Traveling human trafficking exhibit raises awareness in Moffat County
In the confines of a dark trailer, hundreds of Moffat County students and residents learned about the trappings of human trafficking during five days of events provided by Global Connections International, Inc.
“We are very grateful and very proud of the Moffat County School District because they are the very first ones to allow us to come into a Colorado school,” GCI President Jim Weber said to a crowd of a dozen people outside Craig Middle School.
Over the course of five days, the exhibit, contained in a 44-foot-long human trafficking educational traveling trailer, was presented to Craig Middle School and Moffat County High School students with additional stops during the weekend at Downtown Business Association’s Spring Expo, the Great American Horse Drive in Maybell and The Journey at First Baptist.
Craig Police Department Sgt. Corey Wagner said the group’s message on human trafficking is one the county needs to hear.
“One of the big things is that people just don’t have a lot of awareness about it,” Wagner said. “That’s what we’re trying to do is just make people aware of the dangers, especially the recruitment on social media.”
On average, victims groomed for the sex trafficking industry are between the ages of 12 and 14, according to figures provided by the Department of Homeland Security. In 82 percent of online sex crimes against minors, DHS said offenders used social media to gain access to their victims.
“Overwhelmingly the manpower that goes into this issue is dedicated to rehabilitation, but we felt called to try and come out in front of this issue so it never has to happen in your community,” Weber said.
GCI’s traveling educational exhibit focused on the dangers of sex traffickers’ access to children through social media.
MCHS Assistant Principal Sarah Hepworth said Weber’s message was vital information as social media has captured the minds of most children at her school.
“I feel responsible during the day for the girls and the guys and I worry about our youth,” Hepworth said. “They’re a pretty vulnerable group just because of their age and their newness in life. … Kids are just so impressionable, which is a normal part of development, but, now with social media, it’s just so scary.”
Longtime Craig resident Kimberly Swenson and her granddaughter Neveah Allen, a MCHS freshman, attended the first event to learn more about the growing problem.
“I’m really aware (of human trafficking) and my poor granddaughter has been really inundated with that information,” Swenson said. “But I don’t think you can know too much.”
Allen said she knows the dangers of social media. A friend of Allen’s received a Snapchat message from a stranger which included a compliment and a hidden phone tracking link embedded into the message, Allen said.
“There are some creepy people in this world,” she said.
Upon entry into the trailer, the first image visitors saw was a large photo of a fictional text message conversation between a sex trafficker and a young woman. After a short discussion about the text string, Jim Weber’s daughter, Julia, played a three-part series of interviews with fictional sex trafficking victims based on real-life sex trafficking victims’ stories.
Julia talked about the dangers of various social media applications and informed visitors of real-life instances of human trafficking that have occurred in Colorado.
“One young lady, specifically in the Denver metro area, met a guy at the mall, when she was a junior in high school,” Julia said. “They dated for over a year and then he asked her to meet cousins. Well, when she walked into the room there were four 50-year-old men there, and for the next year she was continuously sold right there in her own neighborhood.”
Julia said four years later, the victim is still trying to recover from the trauma.
After the three-part video series, visitors received sex trafficking flyers and a wallet-sized laminated card detailing the warning signs and highlighting the numbers to call if someone is in need of help.
On the final day of the exhibit’s visit to Moffat County, as part of his introductory human trafficking speech, in front of a crowd of visitors awaiting the Great American Horse Drive in Maybell, Jim Weber said because of his educational human trafficking exhibit, a local student felt comfortable to admit to one of his staff members that she is currently a victim of human trafficking.
Although sex trafficking isn’t very common in Moffat County, Wagner said another form of human trafficking is.
“Sex trafficking only accounts for 22 percent of trafficking,” he said. “We haven’t seen a lot of it here at all, but we have had other kinds of human trafficking — labor, people being forced to work. It’s basically just modern-day slavery.”
Wagner said he and the Craig Police Department plan to hold community classes to raise awareness of the warning signs of labor trafficking.