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Human Trafficking in the Land of Zion

Updated: Jan 26, 2021

The first Anglo-European settlers, Mormon pioneers, arrived in the area now known as Utah in the late 1800s. They named the area Zion, which is ancient Hebrew for sanctuary or refuge. Utah and Zion has become known for the Mormon Religion (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints). It is known for Families and many children. It is known for beautiful mountains and beautiful Temples. Unfortunately, in 2015, the beautiful State of Utah had the 36th highest National Human Trafficking Resource Center call volume of all 50 states. Fast Forward to 2020 and human trafficking, labor and sex, seems to be on the rise.

First how do we identify a victim of trafficking. Well there's questions that need to be asked but the victim must be in a safe environment. Ask them about their employment and how they are being paid. Easy question for most people to answer but to a young trafficking victim it's surreal. What are their working and living conditions like? Can you leave your job if you want to? That question might invoke a fearful response. Same with asking them if they're allowed to go to the bathroom, eat, or sleep when they want to. Do they have identification or documentation? Usually this has been taken from them. Trafficking victims are unable to answer scheduling questions or questions regarding living and working conditions. They are minors, fearful, timid, and submissive. They have obvious signs of physical and/or psychological abuse. Many times they're with someone else and it may be impossible to break them apart. If that's the case go with your gut and call the authorities.

I recently went to a Human Trafficking symposium at the University of Utah sponsored by the Utah Attorney General's Office. So why Utah of all places? Utah is known by pedophiles and predators as a "Target rich environment." Pedophile's victims are usually elementary aged and toddlers where predators target teenagers and pre-teens (tweens). With the religion brings families. Families bring kids and kids bring targets for the traffickers. That's not the only reason. Utah is a drug and trafficking pipeline. With interstate 15 running East to West and Interstate 80 running North to South it is an easy travel route getting to borders, airports, and seaports.

So how do they do it? So how do traffickers groom the trust of teenagers. We know elementary and below you're looking at kidnapping but teenagers how? Do you know that 95% post their class schedules on social media along with other family or personal problems. This gives an insight about the victim for the trafficker. The trafficker will often times try and isolate the victim before even meeting them. Put the victim against their parents or friends. It is very subtle and gradual and they are very patient. Traffickers can be patient because they have more than one victim they are communicating with. They appear, of course, genuine and have consistent contact with the victim. They might go as far as to buy gifts, utilize flattery, attention, and secrecy. After all they must be trusted. With this alleged trust they can now build some emotional rapport with the victim. Simple right?

Utah is making strides against human trafficking. It is a worldwide problem that has hit home. In 2017, Utah enacted a Sextortion law. Sextortion is only a small piece of the equation as social media and gaming has opened doors and have made it easy for the trafficker to enter your home without being there. If you have any suspicion of possible human trafficking in Utah contact the UTIP task force 1-801-200-3443. You can call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 1-888-373-7888 as well for any services or resources.

Talk to your kids, pay attention, take action

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