SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – Human trafficking is an issue that affects individuals across the globe, including Utahns. The criminal practice involves the exploitation of individuals for profit through force, fraud, and persuasion.

Human trafficking is present in a variety of forms, including trafficking for forceful labor, trafficking for forced criminal activities, and trafficking for sexual exploitation.

According to the Utah Women & Leadership Project (UWLP), research suggests that there were over 40 million victims of human trafficking in 2016 alone. Similarly, numerous countries reported a spike in human trafficking amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

In 2020 the National Human Trafficking Hotline received 182 calls regarding 64 reported human trafficking cases in Utah. In 2021, the UWLP reports that six people were arrested for human trafficking and prostitution in massage parlors in Utah County.

Those targeted by human traffickers are often in vulnerable positions, including poverty, family separation, religious persecution, restrictive migration policy, unemployment, homelessness, former incarceration, and substance dependence.

Human traffickers do not discriminate. The UWLP notes that victims can be girls, boys, men, women, non-binary individuals, and diverse people in regards to race, ethnicity, nationality, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic status.

Human trafficking in Utah has proven to be on the rise. The Asian Association of Utah (AAU) reported a 39% increase in clients enrolled in their Trafficking in Persons Program between 2018 and 2020. The program tended to 251 human trafficking victims in 2019 and 2020 combined.

Similarly, the UWLP disclosed that the AAU notes Utah’s top sex trafficking settings as hotels, public streets, and massage parlors, while the most popular labor trafficking settings in Utah are hotels, restaurants, and venues that practice animal husbandry.

Human trafficking is thought to be gaining ground throughout America due to its money-making factor. Forced labor, including sex trafficking, is estimated to produce over $150 billion a year, making it the second most profitable crime in the world following drug trafficking.

So, the question lingers: what can we as Utahns do to take action against human trafficking? According to the UWLP, prevention, identification, and intervention are crucial steps in diminishing the acceleration of human trafficking in our state.

Prevention includes both community and school-based education services to spread awareness of human trafficking before it occurs. Identification of human trafficking victims involves screening tools used in social service, educational, medical, immigration, and criminal legal settings. Lastly, the UWLP mentions that intervention can take on multiple forms, including increasing resources for organizations serving marginalized communities, system-wide data collection, trauma, and culturally-informed staff and practices, flexible funding, and acquiring trauma-informed advocates.