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Human trafficking conference draws law enforcement officers to Salt Lake

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SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah group is fighting a problem it says could surpass that of the sale of narcotics in the world: It's the multi-billion dollar industry of human slavery.

Child Rescue hosted its inaugural National Human Trafficking Law Enforcement Training conference in Salt Lake City Wednesday. Over 300 law enforcement groups from around the world came to learn more about how to recognize the crime.

We probably hear about a case a week of either sex or labor trafficking — either through a tip or through police reports or through somebody contacting the FBI.

–Detective Robert Woodbury, SLPD


Human trafficking isn't a crime that only happens outside of the country. Just last week, prosecutors filed charges against a Salt Lake County woman accused of trying to sell her 13-year-old daughter's virginity.

"This is sex trafficking," said Celeste Lojik, of Child Rescue. "It's sad to me because a lot of people, they think sex trafficking doesn't happen in Utah, doesn't happen in America. It's ‘out of sight, out of mind.'"

That's why Child Rescue raised thousands of dollars to bring law enforcement to Utah to train officers how to look beyond the obvious.

"We probably hear about a case a week of either sex or labor trafficking — either through a tip or through police reports or through somebody contacting the FBI," said Salt Lake City Police Detective Robert Woodbury.


As part of the Utah Human Trafficking Task Force, Woodbury works those tips trolling the Internet. Most of his cases involve young girls being trafficked in and out of Utah.

"But then they come back around to Salt Lake City and Phoenix, Arizona; Las Vegas over to Los Angeles — and it's called a circuit," Woodbury said. "They stay for three, four or five days and then move on to a different city."

Victim advocates say it's rare to see the faces of these victims, mainly because they're in lengthy legal battles. Emotionally, it's really hard for them to talk about the subject and they fear for their lives.

"They can come out and speak, but their pimps could find them and they could be killed or taken back into trafficking," Lojik said.

But on woman put her fear aside. She agreed to give officers, a first-hand account of being trafficked among Los Angeles' rich and famous.

"It's teaching and trying to get a task force to think in a different mentality [than] that these girls are the criminals," Lojik said. "Instead, that they're the victims and we need to go after the johns and the perpetrators."

Advocates say traffickers and victims are extremely discreet in their behavior. So, if something doesn't look right, report it and let police investigate.


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