The northwestern part of Colorado — from the central Rocky Mountains to the Utah border — has some of the highest demand for sex trafficking in the state.
That’s according to Angela Roff, who is organizing the second Battlement to the Bells Anti-Human Trafficking Summit, which will take place Friday in Rifle.
“My belief is that a lot of people don’t think it’s a problem around here,” Roff said. “But I think once you look at the data, you begin to accept that it is a problem here, that there is a high demand, and therefore, what are we going to do to stop it?”
The event, organized by the Battlement to the Bells Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force, brings together a coalition of activists in the Roaring Fork Valley and beyond who have been working to raise awareness and prevent human trafficking for years.
“We finally all just came together with more of a cohesive voice,” Roff said.
Roff, a prosecutor for several municipalities in Garfield County, began working in anti-trafficking several years ago after encountering defendants who exhibited common signs of exploitation.
She saw people who would say they didn’t have their ID because a friend was keeping it, or people who would get in trouble at a rest area with no apparent reason for being there.
“Other times, we had people that were arrested and things were found on their person that led me to believe they were in the sex industry, but I wasn’t sure if they were willingly participating,” Roff said.
Those interactions made Roff think that trafficking is occurring, and going unnoticed despite contacts with law enforcement.
At the 2019 summit, more than 100 people attended, including law enforcement and attorneys. But the program also attracted people from fields such as banking, healthcare and education.
This year, more than 110 people have registered for the Friday event, which begins at 8 a.m. at the Colorado Mountain College campus in Rifle.
The day-long summit features more than a dozen speakers who will discuss the prevalence of trafficking humans for sex or for coerced labor, as well as the prevention and signs of exploitation.
9th District Attorney Jeff Cheney will speak about prosecuting human trafficking, particularly sex trafficking, and the high burden of proof needed for a conviction.
Over the past few years, Cheney’s office and the state Attorney General’s office have prosecuted a high-profile case of sex trafficking that occurred at a Glenwood Springs hotel in the summer of 2017. That investigation has led to three guilty pleas.
Angela Roe Clark, who spoke at the 2019 summit, will return this year to offer a trafficking survivor’s perspective.
The summit is only part of the task force’s work. At monthly meetings, the coalition members meet to strategize on education and prevention efforts.
“We all have an interest in ending human trafficking, and stopping the exploitation of people. Now we have to figure out, step by step, what that means,” Roff said.