Human Trafficking a “Legitimate Concern” in Utah


(Photo by Chris Samuels)

(Photo by Chris Samuels)
(Photo by Chris Samuels)

Pizza was lacking at Thursday’s pizza & politics forum at the Hinckley Institute of Politics.
Human trafficking was the topic of Thursday’s forum, which featured a panel of speakers comprised of three specialists who deal with human trafficking in Utah.
Jodi Peterson, a sexual assault advocate at the Center for Student Wellness and a member of the Governor’s Human Trafficking Task Force, said she is disgusted by human trafficking.
“The people responsible for human trafficking don’t consider the people they are doing it to human beings,” Peterson said. “All these pimps see are walking dollar signs.”
Speakers at the forum laid out the common characteristics of pimps.
“There are several stereotypes of what a pimp is, but ultimately, pimps are master manipulators,” Peterson said. “They become whatever a prostitute needs them to be. Sometimes it can be a provider, protector, someone who dotes on them and loves them — but at the end of the day, it’s all an act.”
Peterson said this dependency is not reciprocated by the pimps themselves.
“The pimps will sometimes do what is called a ‘tune up’ and beat the prostitutes — this is to demonstrate their dominance and ownership over the girls,” Peterson said.
The biggest signs of a sex worker usually have to do with dominance, Peterson said.
“A pimp will brand a prostitute with a tattoo or something that brands them as property,” she said.
With those factors, Peterson said it is difficult to pull girls out of prostitution.
“These girls are fiercely loyal, so much so that they will often call their pimps ‘daddy’ or ‘boyfriend,’ ” Peterson said.
Fernando Rivera, human trafficking educator and member of the Governor’s Human Trafficking Task Force, said human trafficking is ranked only second to illegal drug sales on the crime scale.
“Human trafficking is a $32 billion industry,” Rivera said. “$Ten billion of that amount comes from the United States alone. In Utah, the demographic of those who are taken into human trafficking are Caucasian girls between the ages of 12 and 16.”
Rivera said he thinks the culture of ignorance when it comes to prostitution and drug trafficking needs to be stopped.
“Just take a drive down State Street one night, especially between 13th and 18th West, and you can see human trafficking at work,” Rivera said. “Those little hotels are there for a reason, and the girls walking the street are victims. It is time we took off the blinders and started realizing that this is a legitimate concern.”
Carl Johnson, an undeclared freshman, said he is concerned for his children.
“Knowing what the demographic is and who is targeted by pimps leaves me concerned,” Johnson said. “I have two daughters, one 13, the other 16, and both Caucasian. They are at a higher risk, which makes me nervous.”
Jessica Hansen, a nurse practitioner in Salt Lake City, said she attended the forum for the information provided on how to identify victims.
“I want to help my patients as much as possible,” Hansen said. “Knowing some of the signs of human trafficking can potentially save someone’s life.”
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