Sex trafficking isn't just an issue in other parts of the world, it is going on in Idahoans' backyards. But there's growing interest in the Gem State to fight back.
The Idaho Anti-Trafficking Coalition on Tuesday will host a community event called "Sex Slaves in Idaho Hide in Plain Sight" to give people the tools to identify and prevent the practice.
Jennifer Zielinski, who heads the coalition, said the event has gained so much steam, they had to find a bigger venue. She said Idaho's rural nature gives traffickers more places to hide, which is why the trade is thriving here.
"More predators are enticing victims online," she said, "through false promises, through promising a wonderful life, maybe showering them with gifts and developing a relationship. And then beyond that, there is a process of force and coercion. Oftentimes, drugs are involved. So then they become a victim."
There have been more than 400 calls from Idaho to the National Human Trafficking Hotline in the past decade. Last month, more than 80 suspicious ads were posted on Backpage.com advertising girls in Boise.
Sex trafficking is believed to be a $90 billion-a-year industry and exploits more than 20 million adults and children worldwide. Zielinski said Idaho needs to catch up with the rest of the country in its efforts to fight sex trafficking.
"Idaho is far, far behind," she said. "We have other states that have been working on these initiatives for well over 15, 18 years, and so we're just now putting this on the radar."
Zielinski said Idaho is working on a safe-harbor law that focuses a rehabilitative rather than punitive process for victims. She said securing safe housing is a key component for helping victims.
Tuesday's event will start at 6 p.m. at the Vineyard Boise in Garden City. Operation Shield, a nonprofit in Idaho Falls dedicated to preventing and rescuing victims of child sex trafficking, will be holding a presentation at the event. More information on the event is online at idahoatc.org.