Sex Trafficking: Myths, Signs, and Connections to Utah

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[Ed Note: This is a guest post from the indomitable feminist activist, and animal liberator, Natalie Blanton.]

Last week, I had the chance to go to the University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law’s event “The Invisible Crime: Human Trafficking in Utah” and hear from Captain Fernando Rivero, MPH, EMT-P of the Utah Trafficking in Persons Task Force.

I was definitely intrigued by the topic as we often hear of sex and human trafficking as a far and away issue – but, what with recent news like Arizona’s proactive Super Bowl sting operations– the issue is suddenly, and finally, visible in our own back yard. The idea that sex trafficking is a “developing world” problem is a myth that Rivero set out to dispel early in his talk. Sex trafficking is a $36 billion a year industry, second only to the illegal drug trade. It is $9.8 billion industry here in the United States. Every year, between 100,000-300,000 underage girls (average age 12-14 years old) are sold for sex in the US. In fact, on the Global Slavery Index of 2014, the USA ranks 145/160. The Polaris Project has recently cited Utah as the “most improved” state on this front – but we still have a long way to go.

Rivero encouraged his audience to think critically about human trafficking and cultural contributors to this problem – this question becomes much more complex and intricate in the conservative Utah setting, and it is closely linked to Utah’s problem with sexual assault more generally because 80-90% of human trafficking victims have been sexually assaulted. As we know, 1 in 3 women in Utah will be sexually assaulted, and 20% of women will be sexually assaulted on college campuses, which is finally of great emphasis on the University of Utah campus as the student government just rolled out their rendition of the It’s On Us movement this week. This issue should certainly matter to anyone and everyone, because it infringes on our basic human right: freedom.

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