Human trafficking is an ongoing issue that affects everyone living in Northern Colorado.
In Greeley, a man was recently convicted of 32 criminal counts of human trafficking. The case had several victims, including both adults and teens, the youngest victim being 15 years old. The trial of Paul Burman, another human trafficking case, has been ongoing since 2014. A total of nine victims were involved in the case and two victims were Weld County locals. Burman has been sentenced to 248 years in prison.
Joe Moylan, a Greeley Tribune reporter, said Burman had been working with Al Rashed and Norman Boroumand, two men who owned local car dealerships in Greeley. Moylan said Rashed and Boroumand are expecting to go on trial next year.
In this case, Burman had three kids with the victims and used the children against them. Diana Laws, a retired worker of the North Eastern Colorado Coalition Against Trafficking, said Burman would use the victim’s children as leverage to ensure the victim would not escape.
“Single mothers are vulnerable. I was a single mother and I know, if I would’ve gotten in to trafficking and my child’s safety is dependent on my actions, I would do anything to keep them safe,” Laws said.
Human traffickers are rarely kidnappers in Walmart or cults in Greeley, as rumors on the internet say, but are instead people who build a trusting relationship with the victim. Megan Lundstrom, the founder of Free Our Girls, said there are three types of pimps: the “boyfriend,” or the “intimate,” the “gorilla” and the “CEO.” The most common trafficker is usually the “boyfriend.”
Traffickers use the “boyfriend” or “girlfriend” tactic to gain a sense of the victim’s life. The “boyfriend” treats the individual nicely, buys him/her flowers, grooms him/her and ensures the individual’s friends see. During this stage in the relationship, the trafficker gains knowledge of where the victim lives, the people the victim hangs out with and the relationship the victim has with his/her parents. Once a trafficker has gained control over a victim, the trafficker will drug, threaten or shame the victim into staying in “the game.” “The game” is a term used to describe the underground club of human trafficking.
University of Northern Colorado students, both female and male, are at risk of being trafficked. Students are easy to gain access through social media, college student nights at bars and job ads posted around school. College students fall prey to trafficking because they need money for tuition, rent and food. Laws said some students will begin working as sex workers and eventually fall into the sex commercial trade because money comes faster.
Laws explained how students in the LGBTQ community are largely targeted and at higher risk. Traffickers target LGBTQ students who have recently come out of the closet or whose parents are unaware of their sexuality. She said traffickers will threaten victims with telling their family or embarrassing them by using their sexual orientation against them, either publicly or online. Laws said people of color, especially men, in this community are less likely to admit to being a victim. According to Laws, in the Latinx community the “machismo” aspect keeps men in the LGBTQ community from speaking about their experiences to their parents and to those around them; this is because of the fear or embarrassment of being trafficked. This “machismo” aspect is a strong or aggressive masculine pride, and in the Latinx community, it forces men to hide their emotions.
Danielle Brittan, an associate professor and graduate student program coordinator at the Colorado School of Public Health Center, said the commercial sex trade makes $150 billion dollars a year; there are over two million victims across the United States and 73 cases in Colorado. Laws explained human trafficking is not taking place in low-income areas but can happen anywhere due to the large demand in commercial sex.
“Our biggest problem in Greeley is we’re too nice of a neighborhood, too nice of a part of the country. We think this happens in the ghettos of Detroit or inner-city Los Angeles and we can understand it happens there because there’s bad people there,” Laws said. “But we don’t see it happening here because we just don’t see it. It could be happening in front of us and we just don’t see it because we can’t believe it.”
Moylan said trafficking can be hard to prove for a multitude of different reasons. This can be because of the lack of evidence; without proof, the trial becomes a he-said-she-said case. Laws said in court, victims suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder; when victims are suffering from PTSD, they begin to talk and act as if they are back in “the game.” She said once the victims begin to speak with vulgar terms and cuss words, the jury begins to see the women as trashy and fails to realize it’s a defense mechanism after the trauma.
The average lifespan for a woman in “the game” is seven years. Women in trafficking are typically killed by drugs, alcoholism or abuse from a “john,” a term used to refer the customer. According to Lundstrom, the mortality rate of women in sex commercial is 40 times higher than the mortality rate of the average woman in America.
Trafficking is a difficult topic to discuss, but educating oneself and raising awareness on trafficking helps those in commercial sex trade. Laws said paying attention to warning bells when meeting people on the internet who are not mutual friends is a way to stay safe and to be cautious of one’s surroundings.
More information can be found at Free Our Girls, an organization specializing in helping victims of human trafficking, at freeourgirls.org. North East Colorado Coalition Against Trafficking helps to fight Human Trafficking in Northern Colorado; they can be contacted at neccat.org. Rapha House helps with victims of sexual abuse and trafficking as well at raphahouse.org.
The Mirror’s previous story related to this topic can be found here.