Talk will expose sex trafficking’s reach into Aspen
IF YOU GO
What: On the Corner of Hope and Help, a presentation on sex trafficking in Colorado
Who: Shanna Michaels, an officer with the FBI Rocky Mountain Innocence Lost Task Force, is the featured speaker
When: 6:30 p.m. Wednesday
Where: Taylor Daine Goulet Gallery, 402 S Hunter St. in Aspen
Cost: Free, contributions optional to Callie’s Backyard
Jackie Long was ignorant about the prevalence of sex trafficking in Colorado until she learned of an eye-opening situation that affected at least three families in Aspen a decade ago.
A man in Boulder was adapt at systematically partying with young female students at Colorado University and video taping them in compromising situations, said Long, a former Aspen resident who now splits time between Denver and the Roaring Fork Valley.
The man used the video to extort funds from the young women’s families, Long said. He claimed he would release the video if he wasn’t paid. Three families from Aspen were among his victims.
Long started studying the broader issue of human and sex trafficking in Colorado and found the problem was much more grim than extortion for sex videos. She learned that Denver is a major hub for underage girls and young women caught in sex trafficking. The tentacles of the trade reach into all corners of the state, including resort towns like Aspen, she said.
“I can’t believe this is happening right under our noses in Denver and Colorado,” she said. “If people think it’s not happening in the valley, they need to look again.”
Long, who is nothing if not determined and persistent, decided to help combat human trafficking. She learned that the FBI collaborated with all but two states to establish sex trafficking task forces but that Colorado had none for lack of funds.
“I said, ‘I’ll get you the funds,’” she recalled.
She started a nonprofit organization called Callie’s Backyard in 2009 to build awareness about sex trafficking. In 2010 she provided organizational assistance, lobbied state lawmakers and raised private funds that helped create a task force involving the FBI, Denver Police Department and other metro-area governments.
“She was an integral part of it,” said Shanna Michael, a Denver police detective who joined the FBI Rocky Mountain Innocence Lost Task Force as an officer last year.
Long is hosting an event in Aspen on Wednesday to build awareness about sex trafficking in Colorado and to raise funds for Callie’s Backyard, which continues to work on the interlocked issues of drug abuse, homelessness and sex trafficking. The event features a presentation by Michael at 6:30 p.m. From noon to 7 p.m., shopping at Nuages, Taylor Daine Goulet Gallery, Miller Sports, O2 Aspen Boutique, McHugh Gallery Antiques, Aspen Eclectic Toy Store and Max Clothing Store will benefit Callie’s Foundation.
Michael said she will provide a glimpse of the problem in Colorado, the task force’s role, information to help build awareness of sex trafficking and what people can do if they suspect activity.
Michael works for a branch of the task force that focuses on getting underage children — both girls and boys — out of prostitution rings. A typical scenario, she said, is that runaways fall into a life of prostitution out of desperation. They leave their homes, for whatever reasons, and end up on the streets of Denver or other cities. They don’t have a plan for surviving beyond a couple of days and get desperate.
“We know that children on the run for more than three days, that’s a very risky time,” Michael said.
Pimps prey on children like that, she said. They offer them shelter, food, drugs, alcohol, clothes — whatever it takes. In return, they tell them they have to have sex with strangers.
In other cases, pimps will make contact with girls in online chat groups and attempt to befriend them. They are grooming them to get into the sex trade, she said.
The task force also had a high profile case in October 2017 when a family member was arrested for offering two underage children for sex.
“Anything you think can happen happens, unfortunately,” Michael said.
Various websites and even Craigslist is used to advertise the girls, according to Michael. The pimps are astute and have spread out from the metro area to mountain resorts with their services.
Once the girls and young women are in the clutches of the pimps, they will do whatever it takes to keep them under control and making money.
“The women and the girls are disposable,” Michael said.
The task force uses sting operations and other investigative techniques to locate the girls.
“The No. 1 goal is the recovery of these kids,” Michael said.
Between 2012 and 2017, 530 kids were recovered, she said.
It’s not just girls caught in sex trafficking. In 2017, the task force recovered 21 boys and three transgendered youth, Michael said.
Long has gotten a glimpse of the kids caught in sex trafficking through her nonprofit work in Denver. Callie’s Backyard went into hiatus in December 2013 after Jackie’s daughter Callie lost her battle with addiction. Long reorganized and relaunched Callie’s Backyard in 2015 with the three-pronged mission to build awareness of sex trafficking, homelessness and drug addiction and take action to overcome them.
Callie’s Backyard launched a food delivery van in Denver in September 2016. The seek out homeless youth, so they often come into contact with girls caught in sex trafficking, Long said.
“I’m going to keep chipping away at these issues,” she said.
There was lots to be thankful for during Aspen Mountain’s opening day. Thousands of folks put turkey dinners on hold this Thanksgiving holiday to come out and enjoy the slopes despite limited runs and limited snow.