Knowing the warning signs of sex trafficking can mean the difference between a life of enslavement, or freedom, for its victims.
That’s why educating the public and hosting awareness events is vital for eastern Idaho to combat this dire issue.
KID NewsRadio is hosting an event, Emancipation: Disrupting the Modern Slave Trade, focused on combating sex trafficking in eastern Idaho at 7 p.m. March 14 at the Hillcrest Performing Arts Center in Ammon. Admission is free.
This event will help spread awareness and educate the public about sex trafficking because “it’s alive and well” in eastern Idaho, even “flourishing,” said human trafficking survivor Stephanie Silva.
Silva along with several other experts will speak at the event including: Brigham Young University-Idaho professor Jim Hopla, Idaho State University professor Deirdre Caputo-Levine, Idaho Falls Police Chief Bryce Johnson, Executive Director of Operation Shield Matt Smith and Founder and CEO of Operation Underground Railroad Tim Ballard.
Silva was trafficked when she was very young, and almost died because of it.
“I had gotten involved with a gentlemen that was quite a bit older than me that pushed me into human trafficking,” Silva said. “It damn near destroyed my life.”
Silva works with other women who have been trafficked in the area off of dating websites, Craigslist and backpage.com.
About 30 million people worldwide are trafficked in sex slavery and forced labor: 2 million are children, according to Operation Underground Railroad, an organization devoted to fighting against child slavery.
Idaho Falls isn’t exempt from trafficking either. Johnson said that just because there isn’t an “open air” sex market in Idaho Falls, doesn’t mean it isn’t occurring. Most prostitutes are victims of sex trafficking and the dealings in Idaho Falls are happening mostly “under the table.”
The biggest issue is that most people in eastern Idaho aren’t aware that trafficking is going on here, and there are portions of the community that don’t want to believe it’s happening, Smith said.
The number of children trafficked in the region is going up, Smith said. Part of the increase is due to online activity and social media by children.
“A lot of these kids are sexting,” Smith said. “Then that’s getting into the wrong hands and kids are being coerced.”
Johnson said the prostitution happening in Idaho Falls is mostly on Craigslist or online. This is also where people are also targeted for trafficking.
Right now, the Idaho Falls Police Department doesn’t have the resources it needs to fight against trafficking or the sex trade in Idaho Falls. Johnson said to effectively combat trafficking, the department needs a vice unit, which it currently doesn’t have, to go undercover.
Events like Emancipation are vital because increasing education and awareness is one of the best and strongest ways to fight against trafficking. It’s important to pay attention in the community because it’s better to be active, than reactive against trafficking, Hopla said.
“I think these are topics that we need to talk about, we have a very conservative, Mormon community and I think we’re afraid to talk about these topics,” Hopla said.
Silva doesn’t think human trafficking is going to go away, but thinks the more educated the public is about trafficking, the more people can fight against it.
She thinks if more people would have been educated about trafficking when she was younger, maybe things wouldn’t have ended so badly for her.
“I just hope that the community will participate in this event, there’s something that each one of us can be doing to help with this issue,” Silva said. “ We can all be doing something, and I think the first step is educating ourselves.”
Reporter Isabella Alves can be reached at 208-542-6711 or follow her on Twitter @IsabellaAlves96.