OGDEN — The FBI is considering creating a statewide task force on human trafficking, an audience was told Thursday at a gathering on the topic.
The occasion was a five-hour workshop sponsored by the Soroptimists of Ogden, the local chapter of the international women’s service group. Among about 60 attendees were members of the Ogden Police Department, the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault, Ogden’s Your Community Connection and an FBI agent.
The agent said during a regional Salvation Army director’s presentation that the FBI field office in Salt Lake City was considering creating a trafficking task force.
He and other police officers, during the workshop and afterwards, said the effort would more likely coordinate with agencies nationwide rather than focus on local cases, which are few, with an emphasis on education and awareness. The FBI agent declined to give his name or provide further detail.
The workshop was themed toward support for victims of trafficking, whether from the sex trade or “labor smugglers,” as victims reintegrate into society after being kidnapped, often from their homeland.
Such victims are often in need of short- and long-term housing, as well as counseling before being reintroduced to their homes and families after years of being “owned” by others, said Salvation Army Lt. Col. Helen Starrett, of Denver, who heads up the army’s Women’s Ministries for the multistate western region.
“Not all trafficked victims fit into domestic violence shelters,” Starrett said. “They need their own space. We’ve tried four in a room, and it doesn’t work.”
Starrett handed out hand-stitched bookmarks made by mothers in Sri Lanka.
“If they make enough income from these, they are protected from having to sell their children,” she said.
Actual numbers on trafficking in Utah are sparse. Monnica Manuel, head of Operation 61, a Salt Lake-based group formed in 2008 against trafficking, afterward said her group was aware of a study that counted 200 human trafficking cases in Utah in the past decade.
The study was linked to statistics from the national Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which she said counts as many as 300,000 trafficking cases a year across the U.S.
“The FBI is always looking for ways to collaborate and enhance information sharing with our law enforcement partners,” said Debbie Dujanovic Bertram, FBI spokeswoman with the agency’s Salt Lake office, in an email response to a question about the task force.
“Human trafficking continues to be a significant concern for the FBI and there have been preliminary disscussions about creating a Human Trafficking Working Group in the Salt Lake City Area. To date we have not established formal partnerships in this area but are making progress in this regard.”