Stillness overtook the Menard Law Building courtroom at the University of Idaho Moscow campus on Jan. 27.
Idaho Anti-Trafficking Coalition Executive Director Jennifer Zielenksi and Program Manager Kevin Zielinski were presenting a training workshop to law students and the general public about human trafficking in the state. The workshop marked the end of Human Trafficking Awareness Month and highlighted the coalition’s efforts to spread awareness.
“It opened my eyes,” marketing student Leslie Jimenez said. “I wasn’t aware how close to home [human trafficking] is.”
Jennifer Zielenski stressed legislative changes that need to happen at the state level to combat human trafficking.
“Underage marriage is a pathway for traffickers,” Zielinski said. “Change the law.”
The coalition advocates to amend Idaho law 32-202, which allows minors to marry if they are under 16 years of age and can prove their marriage would be in the best interest of society.
From 2000 to 2010, 4,080 minors were married in Idaho. One hundred and two were girls under the age of 16, with the youngest being 13, according to Unchained at Last, a national advocacy group working to end forced and child marriages in America.
Idaho has some of the highest child marriage rates in the country. For comparison, between 2000 and 2010, approximately 3,900 minors were married in New York, where the population is roughly 10 times higher than Idaho.
Child brides are often victims of generational or cultural sex trafficking, according to Zielenski.
In February 2019, a bill to amend the child marriage law was struck down in the Idaho House.
The Idaho Anti-Trafficking Coalition also advocates to amend Idaho code to allow for a waiver of publication of petition and notice of name changes for victims of crimes.
As it stands now, when an individual requests to change their name they must publish the petition every day in the newspaper for two weeks, thus publicizing to the victim’s trafficker their new name and location.
The Idaho Anti-Trafficking Coalition wants to change that law.
“Idaho is jumping on late, but we have the opportunity to mirror laws from other states,” Kevin Zielinski said.
Rep. Melissa Wintrow, D-Boise, saw the need for change long ago.
“I started working at Boise State University in 2000 as the first women’s center director,” Wintrow said. “Out of sheer need we created programs for victims of sexual assault. My adult life’s work has been in the anti-violence movement.”
On Feb. 6, the Idaho Coalition Against Sexual & Domestic Violence, Idaho Council on Domestic Violence and Victim Assistance, community and tribal domestic and sexual violence programs, and allied partners gathered at the Idaho Statehouse for the Idaho Prevention and Response to Domestic & Sexual Violence Advocacy Day.
Sen. Abby Lee and Rep. Wintrow presented House Bill 383, which would allow creation of a civil protection order for victims of sexual assault.
“Most people who experience sexual violence don’t currently qualify for a civil protection order in our state,” said Annie Hightower, Director of Public Policy for the Idaho Coalition Against Sexual & Domestic Violence. “House Bill 383 would help create a sense of safety and security for those who experience this type of violence, and we are so pleased at the outpouring of support for this important piece of legislation.”
MORE TO DO
Other points of discussion included a need to center work with those who experience violence at higher rates, including indigenous women, young people, and the LGBTQ+ community.
“While we move towards solutions for preventing and responding to sexual violence in Idaho, we must always focus and take the lead from those most impacted by violence,” Hightower said.
“There’s been a big push for training and education,” said Chauntelle Lieske, Executive Director of Safe Passage in Coeur d’Alene. “It’s so easy to say it isn’t happening in our community — that’s something that happens in Spokane. But it is happening here.”
“The average buyers or ‘Johns’ are in their mid- to late 40’s,” Kevin Zielinski said. “They have a wife, kids, and a job. Without demand there would be no supply. These buyers have a lustful need to have sex or be in a position of power. We need to put strict laws in place.”
In Idaho, the first two offenses for purchasing sex are misdemeanors. Arrests for this crime simply aren’t happening. The third violation is a felony, but lawmakers are pushing to make the first violation a felony.
So what does the average person look for to help victims of human trafficking?
Victims often exhibit changes in behavior and show signs of physical abuse. They can be exhausted from leading a double life and are often withdrawn, malnourished, and avoid eye contact.
Many victims are branded by their trafficker with small tattoos or GPS trackers — sometimes in their teeth or beneath the skin. Trackers are often placed by medical professionals who are also buyers, according to Jennifer Zielinkski.
Husbands can groom wives. Parents groom children. Or teenagers from healthy families can be lured away over the internet. Traffickers can spend months or years grooming a young person on social media.
Activists stress that paranoia is not the answer. But being informed and aware that trafficking exists provides a crucial first step in securing government buy-in.
“People either think it wouldn’t happen in my neighborhood or my town or they think it's everywhere,” said Erin Williams, Director of Lutheran Community Services in Spokane. “The truth is we don’t have a number. But we do know it happens.”
Williams sits on Washington state’s task force against the trafficking of persons.
People often ask Jennifer Zielinski why individuals stay in human trafficking situations.
It’s a question often asked about domestic violence victims.
“Some individuals have nowhere else to go,” she said. “Or they don’t identify as a victim. They have immense shame or guilt. They feel this is all they deserve. They’ve been in this situation for years and years. They don’t have basic skills. Often they have just one skill. And people think we can retrieve these victims and put them back in the world. We have to invest in victims for their lifespan.”
The trauma victims carry from violence and abuse, often coupled with drug addiction and threats to their safety and the safety of their family, make it extremely difficult for victims to come forward. When they do, the crime cannot be fixed by one organization or one timeline.
“All the services that we provide are survivor-centered,” Lieske said. “Really meeting that person where they are, following through, building that trust. Then they start to build a relationship with you and tell their story. Letting them control what is happening to them is important, because they have not been in any control.”
Safe Passage participated in a human trafficking training last year.
“There is a huge push to raise awareness that this isn't something that is happening somewhere else,” Lieske said.
JOIN THE MOVEMENT
As the recent training in Moscow came to a close, Kevin Zielinski asked the audience to consider how a movement to stop human trafficking would fit into their particular culture.
“This is increasing sensitivity to a broader conversation as to how we treat each other as humans,” said Emily McLarnan, Associate Director of Violence Prevention Programs in the University of Idaho office of the dean of students.
“This is very important work,” said Alyda Jaegerman, a staff member at Alternatives to Violence of the Palouse. “They are spreading awareness in the state. I like what they are doing with lawmakers to get them to stand with survivors. They use the term victims. I use survivors.”
If human trafficking is suspected, don’t confront the victim, trafficker, or buyer. Traffickers have strict rules. If confronted, victims will suffer consequences. Write down physical description, vehicle description, time of day, and immediately call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 888-373-7888. Text 233 733.
The Idaho Anti-Trafficking Coalition is pushing to establish a local hotline to increase turnaround time and therefore efficacy for occurrences of human trafficking in Idaho.
“Make the call,” Jennifer Zielinski said. “The more the community puts emphasis on this, the more government agencies will start training staff.”