Denver’s goal to make August’s Democratic National Convention eco-friendly could overshadow other important issues – such as the spike in prostitutes being imported to town to cater to the city’s 35,000 guests.“The amount of awareness that there is among activist communities is high. I think not a lot of (other) people have been listening,” said Amanda Moon, a graduate student in international human rights at the University of Denver. “I think this DNC is trying to achieve a lot of things that have never been done before like the green movement, which is a great movement. But a lot of energy is being focused toward that, and a lot of other issues aren’t being heard.”
The exact number of sex workers trafficked into the city for the DNCC would be impossible to calculate.
But many metro area strip bars have already tripled their staff in preparation for the convention, said Stephanie Sharp, who has done outreach work with Denver prostitutes and works for the STD division of the Colorado Department of Public Health.
“[The police] have a whole list of things they have to be concerned about as well, and prostitution and sex trafficking is not at the top,” Moon added.
State Rep. Alice Borodkin, D-Denver, who has worked to crack down on human trafficking the last three years, said the convention could be a good opportunity to make contact with prostitutes brought into Denver, but logistically any outreach effort would be complicated.
“My personal feeling is that we need to do a lot more. I’m not 100 percent convinced that people understand what they’re looking at,” Borodkin said.
Sharp said ideally outreach groups will join forces to offer resources and options outside of prostitution to any trafficked-in women.
Denver 2008 Convention Host Committee spokesman Chris Lopez referred questions to Denver Police spokesman Sonny Jackson.
Of course the spike in sex workers and human trafficking isn’t unique to Denver’s August convention.
According to a February article in the Rocky Mountain News:
Officer Ana Aguirre, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles police, which hosted the DNC in 2000, said there’s “definitely a spike” in prostitution during large events like political conventions.
In Denver, said police spokesman Sonny Jackson, “We’re preparing to handle a variety of issues that may come up.”
Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper’s office did not immediately return a call for comment.
Moon said the Denver Police Department is working to train officers on how to recognize workers trapped in the sex trafficking industry with the Polaris Project, a nonprofit that works to help individuals get out of the business.
But Denver, with its intersection of major highways and the Denver International Airport, is a convenient location to move sex workers through – and switching prostitutes’ cities prevents them from making any ties to the community that could help them escape the business, advocates said.
Women in Denver typically enter prostitution at the age of 11 or 12, slightly younger than the national average, Sharp said.
To make matters worse, Denver is “almost completely pimp controlled” with pimps controlling almost all of the women who work as prostitutes through psychological manipulation and violence, Sharp said.
Of the 500 Denver prostitutes that Sharp has interviewed, she said only a handful worked for themselves.
Moon and Sharp gave their talk, Human Trafficking and Consumerism, Friday as part of the University of Denver’s Sexual Assault Awareness Week.
Human trafficking is a $44 billion a year industry, according to event organizers.
For more information or to report a possible human trafficking situation, residents can call 1-800-455-5075.