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In-depth: Shining a light on human trafficking, part three

Utah's Attorney General is concerned about price fixing in the meatpacking industry, which has been hit hard by soaring demand during the pandemic. (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY-How can you spot a victim of human trafficking or their trafficker? Law enforcement hopes more people will start opening their eyes to the signs, especially in places like Utah, where the public is largely unaware the crime is happening.

Many people imagine trafficking is pretty straightforward–police look in the classifieds, go to a seedy motel, then move in and arrest the perpetrators.

That situation happens, but Daniel Strong with the Utah Attorney General’s Office says it can be difficult to spot the indicators of human trafficking because it can look like other crimes, as a friend of his recently found out during a trip to the mall.

“There was a girl asking everyone for money, and then he saw an older man come by and take the money that other people had given her. And he said, ‘Well, I don’t know if this is trafficking or this is just homeless people.'”

Cammy Bowker, the CEO of St. George-based Global Education Philanthropists, says victims are not in control, and their body and body language shows it.

“They live in fear. It looks like something had happened to them, or maybe a dramatic change in appearance. A dramatic change in their behavior where they can’t really look anyone in the eye.”

Strong says if you see someone speaking for someone else, that’s a red flag, and you should also pay attention to who they’re hanging around.

“People traveling, like a younger girl with an older man, and who doesn’t appear to really be in control of what’s going on. People who aren’t in possession of their own identification [or] documents.”

If you see someone who’s prohibited from having a cell phone, or communicating with others outside an approved group, those can also be signs of trafficking.

Experts say reporting any suspicions you have to law enforcement or a rescue charity is the best way to fight the problem and bring a trafficker to justice, especially because many victims have been effectively silenced.