“It’s a silent crime," said Lucy Servellon, CAPSA’s Northern Utah Liaison for Human Trafficking. "Nobody sees it, but it’s there."
Last year, she handled eight human trafficking cases. While she’s only seen four so far this year, she said the more we educate the community, the more these cases are coming to light.
“Before, I think our community was in denial thinking we don’t have human trafficking around here, but the truth is completely different,” Servellon said.
Louise Speth, the Facilities and Shelter manager for CAPSA, said this attitude is not unique to Cache County.
“I think it’s hard to live in a community and think that these terrible things you see on the news are occurring in your backyard. I think that every community struggles with that," Speth said. "I guess, I would encourage people to be open to the idea bad things happen everywhere. That doesn’t mean our community is getting worse, I think it’s just a factor of our community growing. We’re going to see more of those same types of issues coming to the valley.”
While Servellon said most of the victims she's helped have been adult women, she said cases of teeenagers being coerced into trafficking are increasing. According to a report from the National Foster Youth Institute that used FBI data, 60% of child sex trafficking victims had ties to foster care and the child welfare system. The Director of the Utah Division of Child and Family Services, Diane Moore, said it doesn’t matter if it’s 1% or 60% of children in the system are subsequently trafficked.
"What I think people need to be really aware of when it comes to child trafficking — and that can be sex trafficking or being trafficked in other such ways such as labor or exploitation — is that any vulnerable child, especially children who have trauma or have been disconnected and don’t have healthy relationships in their lives, it’s going to make them a target," Moore said. "It’s going to make them more easily exploited. That is why we, here, at the DCFS really focus on strengthening the adults in a child’s life and on finding safe, permanent family living arrangements for children.”
Moore said older kids in the system are particular vulnerable to being exploited as they are often overlooked for adoption, and therefore left without a stable support system when they age out of foster care at 21.
Servellon said while it may not prevent human trafficking, reporting suspicious activities to authorities in local communities, such as houses that have a lot traffic or large groups of people seeming to come and go in shifts, is crucial for helping trafficking victims.
More information on things to look out for when it comes to human trafficking — especially in relation to young adults — is available at the Utah Office of the Attorney General's website. Resources and information on becoming a foster parent in Utah can be found at Utah Foster Care.