Lawyers, cops join forces at Rifle summit to combat human exploitation
Western Slope resident Angela Roe Clark is and always will be a survivor of human trafficking.
Her experience with the crime began when she was just 5 years old. She was trafficked and abused by her grandfather in rural Iowa.
“Familial trafficking is the biggest piece of the pie,” said Clark, who spoke about her healing and recovery at the 2019 Western Slope Human Trafficking Summit Friday in Rifle.
Clark said she began remembering the repressed memories eight years ago, and, after much personal exploration, she began working to educate and inspire other survivors of human trafficking.
She is now certified with the national survivor network and hopes to bring awareness to the crime.
“It’s in rural America just as much as it is in the cities,” Clark said. “Wherever there is poverty you will find trafficking.”
With thousands of cars driving through every week on one of the busiest interstate highways in the country, Garfield County residents may have had one of the least traceable and most harmful crimes go past them on any given day without ever knowing.
The crime usually involves selling people, often children, for slave labor and sex.
The Friday summit, held at Colorado Mountain College-Rifle, allowed local and statewide law enforcement officials and members of the public to come together to try to combat and learn more about a crime that occurs in every state across the country.
“It’s not a crime that stops at state lines,” Lara Mullin, senior deputy district attorney with the Denver District Attorney’s Office, said at the symposium.
She spoke to how critical these types of symposiums are to help police and the general public better understand how the crime works. Collaboration is the only way to handle these types of cases successfully, she said.
“These are hard cases. [They are] complex, and require a lot of investigation,” Mullin added. “It is critical for sheriffs, city law enforcement and federal law enforcement officials to share sources and resources.”
Rifle City Prosecutor Angela Roff said she wanted to have Friday’s summit in Rifle to provide training for local law enforcement and basic education to identify and help victims.
“It’s the same laws we are all trying to enforce,” she added.
The summit included roundtable discussions with prosecutors from across the state, presentations on the resources available for prevention and prosecution, and personal stories from victim advocates and human trafficking survivors.
Rifle Police Chief Tommy Klein said that five officers from his department attended the summit — about 20 percent of the department’s sworn force. He added how impressed he was with the amount of help out there for people who are victims of human trafficking.
“These types of classes are important because it teaches officers what to look for,” Klein said.
“As a prosecutor, I have seen situations where red flags have been raised,” Roff explained.
While the Western Slope may not be the first place people think of when it comes to human trafficking, it can happen anywhere, she added.
Marketa Zubkova, who works as a community advocate for the Hispanic Affairs Project, helps connect immigrant communities with the resources and support available to them, including immigrants who have been subject to human trafficking for labor.
In situations she’s seen, immigrant communities have been used for labor on the Western Slope. She tries to connect them to the proper resources.
The individuals most vulnerable for exploitation are not likely to dial 911, according to Mullin. She encouraged summit attendees that, if they see something that doesn’t look right, to say something.
The National Human Trafficking Hotline is 888-373-8888.
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