Annual Human Trafficking Symposium aimed to support survivors

Meagan Stackpool

Colorado is no stranger to human trafficking: an issue that has been especially prevalent in Northern Colorado recently. In 2019 alone, Colorado saw a little over 100 human trafficking cases, according to the Human Trafficking Hotline’s website. 

Aimed at educating the public about how prevalent human trafficking is, the 2020 Northern Colorado Human Trafficking Symposium took place Thursday in the Lory Student Center and saw an attendance of 719 community members. 

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person sorts clothes
College of Health and Human Sciences student Megan Gillham sorts through colorful saris made and sold by women who have been victims of human trafficking in India. Gillham is a volunteer with the sex trafficking prevention organization U Count. They host a marketplace of handmade products from women in countries like India and Spain to make a profit and support themselves after escaping human trafficking. (Brooke Buchan | The Collegian)

The Human Trafficking Symposium featured a variety of speakers and breakout sessions that provided training and insight on modern-day slavery and the critical process of healing post-liberation, all centered around the theme of “Joining Forces on the Front Lines.”

Megan Lundstrom, a speaker at the event who has focused on survivor-centered research on the commercial sex trade as the founder and executive director of Free Our Girls and co-director of Avery Research and Consulting, spoke from experience as a survivor of human trafficking about how the process of research saved her life

During her experience with trafficking, Lundstrom said she never had the ability to ask why or to make her own choices. After she escaped, she found that furthering her education was more important than she realized, and she earned a finance degree at the University of Northern Colorado. 

“That finance degree was so powerful because I had that safe place to ask questions, ask why, ask how and find out the answers,” Lundstrom said.

Lundstrom said that over the five years she was trafficked, she had more than 75 encounters with law enforcement and medical personnel, and not once did anyone ask if she needed help. Through the course of her research years later, she found that they weren’t acting in a malicious way as she had felt at the time, but they simply didn’t know what signs to look for.

We want more research, we want more data and we want a body of valid literature that is data-driven to help us tell our stories.” -Lumina Albert, associate professor of management, CSU College of Business

Now, as she travels and speaks to professionals and the general public about her experience and research, she has noticed more and more spaces using trauma-informed environments in efforts to work with survivors. 

human trafficking welcome sign
The 2020 Human Trafficking Symposium kicked off in the Lory Student Center Thursday, Feb. 6. This year’s theme was centered around “Joining Forces on the Front Lines” in Northern Colorado and the world. (Brooke Buchan | The Collegian)

Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes was another main speaker at the symposium. According to his bio, Reyes is considered a global expert on human trafficking and was an undercover operative in one of the largest sex trafficking operations on record, liberating more than 120 children in one day. 

Reyes’ presentation focused on shedding light on the proliferation of human trafficking today.

Human trafficking is the second fastest growing organized crime after the drug trade, Reyes said, and it is on course to become the most lucrative organized crime, already estimated to be worth more than $150 billion worldwide. 

Reyes praised CSU’s efforts at the symposium.

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“I saw the experts that you brought in globally,” Reyes said. “It’s amazing that this is only your second year.”

Jordan Pinelli, a CSU master’s student studying communications and media management, spoke about her main takeaways from the symposium. 

“It’s an issue that not only Colorado has, but Northern Colorado (too),” Pinelli said. “There’s so many allies out here trying to get on the front lines and make an impact and make a difference to fight it. In order to combat this issue, we need to spread awareness.”

The truth many of us don’t want to see is that during most of my captivity, I looked just like you. I’m much more like you than you’ve imagined. This movement needs you and me. Let’s remind everyone of my ability to rise beyond freedom.” -Angela Clark, co-founder of Four Corners Anti-Trafficking Task Force

person speaks to audience
Ruth Dearnley, CEO of the human trafficking prevention organization Stop the Traffik, speaks at the 2020 Human Trafficking Symposium in the Lory Student Center Ballroom Thursday, Feb. 6. Her organization is centered around the idea of using community and cyber information to track and reduce human trafficking. “How do we start to see it, this global crime? The key is about information. Stories. We are never going to be able to map this if we do not use technology,” Dearnley said. (Brooke Buchan | The Collegian)

Lumina Albert, an associate professor of management in CSU’s College of Business and one of the minds behind the conference, said she and her team wanted to create an event that would have a great social impact — one that would transform the community.

Albert also emphasized the importance of having survivors present in the symposium this year and the importance of research in the fight against something as pervasive as human trafficking.

“We want more research, we want more data and we want a body of valid literature that is data-driven to help us tell our stories,” Albert said. 

Angela Clark, co-founder of the Four Corners Anti-Trafficking Task Force, wrapped up one of the sessions with a piece she wrote. 

“The truth many of us don’t want to see is that during most of my captivity, I looked just like you,” Clark said. “I’m much more like you than you’ve imagined. This movement needs you and me. Let’s remind everyone of my ability to rise beyond freedom.”

The symposium was sponsored by the Richardson Foundation, the Larimer County Sheriff’s Office, the City of Fort Collins, the Office of the Vice President for Diversity at CSU, the Melting Pot and other organizations. 

Meagan Stackpool can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @MeaganStackpool.