A Timely Ruling

by Jim Smithwick

On Thursday, March 27, 2014, the Colorado Court of Appeals reversed the conviction of Dallas Cardenas for trafficking in children because the evidence submitted at trial, upon review, was deemed insufficient to satisfy the elements of the crime of trafficking in children (18-3-502). The Court’s decision will not impact the time Cardenas will serve in Colorado’s Department of Corrections as he is serving time for additional convictions concurrently.

The Court of Appeals decision looms large for Colorado’s anti-trafficking laws. The crimes of trafficking in adults (18-3-501) and trafficking in children (18-3-502) have been charged 38 times since their creation in 2006 – only twice successfully (CCJJ 2013). The Court’s recent decision to reverse the trafficking in children conviction for Cardenas therefore leaves the number of successful utilizations of these laws to one.  The rationale for the Court’s decision is largely due to the way in which the State of Colorado defined the crimes of human trafficking in children and adults. In order to commit human trafficking in Colorado, one currently needs to sell, barter, lease, or exchange an adult or child. The Court opined that, as written, the human trafficking in children statue would require, “…a transfer of the physical and legal custody of a child for money” (Colorado v Cardenas, p. 17). Dallas Cardenas arranged for the seventeen-year-old victim to provide sexual services; he did not sell, barter, lease, or exchange the victim, only her services. As such, given the evidence presented at trial and based on the Court’s interpretation of the trafficking statute, Dallas Cardenas did not commit human trafficking in children. The Court also pointed out that Colorado’s anti-trafficking statutes differ dramatically from the majority of other states in its definition.  “Most of these statutes prohibit a person from ‘recruiting,’ ‘enticing,’ ‘soliciting,’ ‘inducing,’ threatening,’ or ‘transporting’ a child (or adult) for sexual purposes, or otherwise ‘benefitting from’ any of those acts if they were committed by another” (Colorado v Cardenas, p. 19).

Following this decision, Colorado’s current anti-trafficking laws are now even more limited in scope and, arguably, of even less utility for prosecutors throughout the state.

Prior to the Court of Appeals decision, many in Colorado’s anti-trafficking movement had been advocating for changes to our human trafficking statutes; the importance of these efforts is underscored by the Cardenas reversal. In 2013, the Laboratory to Combat Human Trafficking created a set of Policy Recommendations based, in part, on a three-year research project entitled, The Colorado Project to Comprehensively Combat Human Trafficking. The Colorado State Legislature is currently considering Representatives Beth McCann (D- Denver) and Jared Wright’s (R- Fruita) CO HB 14-1273, a bill that will significantly improve our state’s ability to respond to situations of human trafficking and provide prosecutors a broader, stronger definition of what constitutes human trafficking. This proposed legislation reflects much of what LCHT outlined in our Policy Recommendations and is something that we are actively supporting.

Specifically, CO HB 14-1273 would:

  • Bring Colorado’s definition of human trafficking in children and adults more in line with the majority of the rest of the country;
  • Eliminate the affirmative defenses that a minor consented to a given act and that the defendant did not know the minor’s age;
  • Extend Rape Shield Act protections to victims of crimes of human trafficking;
  • Would make sex trafficking of a minor a sex offense in Colorado;
  • Provide for greater access to restitution for survivors of human trafficking;
  • Create a statewide human trafficking council to help guide Colorado's response to situations of human trafficking.

As of April 10, 2014, CO HB 14-1273 passed out of both the House Judiciary Committee and the House Appropriations Committee; it is now headed to the Senate Judiciary Committee and is scheduled to be heard on Wednesday, April 16th at 1:30pm. Please reach out to your elected local official and urge him/ her to support CO HB 14-1273.


Voices Carry Energy

aka - A.J.'s Adventures to the United Nations

by AnnJanette Alejano-Steele

Last week I had the privilege of attending the United Nations 58th Commission on the Status of Women. Ranking high in my experiences in the anti-human trafficking movement, I served as a delegate for the International Public Policy Institute. Specifically, I had the opportunity to present our Colorado Project research as a panelist at one of the Non-governmental Organization Commission on the Status of Women Forums. The 58th Commission’s Priority Theme was, “Challenges and achievements in the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) for women and girls.” As a trained psychologist, my UN experience pulled me well beyond my professional lenses that honed my focus on individuals and their lived experiences. In this space, I had to think outside my comfort zone and think globally.

In preparation for this experience, I had the honor of meeting other members of the IPPI delegation on a few conference calls. During one of these calls involving 15+ delegates from around the world, I distinctly recall a statement made by a sister delegate: “Voices carry energy.”

Heady physics analyses aside, the phrase came to serve as a gentle metaphor for the convening of thousands who made their way to New York City, where representatives of Member States gathered to evaluate the MDGs as they pertain to women and girls worldwide. I had the rare opportunity to witness and feel the energy of thousands of voices united to make a stand about the importance of women and girls having a say in what happens to them regardless of location on this planet. Among the key themes were access and participation of women and girls to education, training, science and technology; the promotion of women’s equal access to full employment and decent work; and ongoing efforts to address violence against women and girls.

From a human trafficking perspective, it was relatively easy to apply these themes to women and girls’ vulnerability to exploitation and violence. It was comforting to see how human trafficking has held an established place in the global discussions on the status of women and girls.

From a participant perspective, I listened carefully and paid close attention to the voices who were privileged to present; the voices who were privileged with technology that enabled them to amply their voices through social media; and the well-worn and defiant voices of the trailblazers who continue to fight for the rights of humans and the environment, and the survival of their non-governmental organizations. Equally deafening was the silence of those who could not be in attendance, where funding, competition for delegate slots, visitor visa rejections, armed conflict, poverty and community need prohibited them from taking part.

I listened to the voices who came to represent individual and community struggles during the portion of the UN deliberations that highlighted country reports. Again, thanks to available translation technology, I could hear the content in addition to the passion of those who traveled hundreds and thousands of miles to represent the women and girls from their countries. As a psychologist, I could not help but wonder how the collective voice of the UN Commission would impact the domestic workers in Dubai, the migrant nannies from the Philippines, the youth experiencing homelessness in North America. Among the voices present at the United Nations, how many are voices privileged by race, class, gender identity, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation, and nationality? From a research and monitoring perspective, how do you collectively and uniformly measure progress on the MDGs and their impact on women and girls, particularly if many individuals have been silenced by their families and the cultures that surround them?

As I continue to learn and bear witness to the progress of global social change in my lifetime, I remain hopeful. Thousands of voices cannot easily be ignored, and in a global event of this magnitude, I like to think that it’s this collective global energy that provides the undercurrent of social change.

What energy does your voice carry; how far is the reach and for what purpose?

As with all of my endeavors with LCHT, one solitary voice is a rarity. With deep gratitude and special thanks to the voices that cheered me on… To the voices that provided me opportunity and stood by my side: Audrey White, Beth Wilson, Anele Heiges, Michele Morek and very specially Sharon Sullivan….To the collective voices that provided inspiration and comprised the delegation for the International Public Policy Institute…To the 250+ voices that contributed to the Colorado Project, including our amazing LCHT staff… To the inspirational administrator voices at Metropolitan State University of Denver-- Drs. Vicki Golich, Joan Foster and Arlene Sgoutas who have remained steadfast supporters of my community work and helped to logistically get me to New York. And most importantly, to my family’s voices who sustained me through this and many ongoing adventures.