The Invisible Crime: Human Trafficking in Utah

By Liza Bacon and Gabrielle Barker for

On February 12, 2014, the Center for Global Justice, S.J. Quinney College of Law and the Social Justice Student Initiative were honored to welcome Veteran Fire Captain Fernando Rivero for “The Invisible Crime: Human Trafficking in Utah.” The event was widely attended by over 200 attendees that ranged from students, faculty, staff, law enforcement, juvenile justice advocates, attorneys, medical personnel, and community partners. The Center for Global Justice and the S.J. Quinney of Law kindly co-sponsored the event and provided lunch for participants. Mr. Rivero enlightened the audience about human trafficking statistics, types of human trafficking, recruitment of victims, and what needs to be done to combat this major issue.

Mr. Rivero opened by explaining to the audience that we need to “look beneath the surface” in our everyday interactions. He explained that, “all of us here can make a difference and we can all be a part of stopping human trafficking.” His main message was that we, as advocates, through education and legal reform, can make a difference in ending the exploitation of human beings.

Mr. Rivero gave startling statistics about human trafficking worldwide, in the United States, and here in Utah. A major similarity that occurs in all of the statistics is the occurrence of sexual violence. About 90% of human trafficking victims are sexually assaulted during their lives. Mr. Rivero also explained the correct definition for human trafficking as the “trade of human beings, most commonly for the purpose of sexual slavery or other sexual exploitation or other types of labor and commercial exploitation.” Human trafficking involves force, fraud and coercion and is akin to modern day slavery. The statistics on human trafficking are staggering, and illustrate the magnitude of the problem both at home and abroad. In the United States, human trafficking is a $9.8 billion per year industry with roughly 300,000 underage girls being sold for sex in the United States each year. Worldwide, about 30 million people are being trafficked. These numbers, although shocking, should not serve to overwhelm those who seek to help victims of human trafficking. By small steps, we all can make a difference in ending this form of abuse against vulnerable populations.

An important theme that Mr. Rivero emphasized during his entire presentation was that children who are trafficked either for sex or some other commercial activity are victims. They are not prostitutes, or criminals. These children are being recruited because of their vulnerabilities, which may be from sexual abuse, domestic violence, homelessness, or substance abuse. The sex traffickers provide them with a false sense of “love” at first, which many of these victims desperately want. In Utah, there is a safe harbor law that legally protects child victims of trafficking, however not all states have such laws.

Mr. Rivero provided us with information about the victims of human trafficking and red flags to watch for when we are out in the community. The victims are diverse, “ they are our children, friends, neighbors, men, women, adults, and children. They are undocumented and documented immigrants, US citizens, runaways and homeless youth, any oppressed and marginalized population is at risk for becoming a victim.” All victims are targeted by traffickers for their vulnerability. Victims can be housekeepers in hotels or homes, child care nannies, nail salon workers, agricultural workers, they can work at mall kiosks, work for traveling sales crews, work in construction, they can be at rest and truck stops, and restaurants. There is not just one place where victims are located, which is why it is important to always watch for red flags. Locally, sex trafficking specifically occurs on the streets, in motels, massage parlors that are hard to regulate, on internet services, in exotic dance clubs, at truck stops, in homes, at the Super Bowl and other large sporting events and via escort services. Red Flags to watch for in sex trafficking include an older boyfriend with a young girl, a victim traveling with an older male, signs of trauma, substance abuse, fear and branding or tattooing. Other red flags to watch for include poor physical and mental health.

How we criminalize those involved with human trafficking was also a topic Mr. Rivero touched on in his hour-long presentation. Buyers are not receiving severe enough penalties, most often, being sentenced only to a misdemeanor while the victims are more harshly punished and denied access to social services. He mentioned the Swedish Model, which does not penalize sex workers but instead penalizes the buyers, the brothel or motel owners and all other accessories to the trafficking. This model is one to watch in the coming years as a possible solution in our criminal justice system to addressing the supply and demand of trafficking in America.

Finally, the rescue of victims was the last major theme explored by Mr. Rivero and the audience. The rescue of victims must be a continual process, he emphasized that it does not just end with physically removing the victim from their trafficker. The rescue must include a long process of “physical rehabilitation, mental rehabilitation, drug rehabilitation, and job rehabilitation.” We need to keep this long-term rescue process, as well as a victim-centered approach in mind when thinking about human trafficking solutions in our community.

Overall it is important to remember as students, future practitioners, and community members that, as Mr. Rivero stated, “all of us here can make a difference and we can all be a part of stopping human trafficking.” In closing Mr. Rivero left the audience with this quote by William Wilberforce, “You may choose to look the other way but you can never again say that you did not know.” The Center for Global Justice, S.J. Quinney College of Law and the Social Justice Student Initiative would like to thank Mr. Rivero for his insights and the education he provided our community on human trafficking.

Please utilize the following local and national resources for aid or assistance and education about human trafficking:

Rape Recovery Center
24-hour crisis and information hotline 801.467.7273


Sexual Violence Hotline
24-hour toll-free statewide crisis and information hotline: 1.888.421.1100

Women’s Resource Center

Center for Student Wellness

UTIP: tip line 801-200-3443

Polaris Project

National Human trafficking hotline 1-888-373-7888

Shared Hope International

Department of Homeland Security

Blue Campaign

To watch the full talk please visit: the event website.