Gerrymandering and Human Trafficking
<<Audio Soundbite Star Trek TNG "Elementary My Dear Data">>
Finally there can be no argument.
The game is afoot.
<<End Audio Soundbite>>
Do you know what the difference between 43 and 10 is? That's the number of times a Redcoat can confuse his own district with someone else's while being the co chairman of the corporation's committee.
A confounding math problem indeed. But I can assure you that it is elementary, my dear friends.
It's true, An attempt has been made to throw us off the scent by way of a red herring. But just like the criminals that Sherlock Holmes battled, their folly is in underestimating the powers of deduction of those who scrutinize the wearing of scarlet outerwear....Redcoats.
Ah, my own study in scarlet. How could I be so lucky? Not so much if your name is Dan Zwonitzer. But hey, don't blame me. I'm not the one that's engaging in political funny business; and I'm going to tell you about it!
From high above all other purile and pedantic forms of Wyoming mainstream media, this is Cowboy State Politics. I of course am your illustrious host, David Iverson, broadcasting to you from the base of the bighorns in beautiful Buffalo, Wyoming. You can listen to the podcast from any of your favorite podcasting apps. Iheart radio, Itunes, Tune-In, really, Any of them will work. But the easiest way is just to go to cowboy state politics dot com. There, you can find all of the shows as well as any of the articles that I might bring up during the course of a program. If your name is Representative Dan Zwonitzer, and you're bummed out that your whole redistricting scheme is about to get exposed, You can go to cowboy state politics dot com and find out why.
Well, actually that one's not all that complicated, he's just a red coat and this is cowboy state politics and that's what we do expose Redcoats.
I've got a great show planned for you today. First, we're going to talk about this little redistricting scheme that's happening down in Laramie County and then I've got two incredible interviews. The first one is going to be with Terry Markham of Uprising. It's a victim's advocacy organization that focuses on human trafficking.
And then, we're gonna talk to Representative John Bear who had a bill in the last session regarding human trafficking. Both of them are great and I know that you're going to enjoy them.
But we begin with House District 43 and uh House District 10. Now,
you see, I have a theory. Mind you, it's just a theory, but it's one that happens to fit the facts. And if I'm correct and I'm pretty sure that I am. it's going to create some significant questions that are going to require answers from one specific Wyoming State House Representative Dan Zwonitzer.
Now, here's the biggest problem out of all of this: let's just assume for a moment that everything I'm about to tell you is only theoretical, that's it just theoretical. We're just going to assume that for just one second. All elected officials, City Councilman Mayor, County Commissioners, state representative, state senators,
Governor. All of them are to avoid even the appearance of impropriety. What that means is that your to conduct yourself in a manner that will raise absolutely no questions whatsoever. And when questions do arise, you ought to be able to confront them head on and prove them to be false. So there to avoid even the appearance of impropriety.
Now, if you step that up a little bit and say, you're the co-chairman of the committee that's responsible for redistricting, you know that every decision you make, everything you do is going to be scrutinized. We're going to ask you why you drew a line in the spot that you did. And when it's discovered that the line that you drew benefits you specifically, that's a serious ethical problem. It moves from appearance to actual impropriety.
Now again, this is just a theory and I'm just going to give you the facts as I know them. And for reasons that I know that you'll understand, I can't give you actual addresses that I'm about to talk about. That's called doxing and I'm not about to do that.
But everything that I'm about to tell you has been forwarded to the Republican Party for verification. Representatives Zwonitzer represents Wyoming State House District 43. And his spouse does not live in House District 43. His spouse lives in House District 10.
That's his address of record. Through a public records request, It was revealed that that is the exact same address as Representative Zwonitzer. In House district 10, not House District 43.
Here comes the theory part: according to the Wyoming Secretary of State's Office, If an elected representative or senator moves out of their district, it creates a vacancy in the district that they formerly represented. This has happened a couple of times before Representative Mark Baker for example, moved out of his district,
he had to resign and then he ran for office in his new district.
The same thing happened with Lars Lone.
The Wyoming State Statute you're looking for is 22-18-111, sub paragraph a, rominette number three. Here comes Co-chairmen Zwonitzer's second problem: You ever wonder why when district lines are drawn there's these weird little sections that are kind of out in the middle of nowhere? Well that's the case with the proposed plan that Representative Zwonitzer put forward.
There's one of those weird little things that reaches out into House District 10 and total shocker here: It is only the little neighborhood that contains the address of record for Co-chairman Representative Dan Zwonitzer.
And we might ask that maybe that weird little section contains a whole bunch of people that needed to be included in House District 43 to bring up their population. There's only 16 parcels in that weird little section I was telling you about. That's not even enough to make up an entire neighborhood. And here's the kicker: The district boundary is the property line of that address of record for Representative Dan Zwonitzer. So at the very least he drew in his new property into his old house district. That is the very definition of gerrymandering--as clear as I have ever heard about it.
There's one more little wrinkle to this: even if he hadn't been living in House District 43, and again, that's part of the whole theory business that I've been telling you about. If his redistricting plan goes through and it's passed by the legislature and signed by the governor, then his new property, which is right now in house district number 10 would become House district 43. And there won't be any problems of him not residing in his district any longer.
Pretty sly, isn't it? But then again, that's what these red coats do.
So those are the facts as I know them. But let me just posit one more thing: I don't know very many married couples that like to be apart for very long at all, much less live in two entirely different houses-quite a ways from each other. different strokes for different folks. But I'm not buying it and I don't think that you should either. What you should do is start asking questions and demand an answer from Co-chairman Representative Dan Zwonitzer.
Alright, moving on, let's talk about some other things that are directly below your nose.
If you read the papers, you'll notice that there hasn't been a single human trafficking prosecution in the state of Wyoming at least in the year 2020. The Cow Pie reported on October six of 2021 That Wyoming had no human trafficking convictions in 2020.
However, on april 30th of that same year, they published another article entitled 'Former Sweetwater County Senator Arrested in Prostitution Sting. That was Redcoat Senator John Martin Hastert.
More often than notn if the demand exists, so does the supply.
That is most definitely the case with human trafficking,
prostitution being one of its more obvious signs. On Monday I had a discussion with Campbell County Representative John Bear about his human trafficking bill that failed in the previous session.
Just an aside note, only a red coat would vote against a bill like this and it was Senator Slithers that killed it. But anyway, I spoke with John Bear and it's a fascinating interview.
Later on in the program, I'm going to speak with Terri Markham from the group Uprising, which you'll hear Representative Bear talk about.
But here's our interview.
I'm joined today by Representative John Bear, State House Representative from District 31. Recently, in this past session,
he had a bill concerning human trafficking. Now, he didn't get all the way through the Legislature, but nonetheless, it's an important topic and I could think of no better person in the legislature to discuss it with than John Bear himself. So John, welcome to the program.
<Rep John Bear>
Thank you. It's great to be on with your listeners, David. I appreciate it.
Yeah. Well, as you know, you're welcome anytime on Cowboy state Politics. So I guess where I'd like to begin, John, is like,
how big of a problem is human trafficking in Wyoming?
<Rep John Bear>
Well, it's, it's completely hard to know how big of a problem it really is. And I'll give you a, for instance, when I got to meet with a local organization that advocates for victims of human trafficking. They shared with me and story where a expert on the legal side on the law enforcement side came up from Colorado to Cheyenne and set up a sting operation. And within 30 minutes in one intersection in Cheyenne, they had collected 30 different people that had violated the law. And so if there's that much demand on a sting,
you can imagine that there must be something providing for that demand. And uh, when I contacted my local sheriff's office here in Campbell County, they had people who had been trained at least at the city level on this. And they had one person that had some training on human trafficking and she said there were no cases in Campbell County and she was not aware of any, any issues that they had run into and any arrests that they've made up to date. So that was about a year ago. And uh, there hasn't been any change in that since a year ago. But according to Uprising whose, that victim advocacy group out of Sheridan, the problem is how law enforcement goes out and tries to find it, if, if you don't look hard enough, you won't find it. And so it takes an effort to, to dig down and get to where this is happening. I suppose they could stumble upon it during a drug bust or something else that was, uh, combined where multiple infractions were going on. But typically there's a big demand and this is so pervasive and so just under the surface that it wouldn't take much to, to make it show up if you just scratch that surface.
Well, and certainly with Wyoming's three interstates, I mean, it just stands to reason that there are people being trafficked across this state and most definitely dropped off in this state, by cartels or whomever is involved in these operations. Is that, do I have that right?
<Rep John Bear>
I would expect that to be true. We just don't have evidence that to display in front of them. Here's where it's at, um, we do have victims that have come out, but usually years later, when they realized that what they were caught up in, it wasn't, it wasn't reality, the truth wasn't what was supposed to be happening with them oftentimes the victims feel guilty. Like it's something they did,
they put them in this situation. And so they also fear prosecution of themselves. And so it takes a long time and very few people actually come out and and expose what's happening until well after.
It's, so there's a lot of difficulties uncovering these things. But if law enforcement were to have the resources to create some sting operations throughout the state, I bet money we'd find things.
Oh, I'm sure we would. So you ran a bill last session, concerning human trafficking. Could you tell us about that?
<Rep John Bear>
Yeah, so the way this started was I was creating a contract with Campbell County because I was a freshman elect legislator. And,
and most of the people wouldn't really be able to tell how I would vote other than what I promised to do, so to give them a higher level of confidence, especially in this day and age, I did a contract with my constituents saying here's 10 items that are important to the community and that I commit to work on legislation and try to advance legislation on things like a SAPA bill, which you've spoken of at length here. And you know, no new taxes, those types of things.
Well, one of the things was brought to me by my daughter, there was some concerns here in the community based on child endangerment cases that had happened.
And so, you know, one thing led to another and it led to the issue of human trafficking. And so I decided to look into it further. As I started doing the research, I got ahold of the sheriff's office and the city police spoke to the representatives in our organizations that would have had the most knowledge about the issue. And then one thing led to another and I was put in contact with Uprising out of Sheridan and that's that victims advocacy group. So they had had an article in a newspaper that talked about a victim that had come out after years of being abused.
And so I thought that's a great place to find out what, what needs to be done in the State. Well, sure enough, that victim advocacy group pointed out that because of our statutes, the way they are, they're,
they're good, but they're not great. And there are other states that have, if you will, the gold standard when it comes to human trafficking laws. So there was a need for improvement in the area of
in the victim's protection area. So Almost 100% of the time when a victim is discovered in a event, they're not charged. But when you put it in statute that they can't be charged, it protects the prosecutor protects the the investigators. And so you have a much better chance of that not case. So we ran a bill that protected the victims from being prosecuted for any illegal activity that they have been involved while being trafficked.
Obviously there's a little risk there. And so while that bill through the House, we did a what's called a presumption. So it gives the judge the opportunity to say, okay, we presume that they're innocent. But I can tell there's mitigating circumstances here and we need to take a closer look at this particular victim and whether or not they are guilty of some crimes.
So that addition of that presumption of innocence clause led to the Uprising organization withdrawing their support. Of course, I needed that in there to get it through the House and we did get it passed in the House. And so it was in the Senate after that Uprising organization had withdrawn their support that we began to fail to pass and we did not get it out of the Judiciary Committee in the Senate.
So, what specifically would the bill have done, John?
<Rep John Bear>
well, two things: it would have provided that protection and basically put it in the statute. So that victims, you know, if they approached an attorney, an attorney could tell them, hey, you're considered a victim in this state and you won't be prosecuted.
So hopefully more victims would come out of the woodwork and we would be able to prosecute more of these cases here in the state.
That's one thing.
The second thing is when a victim is a minor, there are certain things that help that can be provided to them. And some of that is,
is federal money provided and some of its state, and this would have given them, that those particular services and so anybody within the law enforcement organization would be able to refer to state statute and know that, okay, this victim is a minor and we can get them involved with child in need of supervision. That's what that's called the child in need of supervision and gives them the kind of help that they need to get out of that and stay out of that,
that kind of criminal activity.
Well, one of the problems I see is that, once once people become involved in some sort of human trafficking enterprise, they themselves are sometimes compelled to commit crimes either directly or as a result of the experience of going through, you know, a sex trafficking operation.
<Rep John Bear>
That's exactly right. And so the question is, when do they become responsible for that behavior? And so, you know, my bill would have allowed a judge to make that determination, but it would have presumed they were innocent based on being a victim of human trafficking.
I happen to agree with you because, you know, if somebody is compelled to commit a crime there, there has to be a presumption of innocence there because we're not talking about, hey, I'll show these photos if you don't do as I say, I mean in a lot of cases were saying, well, you know, the victim would be killed if they don't go along with what what the trafficker is telling them to do.
<Rep John Bear>
Absolutely, I think that's a great way of putting it. Let me expound upon that, you know, there's the reason it was difficult to get through the House of Representatives without that is because,
you know, you can imagine there might be a case where you'd have a Ghislaine Maxwell, you know, who went well beyond, you know, being a victim as it were and became part of the problem and was profiting from it. So you would want to have a judge give a judge the leeway to prosecute somebody like that. That changes things from being a victim and to being to being a criminal, you know what I mean?
And I think that Ghislaine Maxwell thing is a perfect example of the victimization that occurs, you know, with regard to human trafficking. I mean, that that situation went on for years and there were people in like high up positions of power and authority that were involved in that. And that in my mind that just tells you,
you know, how pervasive this problem actually is.
<Rep John Bear>
I shudder to think of the people that we might know that would be involved with something like this because like I mentioned that case where just one simple sting operation within minutes, you know,
having that many people show up. Um it that's just a sad commentary on our society.
I couldn't agree more with you and and it was just last year that there was a former legislator that was caught up in one of those stings also.
<Rep John Bear>
Yes down the south end of the state.
Another question I had for you is do do law enforcement agencies have the resources that they need to investigate these crimes?
<Rep John Bear>
I believe they do. And I think that legislators before me had put some good work together, some good legislation that allowed for that.
I think my experience of finding, you know, a particular trained officer in the Gillette police force is an example of the fact that there, even though they don't have a a crime at this point prosecute,
they've already began training. And I know that Uprising is also joined with some law enforcement agencies and gone around the state and provided additional training for just the rank and file officers. So, that you know, if they see something they can say something and and get an investigation started. But it is disappointing that you know, we don't have anything right now that we can put our fingers on and maybe it's just speculation on our part.
But you know, when that sting operation in Cheyenne was so successful, I think we probably need to look at what resources are available to provide more of those types of things.
I remember watching a video of the, there's a sheriff down in florida and I can't think of his name right off the top of my head, but you know, he had just done a big, big sting and used Agents from three or 4 different agencies and you know, it's just happening everywhere.
And to think that Wyoming, like you say with our, our highways is exempt from what's going on. I think we're really putting our head in the sand if we believe that.
Oh, I think you're absolutely correct if we equate this to like drug trafficking. Like we know for a 100% fact that a huge amount of drugs are trafficked through Wyoming via our interstates.
I mean there's I-80 I-25 and I-90 and we know that if you're if you're in the northern half of the United States at one point or another, there is going to be drugs going through the state.
So it just stands to reason that there would be human trafficking happening happening as well.
<Rep John Bear>
Yeah. And we're, you know, here in Gillette, we're on a major thoroughfare between Chicago and L.A.. And so I know that we often have drug busts here in Gillette that are part of that trafficking and you've got to ask yourself how many of the, the young people are women that are involved in that were actually human trafficking victims that were being used as mules to move the drugs? Hard to say. I mean, that's speculation, but you can only imagine that that those two uh enterprises go hand in hand drugs and sex trafficking.
So, you know, there were talking about potentially the same customer base and so, you know, I think that as we see drug trafficking increase, we probably should at least expect that human trafficking is increasing at the same time.
Oh, I would agree with that. You would be hard pressed to find a more despicable crime than human trafficking. I mean, just the the level of abuse that happens, and then just think about think about the victims of sex trafficking and what happens later in their life.
I mean, they're never going to be the same.
<Rep John Bear>
No, and I have to believe that the perpetrators, they get away with it, so they're not stopping at one or two victims. They just keep moving on and continue this wreaking havoc on on a just a large number of people. And it's just disgusting.
I agree with you. Are you going to try to run the bill again?
<Rep John Bear>
You know, I'm going to have to talk with uprising and see, you know what their issue is, because in my opinion, there are some pieces of of law that you have to get what you can get when you can get it and then you can you can improve it later. And so, was it going to be a perfect law? Not based on uprisings point of view, but based on some legislators that had worked with me on it to get the presumption of innocence put in there, they believed it was better law. So it's a matter of working with these advocacy groups.
You know, one of the big issues down in the legislature is, is getting people to testify so that lawmakers understand how important this stuff is and uprising does a great job of getting, you know,
past victims in there to talk about it and, and so legislators understand what this is about. So for me to be successful running a bill without their support, it would be an uphill climb.
So, so I, I guess it depends on whether they're willing to find some middle ground and try to get something passed to improve the statutes here in Wyoming.
Okay, well, I think it's a tremendously important topic. I for one wish, I wish you would run it again.
The conversation with Representative Bear went on to cover other topics, but we'll save those for another episode.
We'll get back to the second half of our episode in just a second.
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And now back to the program.
Yesterday I caught up with Terry Markham from Uprising. The group that Representative Bear mentioned that helped him with the human trafficking bill. Here's our conversation:
<Begin Interview with Terri Markham>
I'm visiting with Terri Markham who is from a victim's advocacy organization called Uprising based in Sheridan, Wyoming. Terri,
Welcome to Cowboy State Politics.
Thank you. Happy to be here.
So I guess my first question is, why don't you just tell us a little bit about yourself and Uprising.
Sure. well for me, I am not a Wyoming native. I am born and raised in Texas and I started working in the field of anti trafficking in Texas about nine years ago. I sort of tripped into this work.
I was invited to help out on a support group for women in the sex industry. And so I spent a lot of years going into strip clubs and brothels and working with the women there. And that's where I saw human trafficking firsthand and that's where I don't know. I guess it's one of those things, you can't unsee it once you've seen it and for some reason it was something that I just couldn't unsee and weighed heavily on me.
And so I started seeking out a lot of extra training. I ended up actually starting a chapter of a nonprofit in Texas. And I was involved with that until I relocated to Wyoming about four years ago. In Wyoming, I very quickly learned that there weren't too many people I could find who were working on the issue and being a passion of mine. Um, I started, you know, asking a lot of questions and seeking it out and trying to find out what was being done, where could I fit in here in Wyoming?
And that's what led us to Founding uprising because we knew we needed to do something and there didn't seem to be many boots on the ground.
And so uprising became a nonprofit in August of 2019.
So we're still under three years old.
We have sort of been catapulted into sort of the growth that I probably wouldn't have normally expected with starting a nonprofit.
Um, and I think that's primarily because we are one of the only agencies doing this work in the state. Um, and so it's just sort of,
there's a need here. Clearly, there's a need because we stay pretty busy. And so that's where we're at now.
Uprising mainly focuses on awareness, education and outreach.
So we don't actually provide victim services for people who are being trafficked. We come across a lot of trafficking survivors and we're able to make sort of handoffs and references when needed to get them to the right people who do that. For us, we wanted to focus more on equipping professionals because we have a lot of victims serving agencies in the state as a matter of fact, there's one in every single county in Wyoming.
But what they really need is just increased training on how to identify victims of trafficking and how to better serve those specific type of victims.
One of the things that Representative Bear brought up is that,
and his exact quote was almost, you know, the human trafficking is kind of below the surface of other criminal activity and that somehow, you know, some ways you, you won't you won't see it unless you kind of scratch the surface and and look for it.
So, my biggest question Terri is how big of a problem of human trafficking do we have in Wyoming?
Sure, it's a hard question to answer, but I think that Representative Bear is spot on. It is a crime that is very hidden in nature.
It's not something you're going to see just right in front of your face typically. And a lot of times what people think of as trafficking is the sensationalized depiction of trafficking. You know, they're thinking of the movie taken, they're thinking of people locked in basements and chains and white vans snatching kids off the corner.
And the thing about trafficking that we try to really educate people on is that it can just be so much simpler than that. It's something that can happen really easily in any type of community. And the bottom line is if there is a demand to purchase sex in your community, then there's probably someone there to meet that demand and you probably have trafficking happening. It's been reported in every single state. And so we know what's happening here. And doing the work I do, I often hear a lot of stories and get a lot of disclosures and so I know that it's happening here because I've met tons of people.
I have people on my board and volunteers who are survivors of this.
Some of them who their trafficking stories happened in Wyoming.
Well, another thing that Representative Bear brought up is that victims don't tend to report the crime like right away that it's something that that gets reported years later. I guess two questions first: you know, what, what can victims of human trafficking do?
I mean, seek out support to identify the people that are responsible.
What what can they do to do that? And second, what can we do to help encourage people to who have been victims of human trafficking to come forward and to tell their stories.
Mm hmm. Good questions. Um, and again, he's pretty spot on the really hard thing about this crime is just like the average person has a picture in their head. So do the victims, most of the victims of trafficking that I have met, while they were being victimized did not realize they were trafficking victim. They also have that sensationalized picture and oftentimes, what they're experiencing doesn't match it. There's also a lot of really unique shame and stigma that goes along with this type of victimization to where I have had many victims, including our uprising co founder, who's told me, you know, what I experienced didn't look like the picture of trafficking that I had in my head and I didn't feel it was bad enough to, to kind of qualify as a victim of trafficking. It's like almost like they don't feel like they deserve the label. So they're not typically going to come forward and ask for help in a trafficking situation if they don't realize what they're experiencing is trafficking.
So we do know though, statistically speaking, and there's even been a study done in Wyoming um, about health care providers in relation to trafficking, but um, a lot of victims of trafficking will come into contact with either law enforcement victim services or healthcare providers while they're being trafficked. And what we see oftentimes is they get mislabeled.
So, on the surface, it might look like this is a child abuse case or a sexual assault case or a domestic violence case and people just don't know enough of the right questions to ask to sort of uncover that there's even more happening under the surface than they thought.
So that's kind of half of that, um, on the other half of that, what can victims actually do. A lot of that comes down to the, the work that we are slowly trying to do in the state as we create more awareness and we have more of these conversations about it as more professionals get trained.
And they start talking about it what we see and what I've already seen, because I've had an influx of trafficking survivors who have reached out is that they suddenly feel safer and they suddenly, you know, have a little more education on what trafficking looks like.
And they're realizing, hey, maybe I sort of do fit the description of this. And now they'll start asking for help.
So it's just a matter of kind of creating safe spaces in your community and starting the conversations and that sort of organically creates this safety net where survivors feel like they can come forward. And also having other survivors who come out and they speak about their experience, and then that helps the people who haven't disclosed in the audience feel heard and validated.
And we do, we are lucky that we have a couple of local survivors who who like to share their story for that purpose.
Well, I imagine it it's probably the very same thing that rape survivors. I mean, it most definitely does fit the definition of rape. But what you hear all the time is that because of the stigma attached to to the crime that people are hesitant to report it for for a variety of reasons.
I mean, certainly human trafficking is one of those crimes that,
the effects of it are not just like the immediate crime itself, like the immediate objectification and victimization right at that moment.
I mean, we're talking about something that affects somebody's entire life.
Yes, definitely. Most of the survivors I know this is something that all they'll be dealing with issues from it literally the rest of their life. There's really deep moral injury and PTSD that goes along with this type of victimization and yeah, it's not something that's gonna go away anytime soon.
And it does mirror a lot like a sexual assault victim. It's also one of the only crimes like sexual assault where if these survivors do decide to press charges or take sort of a legal route against their traffickers or their buyers. It's more like they're the ones on the stand being grilled, about the crime versus the actual perpetrator being on trial, the victim on trial. So that's obviously that's a huge contributor to why a lot of victims also don't come forward.
One of the things that the Representative bear mentioned with his bill that failed in the legislature last year is that to get it through the house, they had to insert a provision to where, you know,
the judge had had a little bit of latitude. And he did mention that that was one of the reasons that um, your group was not not happy with the end product.
So let's let's kind of move in a different direction. You mentioned that you're doing some work in Billings. Why don't you tell us about that?
Well, yeah, we have some great partners doing trafficking work and Billings um, and Uprising, we are located and shared and that's home base for us.
So we are just down the road from Billings. And our friends in Billings have been having a pretty rough time the past few years,
they have a huge influx of illicit massage parlor trafficking.
So much so that they actually have been able to enact a couple of new pieces of legislation to try to combat that. And they actually had a study done and they found out that per capita in Billings, Montana has more illicit massage parlor trafficking than even like New York City.
Yeah, it was pretty shocking how much of a problem they have and there's just no way the type of, again, the nature of the crime,
if we have that big of a problem in billings, just down the road from us, there's absolutely no way that there isn't trafficking victims coming through our state.
And the nature of Wyoming is, you know, little city and like an hour and a half to two hours or more later, then you have another little city or town. And so they have to be stopping and and working through Wyoming aside from that, I actually am really good friends with a human trafficking survivor who now runs an organization in Northern colorado.
She gives an excellent presentation and she actually shows her her route that she worked in Wyoming for four years and it's literally comes up from Northern Colorado, goes to Cheyenne circles around the whole state, hitting all of our sort of major cities in Wyoming and then back down to Colorado and that was her circuit for four years and she never stayed in a town more than two nights at a time.
So yeah, there's a lot of that that comes through and then there's also, I hear all the time. One of the biggest disclosures I get is familial trafficking where it's just like a family member who's trafficking you and those are really interesting because I've literally read about them on like front page news, there was a case in Gillette, just like, I think it was 2020 now. So two years ago now, where a buyer was arrested and it came out that apparently the a mom of a minor was selling her daughter over the course of two years to this buyer and you know what, they never mentioned the words human trafficking in the article. But that's what it was. It fits the very definition of trafficking.
if you don't know what you're looking for, it can be right in front of your face and you might not even realize it. And there's just so many chicken before the egg things with that, you know, like we have yet to prosecute a human trafficking case in the state.
So obviously, when they make this type of arrest, they're gonna want to probably lay charges that they feel like they're likely to be able to prosecute and put that guy away. But reporters have to report the way law enforcement's filed the charges. So if they didn't file it as a human trafficking charges, they're not going to report on it as a human trafficking charge. And if it's not reported that way, nobody in the community knows that human trafficking is happening. So it's just this whole snowball effect that again. I think just with increased awareness and just chipping away at more training and more conversations throughout Wyoming, we're gonna be able to combat that.
It's just gonna take some time.
So most of your, most of your training is um, do you focus on schools or is it just local support groups or battered women's syndrome or centers? Battered women's centers or what, where do you focus most of your training at?
Honestly, all of the above. There isn't any type of organization,
agency group or individual, I can think of, that wouldn't be great for them to have more education and more training on this topic.
But we did have a very specific formula for how we're going to tackle this problem at the end of the day. Uprising wants to get upstream of trafficking in Wyoming. We want to stop this before it even starts. So we're like, how do we get way ahead of this so that we're not even having this problem?
And for us, a lot of that is prevention education with youth. So I'd say youth is like our number one, it's our endgame. However, we knew we couldn't start with just going and talking to a ton of youth because I know from experience when you talk to youth, a lot of times you're giving them language for something that they have maybe experienced or know someone who's experienced it and there becomes a lot of questions. There comes a lot of disclosures. So we needed communities that were equipped to handle that. So we, Uprising, wanted to start with professionals. So we've done lots of law enforcement training, we've done healthcare workers training, train victim advocates. Um we train people who work with youth, um,
all of that and we have really hammered away at that over the last couple of years. Then we knew we wanted to get at community level,
so we try to do as much as we can of just like general public awareness.
Then we knew that the youth would come and we're finally getting to the point where now we're at least in Sheridan County, we are in the middle school were in the high school, we work with elementary aged kids at the Y.M.C.A. Um this year we're launching a program where volunteers around the state can get trained to do awareness presentations so that it can be more widespread across Wyoming and not just in Sheridan County. But we are a two person team right now.
So um it's a little harder to get the community spread. But we've done really great on the professional spread across the state and we've just got to keep maintaining that while continuing to grow the other things.
Well I would say that you're you're doing pretty amazing work for only being around for a couple of years. I mean you gotta bill halfway through the legislature but I can give you a long list of bills that ought to have gone all the way through that didn't even get that far.
So yeah that bill was an experience. I'll tell you that well and like I said talking with Representative Bear, you know, he said he learned a lot and you know,
It's such an important topic that I don't think that we can just say oops, you know, we struck out on that one, let's move on to something else. I think it's something that we have to keep working on.
Yes that that bill in particular is a conversation that still needs to keep happening because honestly and it's funny because we thought it was going to be an easy win. It didn't have any fiscal note attached to it and all, what we were really trying to do with that bill was replicate our federal statute.
The federal statute clarifies that any minor engaged in commercial sex is automatically considered a victim of trafficking because a minor cannot consent to a commercial sex act. And the opposition that we received with trying to get that through were representatives, um, asking questions like, well, doesn't that just mean we're legalizing prostitution for minors? What if we have a group of minors who wants to start a commercial sex ring but nobody's forcing them. They're just making money.
And I like it's like...
it's like teenage...
Yeah, first of all, I don't, I don't, yeah, this isn't a thing that happens. I've never heard of these giant teenage sex rings, much less in rural Wyoming. But at the end of the day, even if that were to happen, we know that there would be some major vulnerabilities these youth had that led them to that decision--even if there wasn't a actual pimp or trafficker who was forcing them into it. Um, in that case, it's still on the community in my opinion. And they wouldn't be served by throwing them into detention. They'd be better served by giving them services because honestly putting kids through juvenile systems, that's a gigantic vulnerability that just increases their risk to get exploited and we don't want to be doing that, especially with kids already at high risk of exploitation are already engaging in commercial sex. We need to move the needle the other way not increase that.
So yeah, it got into dangerous territory, I think it became a point where John and I um I feel like we almost had to argue against our bill because it kind of got dangerous when they wanted to add in language that would allow them to prosecute minors engaged in commercial sex. Then I was like, no, let's just stick with what we have and we'll come back to this at another time.
Well, a lot of that is symptomatic of, you know, the the makeup of the legislature. A lot of what what we do on what I do on the program is kind of show people what actually happens in Cheyenne and you know what I found that is that with issues like this, you just have to keep hammering away at them and you know, the sooner we get more conservatives elected to the legislature, the sooner we'll be able to pass legislation like this. And I think it's absolutely imperative that we do that.
Is there anything else you'd like to talk about before we conclude our discussion?
No, just um, you know, if human trafficking is not a topic you feel that educated on, like definitely take the time to seek out some extra education, especially just really understanding the definition and sort of what qualifies as trafficking because once you know,
what falls under that umbrella of trafficking, so to speak, like then, you know, when you have those gut feelings in your community,
you're going to pay a little bit more attention because it does happen all around you. It's just doesn't look like this big,
huge thing like we think it looks.
So there, I mean, there's information on our website. You could,
you could throw a rock and find that kind of information.
But how do, how do people get ahold of you?
For us, were pretty easy to find its UprisingWYO.org. We're on all the social media things. Pretty much if you look up Uprising in Wyoming, you will find us. We are not hard to find.
Excellent. Well, again, thank you very much and I really appreciate it.
So the truth is that human trafficking does happen in the state of Wyoming. And more than likely it's probably happening in your community as well. If you'd like more information on sex trafficking, I've put a link to Uprising's website on the show content tab on the website.
Have a good rest of your week and we'll talk again on Saturday.
From the base of the Bighorns in Beautiful Buffalo, Wyoming, I'm David Iverson and this is Cowboy State Politics.