Child advocacy forum focuses on human trafficking and what it looks like in eastern Idaho - East Idaho News

Child advocacy forum focuses on human trafficking and what it looks like in eastern Idaho

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RIGBY — A special guest from southern California helped tie-up the final day of a local conference on child maltreatment.

The event, Protecting Our Kids: Idaho’s Forum on Child Maltreatment, was hosted in Rigby by the Upper Valley Child Advocacy Center in partnership with the Idaho Network of Children’s Advocacy Centers. The Rigby Police Department along with other first responders, child advocacy professionals and members of the community attended the three-day conference virtually and in-person to hear from a variety of speakers about topics such as abuse and suicide.

On Wednesday, the conference focused on human trafficking. Bradley S. (he requested we not reveal his last name), is a prosecutor in southern California who has dealt with many human trafficking cases over the years. He tells it is a widespread crime that comes in many forms and rarely looks like what you see in the movies.

“(The movie) ‘Taken’ is what most people think of when they hear about human trafficking,” Bradley said during the forum.

But during an interview later, he said,”you can’t put human trafficking into a specific category and say, ‘This is what it looks like nationwide.’ … It’s a massive beast that looks different depending on what type of trafficking you’re talking about.”

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The graphic nature of his presentation prevents us from going into too much detail, but many of the cases he highlighted involved the sale and purchase of women on the dark web for sexual acts. He says trafficking often occurs on the familial level with parents trafficking their kids or boyfriends and husbands trafficking girlfriends and wives. It happens to boys and girls of all ages.

It’s a form of slavery that infects every corner of the globe, he says, including right here in Idaho.

“There’s a reason why (Bradley) agreed to come and talk here in Rigby,” Rigby Police Chief Sam Tower says. “Sometimes we think ‘This is God’s country. There are no problems here,’ but (human trafficking) is an issue. It actually does happen here.”

But just how common it is in eastern Idaho is difficult to say, Tower says. It’s not something that is out in the open and it can’t be easily identified during a routine patrol.

“If you’re looking for it, you will fail,” Bradley told Rigby police officers.

Traffickers are often connected with other crimes, Bradley says, so officers are more likely to spot it while investigating something else.

Idaho’s law against human trafficking was amended last year in response to rising cases of it nationwide. The Idaho Press reported in August of 2019 trafficking is now a standalone crime in the Gem State, which means prosecutors can file charges against someone specifically for that crime. Previously, human trafficking charges could only be brought against someone if they were charged with another crime first.

Idaho Statute 18-8602 defines human trafficking as “commercial sexual activity … induced by force, fraud, or coercion … in exchange for anything of value,” and may include threats of harm or physical restraint towards the victim.

Bradley says the most important thing people can do to combat human trafficking is to understand what it is, educate themselves about it and know the warning signs.

If you see something you think is suspicious, report it.

“There are tons of stories about kids going into gas stations and into the bathroom. Something doesn’t look right to the teller and they pass them a note under the door asking if they’re ok,” Tower says. “If you see someone who doesn’t appear like they want to be where they are, or they’re uncomfortable, ask them (if they’re ok).”

The forum is expected to become an annual event that will be held in different parts of the state each year. For more information, contact the Upper Valley Child Advocacy Center in Rigby at (208) 745-2612.