Utah State University program researches human trafficking in Utah
SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah State University Utah Women & Leadership Project, UWLP, conducted a research project in order to better understand human trafficking among Utah girls and women. The UWLP released a report on its findings, which has information from around 50 sources in the state.
Globally, the use of people for profit through force, fraud, or coercion is a major problem. Human trafficking can look very different depending on the situation. This includes forced labor, debt bondage, domestic servitude, and sexual exploitation. Utah is no exemption, with human trafficking occurring in rural and urban areas.
According to the UWLP report, in February of 2021, police arrested six people for human trafficking and prostitution in massage parlors. Also, in 2020, the National Human Trafficking Hotline got 182 contacts about 64 reports of human trafficking in Utah.
Furthermore, the Utah Attorney General’s Office led 49 human trafficking investigations and prosecuted eight cases. So, they served 44 victims.
Who is at risk
Susan Madsen, founding director of the UWLP and report author, said trafficking can happen to girls, boys, women, men, and non-binary people. Furthermore, it can happen to those who are diverse in race, ethnicity, nationality, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic status, among other factors.
She also said that 98% of victims of sex trafficking were female and 60% of victims of forced labor were male. This only reflects identified victims, not the rates of those trafficked. It can be assumed the numbers are much higher, according to Madsen.
Human trafficking researcher Lindsay Gezinski offered some insight on how victims are targeted. Possible factors influencing trafficking risk include poverty, family separation, forced displacement, oppression, religious persecution, natural disasters, restrictive migration policies, political dissension, and armed conflicts. Situations in which social, economic, and employment opportunities are lacking are also factors.
According to the UWLP report, additional factors include substance dependence, homelessness, abuse –sexual, physical, and emotional– undocumented immigration status, running away from home, involvement with the foster care system, and former incarceration.
“And contrary to what we hear in popular culture, traffickers are unlikely to kidnap a complete stranger from the street,” Gezinski said.
“The research shows us that traffickers may be acquaintances, friends, romantic partners, or family members. In addition, victims may be lured by fake job advertisements, staffing agencies, and false promises of employment. While the situation is daunting and frightening, there are things we can and must do,” Gezinski added.
How to prevent traffic
UWLP researchers have found three ways for Utahns to help.
First, preventative measures, such as community and school-based education on human trafficking. Second, know the signs of trafficking. Lastly, immediate and long-term assistance to survivors.