State Mobilizes to Fight Human Trafficking

Hundreds of police and social workers are on the alert for foreigners held against their will.

Colorado officials on Monday warned that the elusive problem of
human trafficking “is alive and well” in neighborhoods

And public-safety chiefs are mobilizing hundreds of police officers
and social workers to watch out for trafficked workers held against
their will.

Some of the 800 trained so far, under a $450,000 federal grant,
have begun using a network of on-call interpreters who speak
Korean, Mandarin, Russian and Spanish and can help identify
potential victims.

“This is a hidden, hideous, complex crime that is against civil
rights of people around the world,” said state Rep. Alice
Borodkin, D-Denver, leader of a task force scheduled to address
legislative committees today.

A task-force study completed this month refers to recent cases,
including a Denver police crackdown on Korean-run spas and the
conviction of an Aurora couple from Saudi Arabia who kept an
Indonesian woman as a slave.

Meanwhile, FBI agents in December finished two investigations of
farmworkers held against their will, FBI spokeswoman Rene
VonderHaar said.

“If we hear about it, we will work it,” she said.

The problem: Trafficking has proved hard to detect. Victims
typically fear retribution and clam up, experts say. Unlike
smuggling, trafficking involves confiscation of travel documents
and other coercion.

The U.S. State Department estimates 14,500 to 17,500 foreign
workers are brought into the country each year via trafficking –
part of a $9 billion global criminal trade exceeded only by illegal
arms and drug dealing.

A handful of traffickers are convicted each year under federal
laws. Colorado and 26 other states have passed anti-trafficking
laws of their own.

Now Colorado public-safety officials are training police officers
and others along Interstates 25 and 70 to treat foreign workers
they meet as possible victims.

A hotline run under federal contract by the Salvation Army is to
dispatch interpreters to help police.

Lakewood police Sgt. Bob Major and his special investigators tried
it out last month. A resident had tipped them that a massage parlor
might be holding women inside.

Major deployed undercover detectives. On their second visit, a
Chinese woman newly arrived from Arizona and a colleague offered
the detectives sex for an extra $40, Major said.

Beyond ending prostitution, the goal of police was “to see if we
could get them to cooperate on human trafficking.”

The police called for help. A Mandarin interpreter and an
immigration attorney arrived at police headquarters within three
hours and helped conduct an interview with the Chinese woman and a

If the women were coerced and turned on traffickers, the police
explained, they could be sheltered in a safehouse and issued
special visas to stay in the country under federal law.

Female supervisors from the spa arrived at police headquarters and
bailed them out of jail.

“We talk to a lot of these women. They tell us they’re here of
their own free will. But sometimes their families are threatened
back home,” Major said.

He and his detectives planned to use interpreters again when
dealing with possible victims, he said. “Our message: If you help
us, we will take care of you.”