Imagine a young child, barely graduated from bassinet to crib, being sold into sexual slavery just shy of her first birthday.
It’s too horrible to envision. But it’s real, and it happened in Colorado.
Kelly Dore is a former Elbert County commissioner, a mother, and wife to former state Rep. Tim Dore. She’s also a survivor of horrific human trafficking, which she describes as her life between ages 1 and 14.
“I am not here because I chose my childhood. It was taken from me,” she recently told a state Senate committee at the Colorado Capitol.
Dore says she was sold for drugs and sex, the first time just before her first birthday. She has no idea how many times she was abused. “I was forced to do things no child should ever do.”
Then she told what it was like to grow up as a human trafficking victim.
“I do not like to assume anything in life, but I am going to assume that no one in this committee is a child survivor of human trafficking and adverse childhood sexual trauma,” she told the Senate panel. “I am going to assume that as kindergartners, you did not have to sneak to the restroom in order to try to stop the bleeding from the immense and repeated (genital) trauma and have to hide it from your teachers and classmates because you feared for your life.
“Nor, I assume, would storytime be one of your most excruciating memories you had because you were forced to sit cross legged with your classmates. You would shift because the pain was so intense, only to be yelled at by the teacher because you were fidgety ....”
Once she told someone about the abuse, Dore said, she was retraumatized, with countless hours of telling her story over and over again and physical exams inside and out. And she was put on the witness stand as a teenager and accused of lying and creating “perverse sexual fantasies” by lawyers for her accused trafficker. He got 10 months in jail for the 14 years of abuse he heaped on her.
It happens every day to a child, Dore said. And it happened to Dore in Colorado, which until a few years ago had an abysmal record for human trafficking.
Seven years ago, Colorado got an “F” from Shared Hope International’s Protected Innocence Initiative for the state’s lack of work to address child sex trafficking. Shared Hope, a national nonprofit, has fought human trafficking for 20 years.
The report card blasted the state for failing to recognize that children under age 18 could be trafficked for sex.
But today, Colorado law makes “human trafficking of a minor for sexual servitude” punishable by up to 24 years in prison, notes Shared Hope. The law does not require proof of force, fraud or coercion of the victim.
The state’s trafficking response improved to a “B” last year.
But Colorado still lacks a “safe harbor” law that would sync state statutes with the federal Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000. That leaves the state a long way away from an “A” on addressing trafficking.
Safe-harbor laws say children under age 18 cannot be charged as prostitutes if they are victims of human traffickers. Thirty-four states already have some form of that law to protect child victims.
According to the Polaris Project, a nonprofit that works to combat human trafficking and slavery,
Inconsistent laws on child prostitution often result in victims being treated and prosecuted as criminals, says the nonprofit Polaris Project.
That not only harms victims and gives them a criminal record, but also makes them wary of law enforcement, so fewer victims seek help.
Dore says her trafficker forced her to carry drugs and warned that she would be arrested if she ever told anyone.
Some district attorneys and legislators refuse to recognize that child prostitutes are victims, not criminals, Dore said, which is the biggest hurdle to a state safe harbor law.In 2016, the state’s Human Trafficking Council voted 19-2 to push for Safe Harbor laws. The two “no” votes came from district attorneys.
Colorado came close to reaching that goal in this legislative session, only to see Senate Bill 84 killed in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Dore blames opposition from the Colorado District Attorneys’ Council and lingering partisan anger over the sexual harassment allegations against Sen. Randy Baumgardner, R-Hot Sulphur Springs.
SB 84 would have provided immunity to child prostitutes under age 18, presuming them to be victims who should get treatment instead of jail time.
The bill won unanimous support from the Senate Health & Human Services Committee but died April 9 on a party-line vote in the judiciary committee.
Some district attorneys fear that a safe harbor law could hamper their ability to prosecute violent crime, would legalize prostitution, and would grant blanket immunity to compel human trafficking victims to cooperate with DAs to avoid being charged with a crime.
The DAs’ Council opposed the bill because of concerns about immunity for minors, Denver District Attorney Beth McCann told Colorado Politics.
“If you don’t charge juveniles with prostitution, it’s harder to get services for them” because the courts pay only if the victim is on probation. “I don’t think that’s right,” she said, and if prosecutors are charging minors to get them services, that’s the wrong approach.
Charging victims with a crime could force them to testify, but that makes for poor witnesses, McCann said.
She said she wants victims to get services without having to go through the criminal justice system.
Even without a safe harbor law, Colorado has become a front-runner in combatting human trafficking, says Trooper Penny Gallegos, who is assigned to the Rocky Mountain Innocence Lost Task Force, FBI Division.
Since 2014, state law enforcement has rescued 420 children and arrested 146 abusers, with courts handing down sentences of 24 to 472 years, Gallegos said.
Law enforcement is sending a strong message, she said. “Our children are not for sale.”
But the state lacks secure treatment facilities for victims, including male and transgender victims, she said.
She also called for raising awareness as well as penalties for human traffickers.Dore said law enforcement no longer focuses on punishing those who pay to have sex with children.
Police agencies used to publish photos of those arrested, a controversial tool known as “john shaming.”The biggest push against human trafficking came in 2014, when McCann, then a state representative from Denver, won approval of a bill that began redefining Colorado’s laws on the crime.
House Bill 1273 also set up the state’s Human Trafficking Council, which brings together law enforcement, county and state human services, state transportation and labor officials and non-government groups.
McCann said her interest in human trafficking was sparked as a beginning deputy district attorney prosecuting a couple who picked up a young homeless woman, gave her drugs and alcohol and got her into prostitution. McCann won the case against the adult woman but lost the case against the man.
“I never forgot that. It was so ugly and frustrating that these girls were being used like that.”
Since she was elected Denver’s district attorney in 2016, she has assigned a deputy DA and an investigator to work full-time on human trafficking, to more aggressively prosecute traffickers and to find more services and community outreach for victims.
Colorado, meanwhile, set a record for a human trafficker sentence last November.
Brock Franklin, 31, leader of a trafficking team, was sentenced to 472 years in prison, reportedly the longest sentence for that crime in U.S. history. Franklin’s team of seven sold young girls and women into prostitution and led a ring that operated at several hotels in the Denver area.
Another form of human trafficking — in labor — doesn’t get as much attention but has even more victims.
In 2013, Kizzy Kalu of Highlands Ranch lured foreign nurses to the U.S., falsely promising jobs as university professors, but then putting them to work in nursing homes and elsewhere, keeping 40 percent of their pay. He threatened many with deportation and coerced them into signing employment contracts that promised him tens of thousands of dollars.
Kalu, who was convicted of 83 of 89 counts, was sentenced in 2014 to 130 months in jail and ordered to pay $3.7 million in restitution with co-defendant Philip Langerman. Kalu, 51, is to be released in 2021, says a federal inmate database.
McCann said labor trafficking is harder to uncover and prosecute, but her office plans to work on it more with help from the U.S. Department of Labor.The Human Trafficking Council said in a 2017 report that most training is needed in unveiling labor trafficking, especially the victims. A subcommittee will address that need, said Maria Trujillo, who manages the council within the state Department of Public Safety.
But Coloradans also need more awareness of human sex trafficking, as most people believe it happens elsewhere and identifying a victim is a challenge, as “they look like everyone else,” Trujillo said.
But they often won’t know a home address, talk about someone controlling their lives and have “very thin” stories, she said.
“Once you start asking questions, the story starts breaking down and sounds rehearsed.”
Physical signs can include joint issues from repetitive labor, malnourishment, lack of dental or medical care, or signs of physical abuse. Emotional signs include fearfulness, hostility or suicidal indications.
“There’s no silver bullet that says this is a human trafficking victim,” Trujillo said.
Despite the failure of the safe harbor bill, the General Assembly did expand anti-human trafficking efforts through House Bill 1018, signed into law April 12. It requires trucking schools to train students on how to spot human trafficking. Shared Hope says truck stops often are used to peddle sex trafficking victims.
Dore, meanwhile, has founded the National Human Trafficking Survivor Coalition, which advocates for survivors to work with groups on anti-human trafficking efforts, from services to legislation to law enforcement.
The next generation could benefit from increased state attention to human trafficking, said Douglas County Sheriff Tony Spurlock.“We need to start with the young people of the state and work our way up” on education and awareness, Spurlock said. “We have to change a generation. We have to change the way we think about human trafficking, not only how we think about it as a collective citizenship, but how we think about it and focus on it in law enforcement.”