Utah Aims to Rescue Victims

The initial arrest and potential for a young teen to continue in the sex trade after turning 18 reveals the need for more training and resources among law enforcement and those in the community who can help rescue those who are trafficked.

“More often than not the women involved in these type of investigations aren’t as involved as voluntarily as I think the general public would like to believe,” St. George police Sgt. Johnny Heppler, who supervises the Fraudulent Identification and Security Threat Unit in Utah, said.

“This is ingrained within our culture and it’s going to take a paradigm shift for people to start viewing these women as victims instead of you know, prostitutes when they’re being exploited by a dominant culture,” trafficking survivor Savannah Saunders said. The other thing that needs to change, she said, it how law enforcement and the public refer to these cases. “We’re not talking about it as rape for profit. We’re talking about it as prostitution to soften the blow.”Within the past 10 to 12 years, law enforcement in the state has “slowly been evolving” to a victim-centered approach, shifting toward prosecuting those who are running the sex trafficking rings, instead of the workers. The state also has harsher punishments for those who traffic minors. Aggravated exploitation of prostitution is a second degree felony, and when it involves a child, it is bumped up to a first degree felony.Learn more at Whitney Evans’ Deseret News article: Pulling victims from the sex trade, one person at a time.

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