In the past four years, the FBI’s Rocky Mountain Innocence Lost Task Force has fielded more than 2,100 tips. Those tips have led to 128 arrests for the trafficking or pimping of a child. Another 67 arrests were for sex assault cases and adults accused of soliciting child prostitutes.
There’s little awareness for the victims, Det. Chris Stadler told KUNC News. He represents the Douglas County Sheriff on the FBI task force, which fights human trafficking cases involving kids under 18. It is "a major issue affecting us right here in Colorado," Stadler said.
Some are starting to pay attention, he added. That's because, in part, of the efforts of a group of high school students. They will gather at The Valor Center in Highlands Ranch, south of Denver, on Saturday (March 11, 2017) for the SHIFT Justice Conference, which is now in its second year. The students, from Valor Christian High School, are networking with about a half dozen Denver-area high schools to bring attention to the issue. Stadler, who will speak at the conference, applauds their effort as helpful.
On what makes kids vulnerable to trafficking
Stadler: You have these push-pull factors. So some of the things we're looking at are: running away from home, drug addiction, a promise of a better lifestyle. 'You can make a lot of money. You're beautiful. You can be a model. I can help you into this lifestyle.'
On what life looks like for trafficked kids
Stadler: These kids are forced into a lot of things that they don't want to do. No little girl wakes up one day saying, 'Hey, when I grow up, I want to be a prostitute,' especially servicing the needs of multiple men per day, having someone that's controlling their every move, not giving them money, not giving them the ability to leave or go anywhere on their own.
On the age range of kids encountered by the task force
Stadler: The average age of prostitution that we're seeing here in Colorado is anywhere from 12 to 14 years old. We've some a little older and some a little younger. I've seen a girl as young as 9 years old that has been a victim of trafficking right here in Colorado.
On what happens to kids taken into custody
Stadler: We have a lot of different resources that we approach these kids with. We have a new approach where it is a multidisciplinary team. We're partnering with human services. We're partnering with therapists. We're partnering with guardian ad litems and other treatment providers to where these kids are getting, even, basic necessities... meeting those basic needs and then meeting those post-traumatic stress type of needs as well with therapy down the road.