Muftic: Rotary clubs step up to combat human trafficking |

Muftic: Rotary clubs step up to combat human trafficking

Felicia Muftic
Courtesy Photo |

Fighting human trafficking has become one of the most passionate causes of many in these past several years.

Media exposure of the suffering of victims of sex trafficking and labor slavery has raised the issue to new awareness and the extreme economic differences between and within countries have provided traffickers their opportunities to make a buck. Lack of education of girls and boys and local corruption and lack of prosecution of traffickers are often cited in U.S. State Department reports as a cause, as well.

An academic center at the University of Denver to study, assemble data, and advocate has been established, the only center of its sort in the world. Several Grand County high school students have made advocacy against trafficking their cause. A $45,000 Rotary grant, championed by Denver Rotary and supported by 11 Rotary clubs, including Winter Park/Fraser, Granby, Grand Lake, Kremmling, Summit (Frisco) and Breckenridge Mountain clubs, with matching funds from Rotary International and a Rotary district, have provided resources to aid a nonprofit Bosnian organization, Novi Put, and Mostar (Bosnia) Rotary Club to combat trafficking in Bosnia.

Girls (and boys) are lured into jobs or hooked by traffickers on drugs, and are set to work in sweat shops or become virtual slaves as domestic help, getting little or no pay. They may even be trapped or tricked into becoming sex workers and find no way to escape.

The Denver District Attorney’s Office even has an assistant DA assigned to prosecute traffickers and the Denver police department has a focus as well. Last year, the Colorado Legislature passed laws to make it easier for law enforcement to prosecute traffickers in Colorado and a privately funded safe house was set up in northern Colorado to provide refuge and rehabilitation of victims.

In Colorado, runaway teens are often victims of traffickers who lure them into prostitution with promises of drugs and escape from the streets. Mexican and Central American coyotes sneak undocumented workers into the U.S. Victims find work that in no way fit the job description that was advertised.

Bosnia is ranked by the U.S. State Department as one of the worst actors in combatting trafficking and is on par with the Ukraine, Cambodia, and Burma and others in the Middle East, Asia, and Latin America. Bosnian girls in rural areas rarely have education past the 4th grade. Roma (gypsy) girls (100,000 of them in a country with a population similar to Colorado) are mostly illiterate. Their economy is the worst in Europe, never having recovered from the devastating wars of ethnic cleansing in the 1990s. Corruption plagues the country and there has been virtually no prosecution of traffickers.

The Rotary grant is aimed at encouraging Bosnian girls to stay in school, setting up literacy training for Roma, training and organizing university student volunteers to mentor families with girls at risk, and conducting a public information campaign. Kicking off the grant implementation with a visit to Bosnia in September were Rotarians from Denver, Summit , and Granby Rotary clubs.

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