January is National Human Trafficking Awareness Month
Colorado may not have the worst numbers or rates for slavery or human trafficking, but it’s not insignificant. It is aware of the problem and also has a program in place to help address it.
Since 2010, U.S. presidents of both parties have declared January as National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, January being the month that the Emancipation Proclamation was issued in 1863.
In 2019, 11,500 cases of human trafficking—sex and labor—were reported in the U.S., or about one in 28,500. Other sources estimate the number of human trafficking incidents is as high as 199,000.
According to the 2019 Trafficking in Persons Report, while trafficked individuals are found in every country and originate in every country, the United States is one of the top three countries of origin for them. Reasons may include the number of children in foster care, in court-ordered substance use disorder programs, and on social media.
Fighting Human Trafficking in Colorado
State governments have also stepped forward to address the problem, such as the Colorado Human Trafficking Council, established in 2014; the Laboratory to Combat Human Trafficking online resource directory; and a dedicated Colorado’s Human Trafficking Hotline.
Not that Colorado is the worst state for human trafficking; it’s not even in the top 10. Colorado only ranks 19th for the highest number of reported cases of human trafficking in the U.S. (156 in 2019, about one-tenth of California’s 1,507, the number one state) and 23rd for the highest rate of cases (2.99 per 100,000, less than half of Nevada’s 7.50).
That doesn’t mean that’s all there is. Human trafficking is believed to be vastly undercounted. In separate studies, the number of cases reported was found to be as little as 6-to-18% of the total. The International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates that only one in nine cases gets reported.
The reasons for the undercount include that law enforcement isn’t trained to recognize survivors of human trafficking. It can be difficult to distinguish between crimes committed willingly from those due to force, fraud, or coercion (such as prostitution and sex trafficking). Even if detected, police incident reports may not have a code for human trafficking.
Substance Abuse and Trafficking
While there are many reasons why people fall victim to human traffickers, the main reason is that they are vulnerable, because the traffickers can find a weakness that they can exploit. One such vulnerability is substance use disorders.
In a nationwide study, more than three-quarters (84.3%) of sex trafficking survivors report substance abuse. More than half said they used alcohol, marijuana, and cocaine, and almost one in four (22.3%) used heroin.
In a smaller, separate study, about two-thirds (66%) used before being trafficked; less than one in 20 (4.5%) used after becoming trafficked.
Types of Human Trafficking
Although sex work is the most reported form of human trafficking, cases involving slave labor may be more numerous. Human trafficking may be found in any vocation that employs vulnerable (LGBTQ, homeless, underage, people with disabilities, or in foster care) populations of unskilled workers—foreign or domestic, male, female, or child—including:
- Transient labor (agriculture, construction, carnivals)
- Domestic work (nannies, cleaning services, home healthcare)
- Hospitality (restaurant, bars, hotels, travel)
- Peddlers and traveling salespeople
- Religious institutions
- Massage parlors and other commercial sex services
- Illicit drug trade
Most human trafficking cases don’t involve foreigners, undocumented or otherwise. Despite bad movies and sensational media reports, human trafficking is more than just females in sex work (although that does seem to be the most reported). There also is less-obvious labor trafficking.
The perpetrators of human trafficking aren’t always sleazy strangers, either; sometimes they are trusted loved ones or relatives, even parents and spouses. Even in Colorado.
Colorado provides a hotline to get help for human trafficking, training to identify human trafficking, and opportunities to help fight anti-human trafficking and related problems such as substance use disorders:
- Colorado Online Resource Directory:
- Colorado’s Human Trafficking Hotline:
- Call: 866-455-5075
- Text: 720-999-9724
- National Human Trafficking Hotline (NHTH):
- Call: 888-373-7888
- Text: 233733 (BEFREE)
- sunshinebehavioralhealth.com – Colorado Rehab Centers & Addiction Treatment
- state.gov – National Human Trafficking Prevention Month: Fact Sheet
- worldpopulationreview.com – Human Trafficking Statistics by State 2021
- state.gov – 2019 Trafficking in Persons Report (Download)
- thedenverchannel.com – January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. Why now is the time to re-focus on this crime.
- combathumantrafficking.org – Laboratory to Combat Human Trafficking
- sites.google.com/state.co.us – Colorado Human Trafficking Council
- nij.ojp.gov – Gaps in Reporting Human Trafficking Incidents Result in Significant Undercounting
- htcourts.org – Colorado Human Trafficking Fact Sheet
- journalofethics.ama-assn.org – Human Trafficking, Mental Illness, and Addiction: Avoiding Diagnostic Overshadowing
- 9news.com – ‘Data that alarmed us’: How a changing Denver can be ripe for human trafficking
- thisishumantrafficking.com – What does human trafficking look like?
- state.gov – About Human Trafficking
- sunshinebehavioralhealth.com – Mountain Springs Recovery: Recovery in a Serene and Welcoming Mountain Setting