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Anti-human trafficking activists encourage community awareness

Charlie Falkis, a human trafficking survivor and advocate for Uprising, speaks at the Jan. 18 press conference (Photo by Stephanie Lam / Cap City News)

CHEYENNE, Wyo. — Wyomingites can stop child sexual exploitation by learning about human trafficking prevention measures, said local activists during a morning press conference at the state’s Division of Victim Services.

In recognition of National Slavery and Human Trafficking Awareness Month, the U.S. Attorney’s Office is partnering with Governor Gordon’s Human Trafficking Task Force, Uprising, the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation and the Wyoming Division of Victim Services to raise awareness about such crimes.

A press conference was held at 10 a.m. today for the public to attend and hear more about the task force’s upcoming activities, which include a local screening of the documentary “SEXTORTION: The Hidden Pandemic.”

“Human trafficking is such a demand-driven crime, there’s so many billions of dollars behind it that I don’t think anyone knows the true scope of it,” Terri Markham, executive director of Uprising, said during the conference. “There’s no way we’re going to cut it off by dealing with it as it happens. If people know it’s a problem, hopefully they’ll want to take the next steps to do something actionable to stop it.”

Uprising, a Sheridan-based anti-human trafficking advocacy and education organization, defines sex trafficking as any sexual act done in exchange for any item of value, where a third party is profiting off of the exchange.

Eric Hiemann, the executive assistant U.S Attorney, said children are usually the most vulnerable to sexual exploitation by online predators.

“When these criminals convince a 13-year-old to take off their clothes for that criminal’s sexual gratification, they’re producing child pornography, it’s a state and federal crime,” Hiemann said during the conference. “The purpose of this outreach is to find these people, prosecute them and send them to prison.”

He said the documentary, which will be shown in several cities throughout the month, will help people identify child victims and exploitation tactics used by predators.

Actively engaging with organizations like Uprising is vital for keeping all Wyomingites safe, added Charlie Falkis, a human trafficking survivor.

“We can sit here and type our bills to propose to our legislature all day long,” Falkis said during the conference, “but when we don’t have community members who are there to help us [Uprising] carry out these day-to-day goals we’re setting for ourselves, it’s really just impossible for this small group of people to do.”

He said exploitation victims can heal from their traumatic experiences with the support from community members.

“Once you do find someone who has reached this horrific level of exploitation, really just be patient and walk alongside them,” he said. “Community support is everything in the healing process, having those deep connections and meaningful relationships.”

Cheyenne’s “SEXTORTION: The Hidden Pandemic” screening was originally scheduled for this evening at the Laramie County Community College, but was postponed due to harsh weather conditions.

It has been rescheduled for Tuesday, Jan. 24 at 6 p.m. in the Surburgg/Prentice Auditorium at LCCC, located at 1400 East College Drive.

The film will be followed by a panel discussion on current trends in Wyoming and tips for community members on how to keep children safer.