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Press Release

MSU Denver Sheds Light on Hidden Crime via Social Work Forum

Contact: Contact: Tim Carroll, Office 303-556-5136, Cell 303-870-7705

Posted: March 1, 2013

DENVER – Human trafficking is the third-largest international crime industry, outranked only by the trafficking of drugs and arms, but it remains underreported because the tactics used often turn victims into perpetrators to protect the illegal activity. The United Nations estimates human trafficking to be a $32 billion-a-year industry that traffics more than 2.4 million individuals, 80 percent of whom are women and children as young as 11.

Metropolitan State University of Denver’s Student Association of Social Workers (SASW) is bringing this topic out of the shadows and into public discussion to educate the community on how this issue impacts Denver and the nation. The one-day forum will be held on March 4, 2013 from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. in the Tivoli Student Union Turnhalle.

“Despite growing awareness, few are willing to talk about trafficking due to a variety of misconceptions ranging from assumptions of the victim’s location, lifestyle, upbringing and general ignorance,” says Marina Pereira- Badwan, MSU Denver assistant professor of social work. “While an individual’s circumstance does not provide reasoning for such crimes, human trafficking targets the most vulnerable and with 1,200 homeless youth within Denver alone, their chances of being approached for this crime are both concerning and likely.”

The FBI has acknowledged that major sporting venues increase the opportunities for trafficking, making a city like Denver more appealing to members of organized crime. With transportation access to anywhere on the ground or in the air, Denver has everything a trafficker needs to conduct business—this crime doesn’t happen far from home. Transporting victims is easily arranged as the city has coast-to-coast access via Interstates 25 and 70, not to mention Denver International Airport—the fifth busiest commercial airport in the nation with global flight access.

The crime of trafficking does not discriminate. Victims can be adults or minors who are foreign nationals or  born in the U.S. Operating under the appearance of legitimate businesses, the intent is to lure victims away from home to begin marketing them as merchandise. Trafficking can even happen within one’s home or safety net. Victims often find themselves psychologically manipulated and physically abused, making it difficult to be their own advocates. They are moved frequently and may be trapped in this cycle of exploitation due to language barriers, fear of prosecution and lack of legal documentation. The penalties are not severe and since victims can potentially become recruiters, perpetrators of this organized crime are difficult to catch and prosecute.

“While human trafficking has received an increased amount of attention in our area, it continues to be a great challenge for social workers and the community to address this issue,” says AnnJanette Alejano-Steele, MSU Denver women’s studies professor and Laboratory to Combat Human Trafficking research and training director. “Resources and assistance are scarce in a system where we lack the appropriate protections for these victims. This forum will address the key issues, myths and the multi-disciplinary approach used in our community to combat human trafficking.”

The forum will host a variety of topics from MSU Denver and local experts, including a presentation from Alejano-Steele at 10 a.m.; and the keynote by Lindsey Breslin, Laboratory to Combat Human Trafficking senior research assistant, at 1 p.m. The forum is free and open to the public; registration is not required. For more information about the program visit Social Work Forum 2013.


About MSU Denver’s Social Work Department

MSU Denver’s Social Work Department provides an ethical foundation to guide students throughout their professional social work practice with diverse, oppressed and at-risk populations. The department offers bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Courses are available on campus and online.


About Laboratory to Combat Human Trafficking

LCHT’s mission is to compel data-driven actions to end human trafficking by conducting research, training professionals and first responders, and educating the public. Since 2005, LCHT has trained more than 15,000 community members, law enforcement and social services providers. To learn more, visit


About Metropolitan State University of Denver

MSU Denver is Colorado’s best value in high-quality education. With 23,000 students, it is a leader in educating undergraduate Coloradans and enrolls the highest number of students of color among the state’s four-year colleges. The University offers 55 majors and master’s degrees in accounting, teaching and social work. It boasts nearly 74,000 alumni, the bulk of whom remain in Colorado after graduation.