BEST OF COPO | Colorado takes on human trafficking

Imagine a young child — a baby, really, barely graduated from a bassinet to a crib. Imagine that same baby being sold into sexual slavery just shy of her first birthday. It’s a vision too horrible to imagine.

But it’s real, and it happened in Colorado.

Kelly Dore is a former Elbert County commissioner, a mother, and wife to former state Rep. Tim Dore. She’s also a survivor of horrific human trafficking, which she describes as her life between the ages of 1 and 14.

“I am not here because I chose my childhood. It was taken from me,” she recently told a state Senate committee at the Colorado Capitol.

Dore says she was sold for drugs and sex, the first time just before her first birthday. She has no idea how many times she was abused. “I was forced to do things no child should ever do.”

But then she began to tell the tale of what growing up as a victim of human trafficking was like.

“I do not like to assume anything in life, but I am going to assume that no one in this committee is a child survivor of human trafficking and adverse childhood sexual trauma,” she told the Senate panel.

“I am going to assume that as kindergartners, you did not have to sneak to the restroom in order to try to stop the bleeding from the immense and repeated (genital) trauma and have to hide it from your teachers and classmates because you feared for your life.

“Nor, I assume, would storytime be one of your most excruciating memories you had because you were forced to sit cross-legged with your classmates. You would shift because the pain was so intense, only to be yelled at by the teacher because you were fidgety …”

Once she told someone about the abuse, Dore said she was retraumatized, with countless hours of telling her story over and over again, physical exams inside and out, being put on the courtroom witness stand, and being accused of lying and creating “perverse sexual fantasies” by lawyers for a man she accused of trafficking her.

That man got 10 months in jail for the 14 years of abuse he heaped upon her.

It happens every day to a child, Dore said. And it happened to Dore in Colorado, which until just a few years ago had an abysmal track record for its attention to human trafficking. 

It happens every day to a child, Dore said. And it happened to Dore in Colorado, which until just a few years ago had an abysmal track record for its attention to human trafficking. 

Seven years ago, Colorado got an “F” grade from Shared Hope International’s Protected Innocence Initiative for the state’s efforts, or lack thereof, in combatting child sex trafficking. Shared Hope is a national nonprofit that has combatted human trafficking for 20 years.

The report card that year blasted the state for its failure to recognize that children under the age of 18 could be trafficked for sex, such as in Dore’s case.

But now, Shared Hope notes that Colorado law makes “human trafficking of a minor for sexual servitude” punishable by up to 24 years in prison. The law does not require proof of force, fraud, or coercion of the child victim.

The state’s trafficking response improved from an F in 2011 to a B last year, according to the latest Protected Innocence Initiative ranking.

But Colorado still lacks a “safe harbor” law that would sync Colorado statutes with the federal Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000 — and that’s why the state is a long way away from an A on dealing with trafficking. 

Safe-harbor laws provide that children under age 18 cannot be criminally charged as prostitutes if they are victims of human traffickers. Thirty-four states already have in force some form of a safe harbor law to protect these child victims.

According to the Polaris Project, a nonprofit that works to combat human trafficking and slavery, inconsistent laws around child prostitution mean victims often are treated like criminals and prosecuted as such. Arrests and prosecution not only harm the victims but leave them mistrustful of law enforcement, and that often prevents them from seeking help. A criminal record also means victims will struggle later in life.

Dore’s story bears that out. She says she was forced to carry drugs by her trafficker and was warned she would be arrested if she ever told someone.

The biggest hurdle to a safe harbor law in Colorado, as Dore sees it, is opposition from some district attorneys and lawmakers who refuse to recognize that children who engage in prostitution are victims, not criminals.

Dore said in Colorado most district attorneys, although not all, favor safe harbor laws; in 2016, the state’s Human Trafficking Council voted 19-2 to push for Safe Harbor laws. The two “no” votes came from district attorneys.

Colorado came close to attaining that goal in the 2018 legislative session only to see the bill, Senate Bill 84, killed in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Dore blames a combination of opposition from Colorado District Attorney’s Council, coupled with lingering anger between Democrats and Republicans over the sexual harassment allegations against Sen. Randy Baumgardner of Hot Sulphur Springs.

SB 84 sought to provide immunity to children under the age of 18 on prostitution charges. The statute would have presumed that any child under 18 engaged in prostitution is a victim of human trafficking, with the hope that these victims, instead of going to jail, would get into treatment. There is no such thing as a child prostitute, Dore says.

The bill won unanimous support from the Senate Health & Human Services Committee, only to die on a party-line vote in the judiciary committee on April 9. 

The greatest fear by some district attorneys around a safe harbor law is that it would remove a prosecutor’s ability to prosecute violent crime, legalize prostitution, grant blanket immunity and to compel human trafficking victims to cooperate with DAs to avoid being charged for a crime.

Denver District Attorney Beth McCann told Colorado Politics that the DA’s Council opposed the bill because of concerns about immunity for minors for more than just prostitution charges. The other issue is how juvenile victims get help.

“If you don’t charge juveniles with prostitution, it’s harder to get services for them” because the courts will pay only if the victim is on probation. “I don’t think that’s right,” she said, adding that if prosecutors are charging minors to get them services, it’s the wrong way to go about it.

Another issue is getting victims to testify against their traffickers. Charging victims with a crime could force them to testify, but that makes for poor witnesses, McCann said.

But she said her thinking on the issue has evolved, and she wants victims to get services and in a way that doesn’t force them to go through the criminal justice system.

Even without a safe harbor law, Colorado has become a front-runner in combatting human trafficking, says Trooper Penny Gallegos, who is assigned to the Rocky Mountain Innocence Lost Task Force FBI Division.

During a Human Trafficking Awareness Day back in February, Gallegos said that since 2014, state law enforcement has rescued 420 children and arrested 146 abusers, with courts handing down sentences of between 24 and 472 years.

Law enforcement is sending a strong message, she said: “Our children are not for sale.”

But there is still a long way to go, and the most critical needs are for secure treatment facilities for victims, including male and transgender victims, Gallegos said. She also called for education of the public, schools and community health partners, and to increase penalties for those convicted of trafficking.

Part of the problem, Dore said, is a diminished focus by law enforcement on those who pay for children who are sold into prostitution.

She points to law enforcement efforts up until a few years ago to publish photos of those arrested for hiring prostitutes, a controversial tool — known as “john shaming” — for law enforcement all along the Front Range. But a Google search couldn’t find anything more recent than 2016.

McCann’s biggest efforts to combat human trafficking, and the year that Colorado started to show progress on its efforts, was 2014. That was the year that McCann, then a state representative from Denver, won approval for a bill that began the process of redefining Colorado’s laws on human trafficking.

The bill, House Bill 1273, also set up the state’s Human Trafficking Council, a statewide effort to draw together officials from law enforcement, county and state human services, the state departments of transportation and labor, and non-governmental groups that deal directly with human trafficking.

McCann told Colorado Politics her interest in human trafficking goes back to her earliest days as a deputy district attorney in Denver. She had a case involving a young homeless woman who was picked up by a couple who gave her drugs and alcohol and got her into prostitution. She won the case against the adult woman but lost the case against the man.

“I never forgot that. It was so ugly and frustrating that these girls were being used like that.”

She began working on changes to the state’s human trafficking laws when she came to the legislature, including the measure that led to the Human Trafficking Council. “We wanted to make sure we had child welfare and human services people involved, not just law enforcement,” McCann said.

Her interest in fighting human trafficking hasn’t diminished since being elected Denver’s district attorney in 2016. She devoted both a deputy DA and an investigator to work full time on the trafficking issue, to more aggressively prosecute cases against the traffickers and find more services and community outreach for victims.

Colorado’s improved approach to human trafficking, including the hunt for the traffickers, has put the state in the limelight for setting a record for a human trafficker conviction.

Last November, Brock Franklin, 31, the leader of a human trafficking team, received the longest sentence for human trafficking in U.S. history: 472 years. Franklin’s team of seven sold young girls and women into prostitution and in a ring that operated at several hotels in the Denver metro area.

There’s another form of human trafficking that doesn’t get as much attention but is the much bigger problem in Colorado and nationwide, at least in the number of victims, and that’s human trafficking in labor.

In 2013, Kizzy Kalu of Highlands Ranch was convicted of human trafficking for labor. According to the U.S. attorney who prosecuted the case, Kalu lured foreign nurses to the United States with promises of positions as instructors with a phony university.

Once here, Kulu and a conspirator put them to work in nursing homes and other facilities, keeping 40 percent of their wages. He threatened many with deportation and coerced them into signing employment contracts that promised him tens of thousands of dollars.

In 2014, Kalu, who was convicted of 83 out of 89 counts, was sentenced to 130 months in jail and ordered to pay $3.7 million in restitution to his victims, a cost to be shared with his co-defendant, Philip Langerman. Kalu, now 51, is due to be released in 2021, according to a federal inmate database.

McCann said her office is planning to work more on labor trafficking, although she acknowledged it’s harder to uncover and prosecute, and her office is looking to the U.S. Department of Labor as well as other communities for assistance.

Labor trafficking is more of an issue for adults than for children, said Maria Trujillo, who manages the Human Trafficking Council within the Department of Public Safety. Overall, she said that 87 percent of human trafficking victims in Colorado are adults, not minors.

A 2017 report from the council identified labor trafficking as the area where they most need professional training, especially with understanding who the victims are. Trujillo told Colorado Politics the council has designated a subcommittee to address the issue.

The council also wants to start an awareness campaign for Coloradans on human trafficking, Trujillo said. Most people have heard of it but few really understand it, and most say it happens somewhere else.  Both Dore and Trujillo acknowledge that human trafficking is not limited only to the Denver metro area.

Awareness means educating people about how to identify a trafficking victim, but it’s an enormous challenge, since “they look like everyone else,” Trujillo said. But there are physical as well as emotional signs, such as the difference between real and reported age, not knowing a home address, or talking about someone in their lives who is controlling.

Another clue: “very thin” stories from victims, Trujillo says. “Once you start asking questions, the story starts breaking down and sounds rehearsed.” Physical signs can include joint issues from repetitive labor, malnourishment, lack of dental or medical care or signs of physical abuse. Emotional signs include fearfulness, hostility or suicidal indications.

“There’s no silver bullet that says this is a human trafficking victim,” Trujillo said.

Despite the failure of the 2018 safe harbor bill, the General Assembly did make progress to expand anti-human trafficking efforts through another measure, House Bill 1018, which was signed into law on April 12.

That measure requires commercial trucking schools to provide training to students on how to spot human trafficking. The national organization Shared Hope says that truck stops are convenient and somewhat secluded places to find sex trafficking victims.

Dore has only recently begun to share her story, even though she has spent the last 20 years helping survivors of incest to heal.

She’s founded the National Human Trafficking Survivor Coalition, which advocates for survivors to be involved with organizations that work on anti-human trafficking efforts, from services to legislation to law enforcement.

Sheriff Tony Spurlock of Douglas County, in last February’s awareness day, believes there’s one more group of people who could benefit from state attention to human trafficking: the next generation.

“We need to start with the young people of the state and work our way up” on education and awareness of human trafficking, Spurlock said. “We have to change a generation. We have to change the way we think about human trafficking, not only how we think about it as a collective citizenship but how we think about it and focus on it in law enforcement.”

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.