Salt Lake City is fighting human trafficking

by BRAD TAGGART

Human trafficking usually starts with despair and a desire for something better and often ends in tragedy. Human trafficking is the act of illegally transporting victims for slavery from one country to another. It has become increasingly common around the world.

Human trafficking is a multi-billion-dollar industry that relies on hopelessness and unawareness as a means of luring individuals and families to be tricked and sold into slavery. Deborah Bulkeley, a reporter with the Deseret News who has written several articles on human trafficking in Utah, said the majority of victims are women who are usually forced into prostitution.

“These women work just as any other prostitute would but do not receive any compensation for what they do, but rather get abused and suffer for their work,” Bulkeley said.

It is estimated that more than 12 million people are victims of human trafficking; 80 percent are female and 50 percent are under the age of 18, according to the End Human Trafficking Web site. Between 600,000 and 800,000 victims are trafficked across international borders every year and the numbers continue to increase.

Utah’s legislature is now stepping up to the challenge of combating human trafficking locally as well as nationally.

In 2006, The U.S. Department of Justice announced that Salt Lake City would receive $450,000 in grants to supplement a new human trafficking task force. The main priority is the proper training of law enforcement.

“One of the big needs is training of basically everyone from law enforcement to first responders to anyone who could be in a position to identify a case of human trafficking,” said Melodie Rydalch, public information officer for the Utah office of the U.S. Attorney. “We are convinced there are cases out there. We just need to look closer and ask more questions.”

Efforts to identify and prosecute human traffickers are being stepped up. The 79 national convictions involving human trafficking in fiscal year 2006 were more than double the convictions the previous year. Utah had two of those convictions.

With the success comes the knowledge that more needs to be done.

A few different organizations focus on the victims of human trafficking. The International Rescue Committee, headquartered in New York City, has a refugee resettlement office in Salt Lake City

Victims of human trafficking usually arrive at the IRC after they have been found, rescued and stabalized. “Most of our work is to stabilize the refugee until the persecution has stopped and then get them resettled into the country,” said Patrick Poulin, resettlement director for the IRC in Salt Lake.

“It’s important to establish protocols for helping victims once they’re rescued,” Rydalch said.

A second organization is the Utah Health and Human Rights Project. The agency “promotes the health, dignity, and self-sufficiency of refugees, asylees, and immigrants who have endured severe human rights abuses, including torture, war-related trauma, and human trafficking,” according to the UHHP Web site.

Catholic Community Services of Utah is another support group for refugees. CCS “provides comprehensive resettlement services to refugees from various regions of the world,” according to its Web site.

All agencies need volunteers and donations. IRC Salt Lake City, for example, is seeking warm winter clothing, comforters, gift cards to local grocery stores and other items. The office also holds orientation sessions for individuals interested in volunteering.

 “Money is a powerful tool,” Poulin said. “With money we can actually support these victims and give them food and shelter.”