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At Tuesday’s special session of the Coconino County Board of Supervisors, the Board unanimously approved a proclamation to designate January as Human Trafficking Awareness and Prevention Month in Coconino County.
According to the US State Department, Arizona is a hub for illicit activity and a transit point for labor and sex trafficking due to our state’s geographic location and network of Interstate freeways. Locally, in the past five years various law enforcement and victim service agencies have encountered over 600 confirmed victims of human trafficking. Furthermore, numerous sting operations during that time have identified almost 500 individuals suspected of attempting to purchase sex with an underage victim.
“The exploitation of human beings for sex trafficking is a terrible crime and we must raise awareness and educate ourselves on this matter so that we can take action to end this travesty. This is an issue that affects all of our communities,” commented Chair of the Board Patrice Horstman.
The proclamation also reaffirms Coconino County’s commitment to Flagstaff Initiative Against Trafficking (FIAT), a collective of professional service providers and volunteers dedicated to ending human trafficking through Northern Arizona. The group’s mission is to construct a unified response for trafficking victims and survivors to get to safety, educate and bring awareness to our community about human trafficking in order to curb demand, and collect data to determine the true impact of human trafficking in Coconino County. County Manager Steve Peru pledged to engage with FIAT to provide training to the over 1,200 county employees to be aware of the signs of human trafficking.
“This is our commitment as an employer to provide this important education to our staff not only for their professional lives but also their personal lives,” added County Manager Steve Peru. “On any given day any one of us over the course of our daily activities could encounter potential victims of trafficking.”
Human trafficking is defined as the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery.
All 50 US states, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands have laws prohibiting trafficking of persons for the purpose of commercial sexual activity. Traffickers routinely target at-risk populations, and victims are often individuals who have experienced or been exposed to various forms of violence, such as child abuse, maltreatment, domestic violence, sexual assault, and community and gang violence; or individuals that lack a stable support system, such as runaway and homeless youth, unaccompanied minors at the Southern border, and persons displaced during natural disasters.
“It’s unfortunate that we are at a literal crossroads with so many paths that enable this horrible crime and I’m extremely pleased that we are addressing it and bringing awareness to our community,” added Vice Chair Jeronimo Vasquez.
The proclamation was developed in partnership with Northland Family Help Center, a local non-profit organization that serves victims of domestic violence, abuse, and trafficking in Northern Arizona. The proclamation can be read in full on the county website.