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FBI Confidential: Human trafficking may be happening in your local park

SALT LAKE CITY — Human trafficking is not only alive and well in Utah, it is a top focus of the FBI Salt Lake City division. 

Most people think of human trafficking as something that happens in episodes of Law & Order: SVU – not a real-life event, and definitely not something that happens in so-called flyover country, so far removed from New York City and Los Angeles. But the FBI’s Salt Lake City Division actively investigates cases of human sex trafficking right here in Utah and works to rescue people from bondage all the time.

In an interview with FBI Confidential, Special Agent Elizabeth Green dispels common myths about human trafficking, such as that most prostitutes are in the sex trade by choice, or that victims are typically poor, or that victims are only people from other countries.

“Victims come from all walks of life,” Green explains.

While they see a lot of cases in which the girls come from a broken home, Green has seen “quite a few in Utah that come from prominent families.”

American citizens are victimized by the supply and demand of johns and pimps, and control, force or coercion does not necessarily have to be physical – some victims’ families are threatened, some victims are drugged to keep them submissive and compliant, etc.

Pimps can make more than $100,000 a year with one girl, and Green says most pimps usually have between one and three girls. A pimp can make more money with a minor, according to Green.

Green encourages taking a step back and thinking about why they are making so much money.

“There are men who are wanting to exploit and have sex with these girls. The more men that want younger girls, the more money the pimps are going to make,” she says.

You may not think places like Utah would be a hotspot for human traffickers, but when asked, pimps say they would choose unexpected places because they believe they can go undetected.

Perhaps most important for parents to note is how prevalent human sex trafficking is among juvenile runaways. Special Agent Green says within 24 hours of living on the street, one in three teens will be approached and lured into prostitution.

Green explains one coercion tactic common in Utah is a pimp asking girls about their home life.

“’Are you allowed to drink? Are you allowed to smoke weed? If you come with me I can provide that for you,’” she says some pimps will say.

An essential part of a special agent’s job is building trust and relationships with the girls, Green says, treating them as a victim rather than a suspect.

Agent Green stays in touch with people she’s helped escape what she describes as modern-day slavery. She attends their graduations, celebrates the birth of their children, and hears from them as they rebuild their lives after leaving “the Game” of prostitution.

If you or someone you know is a victim of human sex trafficking and in imminent danger, call 911 right away. To submit a tip to the FBI, call 1-800-CALL FBI or click here.