By Matilda Msall, SC ’19, Staff Writer
Maria Trujillo is a graduate of Claremont McKenna College and an expert in the anti-trafficking space. She currently serves as the Human Trafficking Program Manager at the Colorado Department of Public Safety, for the Division of Criminal Justice in the Office for Victims Programs where she oversees the development of comprehensive and effective policies to combat human trafficking.
CJLPP: What originally drew you to work in human trafficking, and how has your perception changed over time regarding the complex issues surrounding this field?
Trujillo: So, I was introduced to the topic of human trafficking as a high school student, back in 1996. There was no term called “human trafficking,” but I spent a year researching the topics of sweatshops and sweatshop labor being used by multinational corporations. So, that was my introduction to the topic of human trafficking, and I did that my senior year of high school. Then, while [I was] a student at Claremont, I kept studying the concept and researching it, just kind of in the back of my mind, not really fully engaged. But [it was] something [that] I kept in my mind, and when I saw news reports or papers about that issue of sweatshop labor I would look at it. Then, I spent a lot of time studying abroad—I went to grad school at American University and I studied International Communications. After grad school, I lived in Japan for a year, and while I was living in Japan I also spent time traveling to China, Vietnam, Thailand, and Cambodia. That’s really when I saw the thing that I was studying, back in 1996, really in front of me. It was very blatant and obvious, the types of things that were happening in those countries, and it wasn’t even really that hidden.
So when I came back to the United States and returned to D.C., a friend of mine who was in that same high school group was living there, and she was at American [University) studying human rights issues and human trafficking was a big topic, so we both really wanted to find a way that we could contribute to the issues at a very grassroots community level—we were just concerned citizens that wanted to do something about it. So, we did a Google search and found a meet-up group, called “D.C. Stop Modern Slavery,” and we decided to go to one of their meetings coming up. We got heavily involved, and they were kind of in their beginning stages of formulating what they wanted to do as a group and how they wanted to contribute, so we really jumped right in and started taking leadership roles in that group. That is where I got heavily involved, really just as a volunteer, average community member who wanted to do something. We started having public awareness campaigns and did a bunch of different things in D.C., and that actually led me to decide to do a complete career change. [I began to] follow this thing that I became really passionate about, and now I’ve been working in the anti-trafficking field for over a decade.
The second half of your questions was about how the dynamics have changed around human trafficking. Things have really shifted in the human trafficking space since the advent of the first Trafficking Victims Protection Act Laws in 2000. Those laws were originally developed for the purposes of providing services and assistance to foreign national victims being brought into the United States for the purpose of trafficking. The real sense was that it was actually labor trafficking cases and foreign nationals who were the primary victims of the crime. Over the last seventeen years, those concepts have really changed, and there is a much bigger focus on U.S. citizens and young females being trafficked for sex. That’s kind of what you hear in the popular domain about human trafficking, and less so about the labor trafficking piece or foreign nationals. Then, we also have this really challenging immigration debate that is happening in the country. I know in my work in Houston, the immigration issue was always a big piece of the conversation and there is a lot of confusion that immigrants are coming into the United States and trying to be trafficked—that was something that I would hear—so they could get a visa, or that they deserve it because they are coming in as undocumented workers. The reality is actually that over 70 percent of labor trafficking victims come to the United States on legal visas, and they are not necessarily undocumented workers. Certainly, undocumented workers are very vulnerable, but being in the United States and having those visas is actually as a tool of exploitation.
So I think there are a lot of misconceptions around foreign nationals and how they are coming to the United States, how they are being exploited and why, and that’s a big piece. Then there is this big moral crusade that is happening in the anti-trafficking space right now against prostitution and the commercial sex industry, and that is another dynamic. There are people within the anti-trafficking field that conflate all prostitution with sex-trafficking for this moral crusade against the commercial sex industry, which is fine, but they are conflating it with the human trafficking issue and making it more difficult. They are really diluting the message about what human trafficking is, and that forced, coerced piece is really important—that defines human trafficking. And they’re using language of the human trafficking movement to fuel their programming of trying to go against the commercial sex industry, so that is a real challenge in the anti-trafficking space as well. Like, what is human trafficking? What are we really talking about? You could certainly have a moral crusade against the commercial sex industry—I am not certainly a proponent of the commercial sex industry—but I think it confuses and dilutes the messaging, so that is a big factor as well. It is interesting how the issue has evolved over the years.
CJLPP: How have Trump’s rhetoric and policies that have been strictly against immigrants and specifically “pro-America” affected your work?
Trujillo: I have yet to see the true effect, since it is so new, but one of the things I foresee is that one of the biggest challenges we have around human trafficking is the fact of under-reporting. It is a hugely under-reported crime and these are some of the primary reasons why it is under reported: One, victims don’t self identify or self disclose, because they’re really afraid to come forward, and depending on their victim profile there are lots of of reasons why they’re afraid. Primarily, a lot of the manipulation and coercion happen with their trafficker, but when it comes to foreign nationals the primary reason they don’t come forward is around immigration and immigration status. So, as I said, a vast majority of foreign nationals who are victims of human trafficking are coming to the United States on legal visas, but if they report the crime against their employer, oftentimes their visa is tied directly to the employer. And, if they leave that employment, they are no longer in status. So then they go from a legal status to an illegal status, and with this rhetoric coming out from the administration, you could see how they are going to be even more fearful to come out and and say that a crime was committed on them—there’s so much backlash that could potential happen. I’ve talked to many trafficking survivors who are in that predicament, and that was one of the number one reasons why they wouldn’t come forward, and didn’t come forward for a really long time, because of that fear of status. I think there’s a big misconception that people are trying to negate the system or somehow manipulate it to be in the country, and actually a lot of people are here legally, want to be here legally, and want to do things right. So, that is a huge threat and fear, that if anything jeopardizes their immigration status they are really afraid of what’s going to happen. I think that’s a big piece.
Another thing a lot of people have in order to come to United States on what they may think is a legal visa: they’ve mortgage their houses, they borrowed money from families, maybe entire villages, so they have all of that weight on their shoulders. They have all that responsibility, so they feel that they can’t do anything to jeopardize it. They have to pay those people back who let them borrow that money, and if they don’t do what they sought out to do in the United States then they are a failure to themselves and a shame to the entire family. So that’s a lot of pressure that these immigrants have and I think that’s the big misunderstanding with the kind of rhetoric that we’re hearing from our president—how awful these people are, that they’re doing these things illegally, that they’re criminals, that they’re awful human beings. In reality, a lot of these immigrants are what allows this country to function in a lot of different industries. So, I think it’s going to be really difficult for us to identify foreign national victims regardless of labor trafficking or sex. I think they’re going to be less likely to come forward, and we are seen indicators of that already.
I know in Denver, the city attorney was talking about how so many domestic violence cases have been dropped because victims are afraid to come forward. [This is the case] even though legally, if you are undocumented and in the United States and a crime is been committed against you, you actually have the capacity to get legal status through the U-Visa process. There are avenues where people can be here legally when crimes are committed, because that’s one of the great things about the U.S.—regardless of who you are, what status you have, the laws of the United States apply to everyone equally, and that is so important to remember, yet it’s getting lost in this rhetoric. If you have a crime committed against you, you have rights in this country, regardless of your immigration status, and I think this rhetoric is making it really difficult for people to feel like those rights are going to be protected.
CJLPP: In the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, it is stated that in order to receive a T-visa, you have to cooperate with the prosecution, which could be a deterrent for applicants due to a fear of losing their immigration status and a fear of facing their abuser. Could you speak to if and how the T-visa process could be changed in order to make the visas more accessible to foreign nationals who are victims of human trafficking?
Trujillo: That is the carrot and stick kind of attribute to the T-visa; I would probably say it is more of the stick side of it. What is challenging in the law is that they don’t define “cooperation,” they only say you have to “cooperate” with the prosecution of the trafficker. The rationale behind that is that you just don’t want to have victims coming forward and then not pursuing justice, and insuring that traffickers are being put behind bars. So, I appreciate and understand the motives behind it and so it happens—it just really depends—some prosecutors are really loose about that term of “cooperation,” and as long as you spend time doing a victim testimony or victim statement, that can be enough. However, other prosecutors might want a much higher level of cooperation, and so that, I think, is the real challenge; it is very uneven and it really depends on where you are, what kind of prosecutor you’re working with, how sympathetic that the prosecutor is, and how much empathy they have around trafficking and the trafficking experience. It’s really difficult. They’re often many times where traffickers or trafficking victims don’t want that—it’s not the justice they want to pursue. The justice they want to pursue is to simply move on with their lives, be able to get a job, and be with their families. They’re not really concerned about this piece. There are opportunities, there is language written into the law where if it would do “undo harm,” or if the experience is too traumatic, that they don’t have to provide testimony. There are opportunities for victims to file for T-visas without having the affirmation from law-enforcement and the sign off from the prosecution or the law-enforcement. You have to provide a lot of evidence as a victim’s service provider, but those are sometimes granted.
So there are slight avenues in which you could actually pursue T-visas without doing this full cooperation, and then depending on how well the prosecutors are educated. Then that prosecutor might say, as long as they give a victim statement—which they don’t even have to do in front of the prosecutor, and they could just do with their legal provider—that will be enough. So there are challenges with it; do we remove it altogether? That’s hard to say, because I think there are reasons that we want to have it. We want to encourage victims to feel comfortable coming forward, and I think it’s better to give people more time, allowing people to heal a little bit. If you are just coming out of a trafficking situation, and then you have all of this information that you have to give, I think that’s more difficult. Can we do that after three years, or can you give a lot more time for people to do a lot more healing and building trusting relationships? In some instances, that has happened. There was a case actually here in Orange County where there was a very young Egyptian girl, and it took her three years before she finally told her the story. At that time was when they prosecuted the trafficker in her situation. So, again, I think depending on the prosecution they can be very sympathetic and provide that latitude for the victim.
CJLPP: Another interesting part about T-visa application process is that that an applicant must demonstrate unusual or severe harm if they are removed from the United States. While this encompasses personal circumstances—such as likelihood of victimization upon return to their home country and lack of treatments—it does not include economic factors that one might face upon return to their home country. What is your opinion on action that could be taken by the home countries to support individuals who were denied T-visas and have returned? What you think the U.S.’s role should be in providing support for these victims?
Trujillo: That is interesting and I’m wondering how often that happens. Because you could also potentially apply for a U-visa as well. I think T-visa is actually the better option, but sometimes legal advocates go for the U-visa, because the burden of proof is sometimes a little easier since it’s a much bigger catch-all for different crimes. But I do know that the United States does support programming abroad through the Human Trafficking Persons Department of the State Department and they have a certain amount of money that they can support programming in the country of origin. I think in some cases, trafficking victims want to go home, and that is viable option if that is what they want to do. In my opinion, I think it should be easy to prove that there could be undue harm in returning home with all these different circumstances. Oftentimes, the trafficker is a known entity within the community that they’ve been recruiting, and so part of the threats and coercion that takes place is that “I know your family, I know where they are, if you don’t do what I say I could get to them and torture them or kill them” or something along those lines. Those pieces are very common in a trafficking story, so that is potentially some of the proof.
I think United States could support more programming in home countries where it actually eliminates the potential vulnerabilities within a village. Some of the work that an organization in D.C., called “Free the Slaves”, is doing is more prevention work, such as creating slave-proof villages: where you support the economy within this village and do on-the-ground grassroots education within a village and then they themselves protect their entire village from the recruitment tactics of potential traffickers. So providing that kind of support is a really good way to help foreign nationals being duped and encouraged take these really big risks to support their families. Aid and support on the groundwork—and trying to eliminate those push-pull factors in the first place—is a really great preventive measure. This could then also support this other side where people are returning to places that have opportunities for economic prosperity, then it wouldn’t be so difficult for people to return.
CJLPP: Can you speak about the specific jurisdiction in your work in Colorado, such as the types of cases you deal with and things you have seen recently?
Trujillo: In Colorado, I oversee and coordinate the work of the state-wide Colorado Human Trafficking Council. That is a body of thirty-one members that span a lot of different sectors and disciplines, and also tries to be state-wide, so we have rural and urban representation. The work that we are charged with is to basically develop a comprehensive and elaborative plan to address human trafficking in our state. Also, part of that is that the human trafficking statues in our state have changed. They have been modified to be much more in line with the federal law and have been much more successful. That all happened in 2014, so one of the really great things we’ve seen in the past two years is the number of case filings under our sex trafficking statute increase substantially. In the first full year of the statue in 2015, we had forty-two case filings, and then in 2016, we had fifty-one case filings on human trafficking charges. That is a huge change from our previous law, where we nothing. We only had three convictions from 2006-2014. So, big difference. I think that’s really encouraging, and it shows that these laws are much better and that they’re working.
Some of the cases we are seeing are kind of crazy. There was a recent conviction—the first plea on a human trafficking case in the state on these new statues—was a mother who had a twelve-year-old daughter who was going through a really rough time. She had some potential suicide tendencies, and was being bullied at school. So, her mother encouraged her daughter to try and find a friend online, which was mistake number one. The mother highly encouraged her, her daughter did just that. She found a friend, a male from Australia, who was something around 25 years old. They became very good friends and started to engage in a much more sexual online relationship, and the mother either was in denial and/or encouraged that relationship to happen, because her daughter was in better spirits and was happier. The elder brother—who is also the same age as the Australian person—found out about this, confronted the mother about it, and she was in denial. So, this Australian started sending money to the mother to help support and pay the bills, and then he came on a visit and stayed in a downtown hotel where the mother dropped the 12-year-old daughter off and left, and whatever happened, happened. Then, the Australian also sent her money to buy an engagement ring for her 12-year-old daughter, and in the end she ended up with like $8,000. They took this trip to Hawaii, and she was there. In the end, she was convicted of child sex trafficking, and essentially profiting from her daughter’s sexual relationship with this older person. So that’s just one kind of example of how we also forget that the traffickers can be someone’s mother. I would also say this 25-year-old Australian man was a trafficker as well, and he’s been prosecuted in Australia.
That’s just one really interesting and harsh example, she [the mother] got eight years in jail, which is the minimum sentence. I think one of the challenges we saw was when we went to the sentencing, and the judge still didn’t fully appreciate or understand human trafficking. He essentially said, “well, this daughter wasn’t chained up or anything, so I’m not really sure. I don’t really see any real force involved—she wasn’t chained and it wasn’t really against her will.” My response to that was to point out that she was only twelve, and didn’t totally have the ability to make those decisions. She turns to her mother to help her make those decisions, and she’s making poor decisions.” So, that was telling—we realized that we need to do more work in training judges and having them understand what these new laws are about; what it really means when we talk about coercion, and that there’s more than just physical force. There’s mental, psychological coercion that’s often more powerful. So that’s just another example.
We just had a huge conviction in Greeley on a sex trafficking case where the judge was on the opposite end, I think there were two or three victims on the case and she handed down a separate sentence for each of his victims. He’s getting something like 250 years in jail. So, on this extreme, we have this other judge who is handing down this really rough sentence to this perpetrator and trafficker, and I think she really understood the issues. It was interesting, because those victims were not even very compliant or compelling witnesses, because they still very much in denial about the whole thing, and still very much in love with their trafficker. Having those fond feeling made them not very compelling witnesses at all, yet the judge really understood those dynamics and why they weren’t compelling witnesses. That’s really great to see.
We’re doing a lot of work on training, public awareness, and looking at our state laws to see if there are things that need to be tweaked—or just let them go—and we are really monitoring that. We are also doing a lot of data collection to really understand the prevalence of human trafficking in our state. We’re trying to finally have one centralized place where one group is collecting all the data, looking at all the data, asking what all the patterns we see are, and asking if and why we can aggregate any of this data or not. Seeing that data and asking, what’s the prosecution data telling us? How do we compare that with the investigation data? And we saw a big discrepancy with investigation data: that there was hardly any data hardly at all, but we had forty-two prosecutions. We asked ourselves, how can you only have eleven arrests on human trafficking, but 42 case filings? That didn’t make sense, so we realized that it was a training issue, and that we need to do something about that. We’re seeing the victim service data telling us that they’re serving a lot more laboring trafficking victims versus sex trafficking, but all the prosecutions are from sex trafficking. So why is that discrepancy happening, and how can we train bridge that gap, making policy recommendations to better align all of that work? Those are the kind of things that we’re doing, and it’s very exciting to build a program from the ground up in my home state, providing those policy recommendations.
We’re just about to launch a major training initiative in the state, and I’m hopefully about to hire a training specialist soon. Her job will be to go out and build training capacity across the state. We developed a human trafficking core curriculum for our state, and she’s going to go out, and hopefully by the end of the year we will have fifty people educated as trainers to deliver this program outside the Denver-metro area. So, we’re really focused on getting a lot more training out there, and more people understanding what we’re talking about when we discuss human trafficking and what is the response is here in Colorado.
CJLPP: A typical form of human trafficking that many people think of is what you mentioned at the beginning of our interview, regarding sweatshops labor trafficking, specifically in other countries. In the United States, a lot of awareness has been brought to the importance of fair trade clothing and products, and people have started to make the shift. Despite this, many continue to buy products from big companies that exploit their workers. What do you think it will take for there to be a fundamental shift that pushes these types of companies out of the market if the maintain their support of harmful practices?
Trujillo: That’s a big challenge, and that’s one of the things that we really need to work on. In other countries, like Europe, the knowledge of fair trade is in the eightieth percentile. So, within the European and Australian markets, the consumers are demanding fair trade. Their knowledge of and their desire for fair trade goods is much bigger, so that’s evidence that if you have a really strong and robust ongoing educational campaign, a cultural shift can actually occur. I’ve been to Australia and the U.K. in the last five years, and I was astonished.
Starbucks is a perfect example. They are the largest coffee buyer of fair trade coffee, however it’s only about one to three percent of the entire coffee they buy, because they buy so much. The volume that they buy is incredible, and they are the biggest fair trade coffee purchasers, but it’s still such a small about. But, in some of their markets—for example in Australia—Starbucks is one hundred percent fair trade, because their consumers are demanding it. For them to be competitive in the Australian market, that’s what they do, same thing in the U.K. But the probably biggest consumer of their coffee is the United States, and they don’t have to do that in the United states because their consumers aren’t demanding that shift. That isn’t to say that their coffee is bad, they’re also doing some really interesting things about direct purchasing and knowing their farmers and things like that. I just think that’s a really interesting example of how the power of consumer demand can shift what they do in terms of selling their product, so they are actually encouraging people to go to their Starbucks. They made that shift and decided to be 100 percent fair trade, so that people would come to their coffee shop over a competitors, because that was a good economic selling point and good way to market their coffee.
Another big thing that is happening was initiated in California, and is called the Transparency and Supply Chain Act. Passed in 2010, it was the first law to require these major companies that do business in California to investigate their supply chain, and then provide that information on their website for consumers to look. So, that creates transparency in their supply-chain, when they have to put it up there. I can’t recall the exact threshold, but it’s pretty big, multimillion dollar companies that have to do it. It didn’t have a lot of teeth, but it does give consumers knowledge and require companies to start thinking about their supply chain, instead of having this denial piece that says, “whatever, that’s thounsands of people away from me, so we’re not involved in human trafficking because that’s the subcontractor of the subcontractor of the subcontractor of the subcontractor.” And, what’s interesting is that now the California law has persuaded the entire U.K. to pass a similar law, so that any companies doing business in in the U.K.—which is a major market—have to do something similar. So now companies’ feet are sort of being held to the fire, because they have this major market in Europe that they have to do this for, they have California, which is a major market in the United States. So what I’m really hearing now in the anti-trafficking space is that there are actually nonprofits who solely focus on supply chain work, and they are working with companies to be in compliance with these new laws that are passing. What I think is going to happen, is that they’re not just going to do it for the U.K. market, but it is actually going to have a ripple effect in the entire supply chain.
I also think that that piece needs to be coupled with a better campaign with U.S. consumers regarding fair trade, supply chains, and making better choices. It’s not easy, but personally I try to make smart decisions when I buy things—I try to buy fair trade coffee and fair trade chocolate, and when I’m baking a cake for work I try to make sure that I get fair trade chocolate chips. I’ve seen a change in the availability of these things as well. You see more chocolate options, for example, and there’s lots of places now that you can buy fairtrade products. When I was running the Human Trafficking Organization in Houston we did a 5K race every year, and I ensured that the t-shirts for the run were 100 percent fair trade. Not only that, but they were actually made by survivors of trafficking in India. Was that easy? No, it was a much more difficult process, but I had to stand for something. If I was going to say this was important, I had to walk the walk, not just talk the talk. And it was a lot more challenging, but at the end of the day was it more expensive? No, it was actually cheaper—it just took more time. I think that this is something students could do, whether it be T-shirts, coffee, or anything. There was a whole movement about fair trade towns; that was something we were trying to do in Houston, trying to create a fair trade town and having these different kind of opportunities to do that. One of them was just putting education out, and then really trying to encourage the city have more preference for vendors who provide fair trade goods over other vendors. So, it could be like a preference in procurement, and that could be something that happens at a college. Like making a preference for women-owned businesses or minority-owned businesses, you could use the same kind of preference when hiring vendors. For example, the Motely coffeehouse at Scripps—Do they sell 100 percent fair trade coffee? If not, why not? What economic shift would that make for them to provide only 100 percent fair trade coffee? Would it be more expensive? Less expensive? And would students take on the burden of maybe their coffee being $.50 more or a dollar more?
[The CLJPP inquired at the Motley, and learned that while all the coffee is either fair or direct trade, the coffeehouse is not 100 percent fair trade due to other products sold there].
CJLPP: How big of a role does mental health support for victims play in the human trafficking realm? Across the U.S. there has been many movements towards more mental health awareness and the end of mental health stigmas. Could you highlight how that relates to your work at all?
Trujillo: Mental health is a huge component for human trafficking survivors. The amount of trauma that they experience with their trafficking exploitation is huge, so there is actually a huge need up for mental health service providers to provide assistance. On of the big things we did in Colorado this past year in 2016, was starting to create standards for mental health providers—to basically provide guidance for what would it take to provide a good level of mental health assistance to human trafficking victims. To expand upon this, what education expertise and experience would need to be possessed by mental health providers, besides just having a license, to actually provide good service in this area? So, we put together some guidance documents about focusing on trauma and trauma-informed care, It’s something that’s exceptionally important when it comes to trafficking survivors, because they’re all going to have some level of trauma experience. That was big component, and then just general knowledge about human trafficking experiences themselves. If you’re going to be a successful mental health provider, you need to understand what they potential have gone through and be able to provide treatment around that. We also work to provide a lot of information around treatment recommendations, so I do think it is a major component for any trafficking survivor’s healing.
However, there are some cultural dynamics that play a role. Even in the United States, mental health is still stigmatized. You have a lot of traffic in survivors that experience even more stigmatize in their home country, so that’s something we’re trying to figure out.
I think the other challenge that we have is in the delivery system, in terms of how much assistance someone can obtain through the funding that is available. I know of a trafficking survivor who experienced it in high school, and now this person is in her late forties and still needs assistance from time to time. There are things that trigger her trauma, even though thirty years have passed. That’s another big thing that we don’t address within mental health, is that a time limit cannot be set upon trauma and mental healing. Especially with these kinds of highly traumatic experiences where there are layers upon layers of trauma. It’s not necessarily even just the human trafficking trauma, but there could be trauma from child abuse, suicidal tendencies, economic disparity, and more, so they could be levels of trauma that are occurring within one person. We need to shift our understanding of what people need from mental health and healing.
CJLPP: What comes next? You have spoken of the importance of increased mental health training and education, in terms of defining what human trafficking is and what can be done. What do you anticipate for the future in your field and work?
Trujillo: I am definitely going to be busy. In Colorado, there is a still a need for training and making sure people have a common understanding of human trafficking and the common language used to describe human trafficking. That’s my big goal through this training initiative, is to now have the entire state at some level understanding and talking about human trafficking in the same way. Once we have a common language, we can build upon that and make better comprehensive strategies around that, because we will be actually talking about the same thing. I think that’s a big piece, and that also comes from public awareness.
I think another big area that we haven’t touched on yet, but we still need to, is this prevention piece. Often times with crime, we spend a lot of time on the reactive side—how can we help people after they are a victim of this crime? There’s a lot of reasons for that; we want to deal with this acute need to help someone and assist them after they’ve experienced a crime. A lot of energy is put into that, for example providing assistance for the victim, developing justice, creating justice, and going after the perpetrator. We spend a lot of time trying to figure that out, and it is not one-hundred percent perfect, but what we haven’t done is really address those root causes. For example, why are people vulnerable to a human trafficking in the first place? This economic disparity, how can we help people not take the risks? I think that fair trade plays a role in that. If we are paying people a fair wage and they have ability to provide for their families, send their children to school, and depend on work with a steady income, they are not going to take the risk to leave their country and be in these vulnerable positions. We’ve seen this success happen with the fair trade movement, and where it’s successful, we can see that being a really good thing.
In regards to U.S. citizens, kids are generally more vulnerable to this crime, simply due to their age. So me must ask ourselves, how can we do more prevention education in the school system? Currently, we are not really doing that, because schools are very resistant to this education about sex trafficking and labor trafficking. I actually have the opportunity to sit on a panel in a couple weeks for the National Association for School Board Members, when they are having their convention in Denver. That will be something that I will really be communicating to these decision makers for school districts all across the country. I think that is going to be a really big piece; getting into the schools and educating students. There are some really great prevention educational programs out there, they are just not really getting the opportunities to put it out there, teach students about this crime, and empower them on how not to be vulnerable. That’s a big piece that we still need to work on, that prevention piece, all these different ways, so we will start working on that too.
Looking at another big thing that is out there and working is vacatur laws. A lot of trafficking victims, often because of their trafficking experience, commit crimes—but it is because of their trafficking experiences that they commit these crimes. So they develop these criminal records, and those are actually a huge hurdle for people being able to move forward. So, that’s is a big piece too. How do we help support victims coming out of their situation who have criminal records, despite those crimes being committed in the first place because of their trafficking situation. There is some federal legislation out there looking at those issues, whether it be providing opportunities to seal records, to expunge records, or to just completely eliminate those records altogether, if they can be tied directly to trafficking situations. That is something we have debated in Colorado, and provided some recommendations on. It is a really challenging thing, because there are various levels of criminality—it is very different if you committed a crime of shoplifting during your trafficking experience, versus murder or assault—those are very different crimes. There needs to be a smart debate around that. I think, at the end of the day, it is probably an individual situation. It really has to be assessed what the individual has done, and why, and what were the motivations. But, that becomes a huge burden for being able to get an apartment, to get a job, so how are we expecting trafficking survivors to move on if they can’t simply get those necessities due to their criminal record. That is some “food for thought,” as we go forward in the anti-trafficking field, and there is a lot to do still.
CJLPP: Thank you so much for your time and expertise. It was great to hear about your work and the complex issues that are prevalent in the anti-trafficking space.
**This interview has been edited for length and clarity.