Colorado groups working to stem the tide of human trafficking, which often leads underaged girls and boys into prostitution, are gearing up for the Democratic National Convention and hoping to build bridges to better assist victims in the future.
The DNC is expected to bring more than 35,000 people to Denver and, as with any large-scale event, prostitutes and their pimps are expected to follow to serve the temporary population bump.
“We just know we’re going to be really, really busy,” said Dee Griffin, street outreach organizer for Praxus, a Colorado nonprofit that offers assistance to young people in human trafficking situations, where individuals are moved from city to city, largely against their will, to work as laborers or in the sex trade.
Griffin said she’d already spoken with a handful of homeless youths that have been approached about becoming prostitutes to meet the rise in demand during the DNC.
The number of prostitutes who will arrive for the convention is impossible to calculate, according to activists and law enforcement. But police officials and advocates who work to stop the commercial sexual exploitation say moving prostitutes in and out of Colorado is always big business.
Prostitution arrests in areas surrounding the 2004 Boston DNC and 2000 Los Angeles DNC dropped from the same time the respective previous years because law enforcement was concentrating on security issues rather than prostitution busts, according to a Boston Herald report.
Denver Police Detective Mike Ryan, who has investigated more than 1,000 sex crimes through the years, estimates $60 million changes hands every year via illicit massage parlors and escort services currently in the Denver metro area.
Some advocates working to get young people out of the business say human trafficking for sexual and labor exploitation generates as much as $44 billion annually around the globe.
An average of 300 Denver homeless youths are involved in sex trafficking each night, according to a 2007 study by Urban Peak, a Colorado nonprofit.
Online posts in the “erotic” and “casual encounters” categories on Denver’s Craigslist.org are increasing as the convention approaches, said Amanda Finger, coordinator for the Colorado chapter of the Polaris Project, a national nonprofit working to end human trafficking and assist its victims.
Ryan said police follow up on every tip they receive about prostitution and human trafficking. Still, they’ll likely have their hands full with basic security during the Aug. 25-28 convention.
“We’re going to work [investigating prostitution]. But it won’t be as aggressively challenged as we’d like,” he said.
Security for the DNC will require all available Denver police officers as well as those from surrounding cities, Ryan said.
Polaris held its third training session June 9 at the Mile High United Way for students, social service providers and attorneys interested in recognizing the signs of sex trafficking – with an emphasis on minors.
“When you start talking about prostitution, it’s easy to see the victimization that goes with it,” Ryan said.
He told the story of Amanda, a 15-year-old Washington girl, who, like many children lured into prostitution, had an “unsupportive” family, with an alcoholic father, and became involved with a pimp. By the time she was 16, she was having sex with johns in a Denver hotel room. Eventually law enforcement arrested and convicted her pimp, who is now servingnine years in prison, and returned Amanda to her home state after providing her with health care and psychological counseling.
But others aren’t so lucky, Ryan said, showing pictures of three women, one a former Playboy Bunny, one a former Denver cop, who have all been caught selling sex but are still working as prostitutes on Denver’s streets.