Elena wanted to be loved. Instead, she was trafficked.

The Colorado Human Trafficking Council (“The Council”) has developed a campaign to raise awareness about all types of human trafficking in Colorado. The campaign consists of lived experience narratives that are examples of the different types of human trafficking happening in Colorado. Some people may be aware that sex trafficking and labor trafficking exist. However, most people do not understand what human trafficking really is, how or where it occurs, or that traffickers, recruiters, and buyers are criminals who can prosecuted. 

Let’s look at Elena’s lived experience. Elena’s narrative, like all the narratives in the campaign, is a composite of facts and circumstances, drawn from several different real-life experiences in order to protect the privacy of those who were being trafficked. It’s disturbing to read about Elena and what happened to her, and some readers may not be comfortable reading on. 

If you need help or want to report a suspicious situation, call the hotline at 866-455-5075 or text 720-999-9724.

In the campaign, Elena is a young woman who meets a man. The man tells her he loves her, promises her a future together, and uses various tactics of manipulation and grooming to coerce Elena into moving into an apartment where he can control her. Over time, the trafficker threatens Elena, verbally abuses her, and forces her to have sex with other people for money. The trafficker keeps the money, and keeps Elena trapped in her situation. Elena still believes her trafficker loves her and does not understand what is happening to her. She still holds out hope that her trafficker will take care of her. 

This is complicated because it’s difficult for many people to understand how a trafficker can gain control of another person. Traffickers use financial control, where the person being trafficked is dependent on the trafficker for food, housing, and/or other basic needs. Traffickers also use psychological control, like in Elena’s case. Elena believes her trafficker loves her and she is doing what he forces or coerces her to do in order to please him.

Elena’s experience demonstrates some important points. They may be hard to believe because they contradict the perpetuated stereotypes and misperceptions we have all absorbed. Elena’s case shows the truth:

  • Someone you know, trust, and love can be a trafficker: Not all traffickers are strangers or flamboyant “pimp” characters. Traffickers can have a personal connection with their victim or be an intimate partner.
  • It can be almost impossible to leave: Traffickers use many tactics to build trust and a professional or personal relationship with someone to be able to manipulate them. Once they build trust, they lie, threaten, and abuse their victims to maintain control. Their targets becomes confused, afraid, or financially dependent so leaving without a plan or support is not a safe option. 
  • Traffickers don’t always use physical force: Sometimes a trafficker uses psychological coercion or fraud. Traffickers find where someone is vulnerable and use personal information to exploit emotions or circumstances. The trafficker promises to give someone what they need to make that person dependent on them—emotionally and/or financially.
  • Sex trafficking doesn’t entail “dressing like a prostitute”: Elena is wearing a hoodie and jeans. She is not dressed sexually in short skirts or other provocative clothing. When identifying a sex trafficking situation, we can’t make assumptions based on what someone is wearing.
  • Girls are not usually grabbed off the street and forced into sexual slavery: It is often perceived that if you let your daughter walk around alone she is at risked of being kidnapped. Elena was not “snatched”. Traffickers often operate in less sensational ways. (And although in this case Elena is female, traffickers can prey on any and all genders.)

Traffickers can exploit almost anyone. It takes an aware and engaged public to stop traffickers from operating in our state. Educate yourself and report a suspicious situation, even if you are not sure, it is better to call the hotline than to not call. Don’t worry about making a mistake, trained advocates staff the hotline and will know what to do. By taking the time to understand what human trafficking is, and by being aware of the different types that happen here in Colorado, we can all contribute to stopping this crime. 

There are services available to help people who have experienced, or are experiencing, sex or labor trafficking. Colorado’s Human Trafficking Hotline can connect people to resources for food assistance, crisis services, mental health, substance abuse, legal services, and more. 

To learn more about Elena’s experience visit ThisIsHumanTrafficking.com/Elena

To report or learn about available services, call 866-455-5075 or text 720-999-9724.

The Council believes the more we understand how traffickers exploit people, the better we will be able to identify human trafficking activity, report it, and ultimately, prevent it from happening in the first place. Additionally, one of the most important things we can do, is to have compassionate awareness for victims and survivors, and promote dignity and justice for all.

About the Council

Established through legislation in 2014, housed under the Colorado Department of Public Safety, Division of Criminal Justice, Office for Victims Program, the Council coordinates statewide anti-human trafficking efforts for the ultimate purpose of preventing human trafficking in Colorado. Dedicated to the justice and dignity of human trafficking survivors, the 35-person council represents state and non-government agencies, lived experience experts, law enforcement, prosecutors, regional coalitions and task forces, legal services, victim service providers, academia, and faith-based organizations. 

The Council is designed to: 

  • Bring together leadership from community-based and statewide anti-trafficking efforts 
  • Build and enhance collaboration among communities and counties within the state 
  • Establish and improve comprehensive services for victims and survivors of human trafficking 
  • Assist in the successful prosecution of human traffickers 
  • Help prevent human trafficking in Colorado