Human trafficking happens everywhere- it has been reported in all 50 states and can thrive in both urban areas and rural small towns. So if that’s true, why might you not realize it is happening in your own community?
Human trafficking is a nuanced crime and isn’t always easy to identify. Sensationalized depictions and reporting also add to the picture people carry in their minds of what trafficking looks like. If you have a picture of the movie Taken, or white vans snatching kids off street corners, then you’re unlikely to notice when it’s actually happening.
Victims and survivors of human trafficking also may not recognize that the situation they are in or survived was human trafficking. We find that it’s rare that victims come forward and disclose they are being trafficked.
We do know from survivors who have exited trafficking that it is not uncommon they came into contact with either service providers, law enforcement, or healthcare workers during their victimization. However, professionals who have not received in-depth training may not have been prepared to screen for trafficking. Instead, trafficking victims can be misidentified by what we see on the surface, such as a domestic violence victim, or sexual abuse victim, and we may not have dug deep enough to uncover the trafficking that was also happening.
In Wyoming, we have seen front-page headlines about human trafficking cases- but the words human trafficking were never mentioned. Sometimes law enforcement or prosecutors will use charges they feel they are likely to be able to get a conviction on- and it’s not always a trafficking charge. Reporters must report on these cases as charges were filed, leading to communities not realizing trafficking may be happening. This is why we work diligently to educate about what markers make a trafficking case.
Below are some examples of local news stories in Wyoming that have all the markers of trafficking cases, but were not identified as such. Can you spot the signs of trafficking in them?
Trigger warning: These articles involve sex trafficking, some of which involve a minor.