Fort Collins is a growing city that is closely located to a major interstate. This makes it easy for sex traffickers to come and go, according to Samantha Aschwanden, vice president of No More Injustice, the student organization that runs Enslaved.
During the month of April, 10 men were arrested for responding to online advertisements offering sex at Fort Collins hotels. In November 2013, multiple Fort Collins massage parlors were investigated for pimping, pandering and keeping a place of prostitution.
In addition to the arrests made in the last couple years, there are specific sections of Mulberry Street that are known for trafficking and prostitution, according to Aschwanden.
“Spreading awareness about human trafficking is so important,” Aschwanden said. “Sex trafficking is a complex problem within Larimer County.”
Sex trafficking and prostitution can be difficult for people to understand, according to President of No More Injustice Kalista Consol.
“It’s important to know that people talk about sex trafficking and prostitution in different ways,” Consol said. “There are people who say prostitution is something you have to validate in a sex-positive way. They say that they are doing it completely by choice and that’s how they’re making their money and that must be respected. Others say that even when it is not trafficking it’s not really a choice because it was their past that led them the industry.”
It is difficult to reach out to those affected by sex trafficking, because many do not consider themselves victims.
“Victims can sometimes believe their traffickers have their best interest at heart,” Aschwanden said. “Often, victims are teens who ran away from the foster care system or an unhealthy home environment. This makes them extremely vulnerable to manipulation because they have very few choices.”
According to Karrin Anderson, a Colorado State University professor known for her class Communication and Anti Human Trafficking, the commercial sex industry preys on vulnerable people. It takes advantage of those who have no one looking out for their best interest. The vulnerable often need love and the pimps know that.
According to Anderson, up to 90 percent of those engaged in commercial sex have a history of physical, mental and/or sexual abuse. Because of this, prostitution is almost never a victimless crime.
“Commercial sex exploitation is highly lucrative for traffickers and comparatively low-risk,” Anderson said. “Unlike drugs or weapons, people can be sold repeatedly, and since the victims are often young, disadvantaged and/or traumatized, they are usually not a threat to their traffickers.”
Because of advances in technology, prostitutes spend less time on public street corners and more time in arranged homes or hotels, making it increasingly difficult for authorities to know about.
Even if traffickers are identified by law enforcement, it is difficult for them to get prosecuted.
“Asking trafficking survivors to testify against their traffickers can compound their trauma, and even if they are willing and able to testify, victims of sex trafficking often do not make ‘ideal’ witnesses,” Anderson said.
Members of the CSU and Fort Collins community can help by spreading awareness, according to Aschwanden.
“It is important for students to try and get involved and work to make law enforcement and other agencies notice how important this cause is to our community,” Aschwanden said.
Collegian Reporter Emery Love can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @emerynlove.