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SALT LAKE CITY — Human trafficking is the fastest growing criminal enterprise in the world and the second most lucrative behind only drugs, Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes said Tuesday.
Calling it a "horrible, evil institution," Reyes, in front of a standing room-only crowd in the Gold Room of the state Capitol, read a proclamation from Gov. Gary Herbert declaring January as Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month in Utah, and honored local groups who have been fighting against trafficking.
Human trafficking is "a form of modern-day slavery and a global atrocity of epidemic proportions threatening the entire human family," Herbert wrote in the proclamation.
Trafficking deprives victims of all walks of life innocence, dignity and self-determination, according to the proclamation. There are currently more than 40 million "modern-day slaves" worldwide who are victims of trafficking, the proclamation states.
After reading the declaration, Reyes recognized several groups as recipients of the 2018 Attorney General Human Trafficking Justice Awards.
Groups that help victims escape trafficking, such as the Refugee & Immigrant Center (formerly the Asian Association of Utah), and Operation Underground Railroad were honored. But groups that also promote victim recovery, victim awareness and education programs were honored, including Sheroes United, a nonprofit group founded by Utah businesswomen that teaches "how to step out of victimhood."
"The proclamation of this day sets it into motion, that what we are doing, our passion on this earth, to change those people's lives. It's up to all of us. One person can't do it alone. Each and every one of us creates a chain to work together," said Sheroes founder and CEO Celeste Gleave. "Everything that's happening that you do not see, it's going on and we will put an end to this. Our warriors are ready to fight. Laced up, boots on the ground."
Another group honored was Backyard Broadcast, a group founded by high school students aimed at educating teenagers their own age about trafficking with the goal of creating "an environment of intolerance toward child sex trafficking."
"We need to change the vernacular of our conversations. There's no such thing as a teen prostitute or a child prostitute for that matter. And there's nothing magical about turning 18 that renders force, fraud and coercion inapplicable to human trafficking," said Marcus Cervandez, a 17-year-old senior at the Academy for Math, Engineering and Science.
Also in attendance was Clame Ocnam Dameus, the attorney general of Haiti. Reyes praised Damues for taking a strong stand against human traffickers in his country, despite putting his own family at risk for retaliation by doing so. The attorney general also hinted of an announcement coming soon regarding cases being worked in Haiti.