficking.
“The indicators are visible, but the act of exploitation takes place out of the public eye,” Kindness said. “Any time you see folks who are struggling and looking for a place to live, we know sex trafficking is happening.”
Sex trafficking is only part of the global slave trade. Four times as many people are trafficked for labor than for sex, according to many estimates. But labor trafficking gets far less funding.
“The 13-year-old Thai girl at a brothel tugs at our heart more than the 27-year-old man who works 18 hours a day picking oranges,” d’Estree said. “There is no silver bullet, no quick fix, no easy answers — the problem will only get worse during our lifetimes.”