This story is the final in a two-part series related to National Migration Week Jan. 5-11, an initiative of the U.S. bishops that calls Catholics to help ease the struggles of vulnerable migrant populations.
Alex found herself on the street needing shelter and food—and no place to turn.
She was 16 at the time and felt she had no other choice. Her abusive boyfriend wanted her to turn to prostitution.
“At first it was terrifying, and then you just kind of become numb to it,” she said in an FBI video about victims of sex trafficking. “You put on a whole different attitude—like a different person. …You feel empty. You’re at the bottom of bottom and you have nobody to go to.”
Two years later she reached out to the FBI who helped jail her pimp and recover other young victims of sex trafficking, according to bureau testimony.
It’s a story not uncommon for homeless youths, especially in Colorado, a state with reportedly the highest rate per capita of sex slavery. Children who have a void in their lives are most susceptible, according to FBI agent Kurt Ormberg of the Anchorage Alaska division.
“That void might be related to family, food or shelter, but it’s a void that needs to be filled, and pimps fill it,” he said on the bureau website.
And after they nurture their victims, he said, they sexually exploit them.
“Too often,” Ormberg added, “these young victims don’t think they have anywhere else to turn.”
Since its creation in 2003, the FBI’s Innocence Lost National Initiative has recovered more than 2,700 children who were sexually exploited. In July, FBI agents recovered nine youths enslaved in Colorado of the 105 recovered nationwide from an undercover sting. Police also arrested and charged 150 pimps.
Human trafficking has gained the attention of the faith community as more religious and nonprofit organizations are forming to rescue and aid victims.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops held National Migration week from Jan. 5-11 to recognize a series of issues, including human trafficking. Its site reports nearly 1.5 million victims are forced into labor, sexual exploitation or servitude in the United States. Some 98 percent of sex-trafficking victims are women and girls.
Locally, safe havens are being founded as a place for young victims to restore their lives and find healing.
Amy’s House in LaPorte was established to restore youths through residential, therapeutic and educational programs. In Colorado Springs, Restore Innocence was started to provide youths with a home and a mentor to begin healing in its Cinderella House. Their mission is to “restore victims of child trafficking back to the innocent children God created them to be.”
Father Dave Nix of Blessed John XXIII Parish in Fort Collins is working with local Catholics to raise awareness and found a Catholic safe haven in the state.
He said Mary is a crucial element to helping young victims heal.
“The full healing and deliverance that can happen in the lives of these girls will only come through the sacraments and Mary,” he told the Denver Catholic Register last year. “If Catholics bow out of this fight, these kids don’t stand a chance.”
The Catholic response to the issue would be to build the dignity of young girls formerly enslaved and increase the community’s involvement.
Prax(us) is another nonprofit launched to address the root causes of human trafficking through weekly outreach on Denver’s streets and connecting homeless youths to resources to help recovery.
“Our point and goal is to build trust with people,” said Emily Lafferrandre, 28, director of education and advocacy. “We want to connect with them and help them stay as safe as possible.”
She said it’s difficult to profile victims, yet they focus on homeless youths, ethnic youths and other young populations without stable resources.
The initiative began in 2007 and in 2012 alone they reached out to 184 youths, she said. Every week they bring resources to those on the streets and hold dinners Monday nights at Central Presbyterian Church.
Without the help of the police or these nonprofits, victims may end up abused, jailed or even dead.
Alex is one example.
“I was very lucky to be able to walk away,” she said in an FBI video. “I never got hurt, so I’m really, really lucky. I’m one of the few that can say that.”
She said she would have “ended up dead” if it wasn’t for her rescue.
Alex later earned her high school diploma and has plans to attend college.
“What happened to me happened, and I can’t change it,” she said. “I can only change my future.”
Signs of Exploitation
–Questionable work and living conditions
– Poor mental health or abnormal behavior
-Poor physical health, signs of physical or sexual abuse
– Lack of control, has no ID
Colorado Human Trafficking Hotline: 1-866-455-5075
Prax(us) confidential local hotline: 303-317-7009