Uprising Wyoming co-founder explains the nature of the problem in Wyoming and how to recognize it

Aug. 12, 2022

By Jen Kocher

Special to the Wyoming Truth

Human trafficking is on the rise in Wyoming—the last state in the nation to pass laws against it in 2013. Based on statistics gathered by National Human Trafficking Hotline, 11 cases of trafficking were reported in Wyoming in 2020 out of 47 residents who called. Sex trafficking accounted for the majority of those cases; 10 of those victims were women.   

Experts acknowledge that these figures are low, as the vast number of incidents go unreported. The ability to identify trafficking and respond to it correctly are the largest barriers to reporting cases. This means understanding the nuances between prostitution and trafficking, as well as identifying forms of forced labor and helping victims access services.

Enter Terri Markham, 37, executive director and co-founder of Uprising Wyoming. Since launching the Sheridan-based nonprofit in 2019, Markham, a native Texan, has led the charge to deliver human trafficking prevention education, raise awareness and provide outreach. Her timing is impeccable: A 2020 study from the Wyoming Survey and Analysis Center (WYSAC) at the University of Wyoming found that human trafficking, which includes sex and labor trafficking, is an issue in most communities statewide.

The Wyoming Truth spoke with Markham about her work and the realities of human trafficking. What follows are excerpts from the interview.

In May 2021, you made news for your role in a sex trafficking training and subsequent sting operation in Rock Springs that yielded four arrests. Can you tell us more about that?

Markham: This sting operation was the practical application of skills learned through a three-day law enforcement training. We were fortunate to work with the Sweetwater County Sheriff’s Office to pull off this operation.

Terri Markham is the co-founder and executive director of Uprising Wyoming, a Sheridan-based nonprofit that delivers human trafficking prevention education, raises awareness and provides community outreach. (Courtesy photo from Terri Markham).

What I am most proud of from that training/sting is the fact that we brought victim advocates and law enforcement together to train. They were able to learn from each other and work together during the sting. During our final debrief, it was clear to me that all of our learning objectives had been met, because I heard multiple officers make comments about how much more productive their work was by using a demand lens and focusing on buyers/traffickers versus using a prostitution lens that harms the victims.

How should a sprawling state like Wyoming tackle human trafficking?  

Markham: Strategically! For Uprising, we had a three-tier plan. . . . our end goal was widespread prevention education for youth, but we couldn’t just jump in and start talking to kids. . .  We needed to work towards a higher level of community awareness and professional training first, so that youth had someone to turn to. We started by tackling professional education, targeting groups such as law enforcement, healthcare workers and educators. Then we began ramping up community awareness, hosting events and parent/caregiver trainings, before finally working directly with youth. 

Tell us about the trainings for teens and juveniles.

Markham: Currently, we offer classes, workshops, programs and presentations for youth from elementary [school] age through college age. When you attend a 101-style informational training or presentation, you can expect to learn what trafficking is and actually looks like in your own community.

For our more in-depth training, we focus on the root causes of trafficking, which can heighten the risk of being exploited. We definitely talk about sextortion; in fact, it is a part of our presentations to 8th graders. . . Unfortunately, we are finding that 8th grade students are disclosing active sextortion cases and past sextortion cases to us when we broach the topic. It is our belief that it needs to be addressed even earlier. 

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