Denver has moved into the express lane when it comes to fighting human trafficking, thanks to the work of partners in the Denver Anti-Trafficking Alliance, also known as DATA.
The Denver Anti-Trafficking Alliance (DATA) is a collaborative program established by Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey within the Special Programs Unit of the Denver DA’s Office. Becky Bullard, the former Director, prioritized the focus on holistically combating human trafficking in Denver and working with other jurisdictions throughout Colorado. As the new Project Director, I plan to build on this strong foundation.
Our approach addresses victim services, training and education, juvenile sex trafficking and demand reduction. More than 40 governmental and non-governmental agencies are working to reach survivors of trafficking with resources, as well as to train service providers and educate the public.
The framework for DATA was launched in 2013, and with greater awareness of trafficking issues, it is time to think critically about what is to come next. As DATA embarks on its strategic planning process in 2016, the focus will turn to fuller collaboration, prevention efforts, providing survivors with expanded services, and increasing training and education around trafficking in Denver.
Filling Service Gaps:
Trafficking survivors are diverse and are often viewed as challenging clients, so it can be difficult to fill the gaps in service appropriately and ensure client and family input. DATA is initiating a Denver-based service mapping project in conjunction with our partners to identify and address gaps in service.
When working with a population with chronic, complex trauma, there is no one-size-fits-all “fix” that will help every client. DATA and its members are working to develop and find funding for effective, sustainable, pro-social, future-oriented programs that are well-suited for diverse client needs. The aim is to bolster established programs that are doing great work while developing strategies around service provision expansion, which includes having providers committed to upholding holistic client care.
It is also important that DATA focus on all types of trafficking and trafficking survivors so as to ensure that all genders, ethnicities, identities and ages are addressed and have sufficient care in Denver and beyond. While sex trafficking is the most visible and heavily funded type of human trafficking, other forms of exploitation, such as labor, domestic servitude and drug trafficking, need to be addressed equally. In addition, we want to examine what prevention strategies might address the complex causes of trafficking in Denver and how such strategies can be implemented.
We know that the challenges we face in reaching and helping survivors will be best met by combining our resources and collective wisdom. Trafficking isn’t restricted to a single city or county, making the need for cross-sector collaboration all the more evident. DATA is growing and developing collaboration around anti-trafficking efforts in Denver and Colorado, and we are lucky to have a great number of skilled partners at the table. Working with other state and local groups will prove incredibly valuable in the overwhelming task of combatting trafficking. We are working to open lines of communication with partners in other jurisdictions, knowing that a team approach will benefit everyone.
Education and training:
There is no question that clients who have been trafficked are often seen as difficult, non-compliant or manipulative. They are known as “runners” and a myriad other negatives. The effects of chronic and complex trauma are often masked in survival behaviors. DATA and our members want to challenge these assumptions and ensure that even the most seemingly difficult clients have access to the best services in a system with appropriate structure and boundaries.
A persistent challenge is how to educate the public and those newer to the anti-trafficking world on the realities of trafficking, locally, nationally and internationally. How do we talk about trafficking? What imagery do we use to represent trafficking? And how do we help educate the public and media about the inherent challenges of visual and oral representations of trafficking? The focus on sensational, voyeuristic, almost pornographic depictions of trafficking only encourages the reality of the situation to continue to be misrepresented. Educating ourselves and the general public on what trafficking actually looks like in Denver, Colorado, the U.S. and elsewhere is important to ensure that we are focusing on effective service provision, advocacy and interventions that are rooted in reality.
DATA is hosting a conference in April 2016 to provide education and training about trafficking and to continue the conversation about different aspects of the anti-trafficking movement. As the field grows and more public and internal education is necessary, DATA plans to play a pivotal role in the dissemination of accurate information.
The positive response by Denver and Colorado partners in combating human trafficking is encouraging. The diverse, innovative and creative treatments and approaches being developed and practiced in Denver and across Colorado deserve national attention. I feel lucky to be a part of this incredible initiative. D
Sara Nadelman, M.P.H. is a Project Director for the Denver Anti-Trafficking Alliance. Prior to joining DATA in late-June 2015, she served as a Country Director for a non-governmental organization based in Phnom Penh, Cambodia that provides holistic aftercare services to female adolescents who were sex-trafficked. Previously, she spent 10 years working in hospital and medical school administration. She can be reached at email@example.com.