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Summit County

Peace House helps put spotlight on sex trafficking in Summit County

sex trafficking
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Sex trafficking is occurring in the Wasatch Back along with more urban areas in Utah

Summit County has the second highest rate in the state for sex trafficking. This Thursday night, Peace House is hosting a free film and panel discussion to address the issue, including tips on how to spot it and how to stop it.

Human trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery. According to the Utah Attorney General’s Office, traffickers use force, fraud or coercion to lure their victims, then force them into commercial sexual exploitation.

Andrea Sherman is the Trafficking in Person Program Director at the Asian Association of Utah. She says her organization works with victims of sex and labor trafficking across the state. The victims are all genders, ages and immigration status. And they are here in Summit and Wasatch counties.

“Second to Salt Lake County, Summit was the highest county in which we were serving victims of trafficking," Sherman said. "That of course is composed of both sex and labor trafficking. But we are most certainly are seeing both in Summit and Wasatch that there is trafficking that is occurring.”

Sherman says many factors contribute to trafficking, including high tourist activity.

When it comes to spotting traffickers and their victims, Sherman says to watch for situations where someone exerts power and control over someone else. For example, medical examiners may notice patients with untreated injuries.

"Traffickers will stop people from getting access to medical care," she said. "When someone arrives at one of our businesses to access services, they may have unaddressed physical wounds.  So they may, you know, have cuts and bruises and injuries and different things because the traffickers have not allowed them to seek out those medical services."

Another red flag is if someone doesn’t have access to their important paperwork, like passports or drivers licenses. If a person is afraid to talk, that may be because someone is monitoring them. And if they’re already marginalized by society, they could be prime targets for traffickers.

“If the person is already part of a vulnerable population whether that’s through age, through prior abuse, through the foster care system, LGTBQ, so if they already have some of those inherent vulnerabilities that increases their likelihood of exploitation and then you’re seeing some of these signs, it kind of creates a whole big picture,” Sherman said.

Peace House is a place where sex trafficking victims can go for help and therapy. Emma Zevallos is Director of Prevention and Education, and says Peace House offers more than that.

“We also offer transitional housing, immediate housing, there are support groups, we also have community engagement," Zevallos said. "That is a big part of a member of society coming back and healing. Healing is not linear so everyone engages in the capacity they’re at. But just knowing, you know, that these resources are available and everyone can be a survivor no matter who you are or how you identify, this is a health problem that affects everyone.”

To bring awareness to sex trafficking, Peace House will host a free screening of the film “Surviving Sex Trafficking” at the Jim Santy Auditorium Thursday night at seven o’clock. A panel discussion will follow.