Beth Klein Boulder Attorney Interview on Human Trafficking for KGNU

BETH KLEIN. TRANSCRIPT of OH 1825 This radio program was recorded for KGNU and aired in 2012.The interviewer is Richard Keifer. The interview was transcribed by Diane Rabson.

Interview with Beth Klein Boulder


ABSTRACT: Beth Klein is an attorney who concentrates her work on helping people recover from physical or emotional injury. She has worked extensively to aid people who are victims of human trafficking, both labor trafficking and sex trafficking. She describes the nature and extent of human trafficking in Colorado and Boulder County and discusses approaches that do and do not work to cut down on the amount of trafficking and to aid its victims. She praises the work of Boulder County’s district attorney, Stan Garnett, and Longmont’s mayor, Bryan Baum; explains how ordinary citizens can help victims; and describes next steps for Colorado to take to try to combat the problem.

NOTE: The topics in this interview are for mature audiences only. The interviewer’s questions and comments appear in parentheses. Added material appears in brackets. [A]. 00:00

(Beth Klein is here. She is a Boulder attorney who specializes in using legal means to help people recover from physical or emotional injury. Her clients include victims of human trafficking, and she has written Colorado’s anti-human-trafficking law. She also chairs Governor Hickenlooper’s human trafficking research advisory committee, and she has written the first book on the subject. It advises other states and governments on a wide variety of legal issues regarding enslavement and human trafficking. (I’m pleased to have you on the program this morning. Welcome.)

Good morning.

(What is human trafficking?) Human trafficking is really slavery and how it occurs in our society today. It can take the form of labor trafficking, where people are brought to do tasks and they have no means to leave their job. Their passports are taken from them, they’re not paid anything above subsistence, and usually they rack up debt to their employer so they come under obligations that they are unable to leave. Of course there is sex trafficking, which is the trafficking of people, both women and men, boys and girls, for sex. I work on both of those issues.

(Typically who perpetrates human trafficking? Is this organized crime or what kind of people are involved in this?” That’s a really broad question. Let’s narrow it down to our experience here in Colorado. I think that’s a good place to start. Traffickers here can be gang members. Gangs have been jumping more heavily into the sex trafficking world because it is extremely profitable. Our resources here for police intervention are scarce because of our taxation rules and TABOR [Taxpayers Bill of Rights] and different things that put restrictions on our ability to fund our government. So we have a gang-related problem. We have individual pimps in Denver that traffic girls. We have women that create brothel systems. We have the massage parlor network. We have pimps that traffic girls in truck stops. And then in labor trafficking, we see it where there are labor-intensive jobs that employers don’t want to pay a lot of money, so unfortunately some unscrupulous ones find a way to get labor for almost nothing.

(Is the importation and smuggling of migrant workers considered to be human trafficking or not?) Yes, it can be. We had a situation here in Boulder at a Thai restaurant where Thai nationals were being brought to our community to work at excessively hard hours here in our community. Our law enforcement was able to shut that operation down. (How did you become interested in this issue? You’re a personal injury firm, right?) Right, but we all have something that happens, I think, in our life that forms us. When I was nineteen, I met my grandfather for the first time. He had been married five or six times, I don’t even know. I was nineteen and I traveled to California to meet him and when I met him, I found out that he had bought a mail order bride for $50 from Thailand, and she was essentially the same age as I am. She was at the time—her name was Cora. And I was thinking about how lucky I was as a nineteen-year-old. I had a great education ahead of me and she had nothing. She had no language, she couldn’t go back, she had no friends, she had no network. All she could do was just work for him all day long, and that just burned me, just burned into my soul. So I started out in more the child abuse realm and then we sort of over time have developed language for this crime. You have to realize in 1979, when I was nineteen years old, it was more of a crime to beat your horse than it was to kill your child in Colorado. Child abuse was a completely different ball game.

(Wasn’t on the radar?) Through cases like the Elizabeth Manning case here in Boulder, the Stefan Thompson case in El Paso County, and the work of Bob Russell, who was the district attorney at that time, the child abuse laws got revved up to where they needed to be. Child abuse is a felony here in Colorado. When I talk about human trafficking of children, those are hardcore felonies here in our state now with stiff penalties. 05:08 In Texas, they’re first-degree felonies that carry up to life sentences. So we’ve gone a long way in recognizing how these crimes affect the victims for the rest of their lives, and we’re no longer taking it lightly.

(What’s the magnitude of the problem in Colorado?) We don’t know how big it is. There has not been enough money to count. One of the things that I am very emphatic about in my work is that I just take the data from the police based on the arrests that we make. Last year, I believe there were 52 children that were taken off the street in Denver. That’s 52 kids. Now you could say oh, that’s not a big problem, but that’s 52 kids’ lives that are just going to be something completely different than what they could have had.

(What ages?) Eleven to seventeen. Boys and girls. And I have to say the boys have a very, very rough life.

(Can you give us a specific example without mentioning names?) I’ll tell you one example of a boy who was rescued in San Antonio. The ER doctors called authorities, and they were going to have to resect the colon of this young boy. And the doctor turned and said, “There’s absolutely no way this was voluntary.” And remember the boys and girls don’t get to keep their money. The pimps get it. They’re not working for themselves. They’re working to support a person who’s making a grand a day and not paying any taxes on it, off each person. If you have a stable of thirteen kids, that’s $13,000 a day that you’re making as a pimp.

(Pretty strong economic incentive.) Absolutely. So we have the trafficker pimp person but we also have the buyer who is the fuel for this crime. If we didn’t have johns here buying, you know, the average girl on the street here in Colorado—the average starting age for prostitution here in Colorado is fourteen to fifteen years old. We see young girls. We see eleven year-olds. We see some a little bit older. But if those girls can’t satisfy their quota of $1,000 a day—ten tricks or more a day—then this business does not get fueled. And the only way to stop the fuel is to educate the people who are buying. I think if johns knew that the girl they’re with has maybe serviced ten to fifteen men that day, that she probably is ill, that she got into it when she was young and—it takes that fantasy out of it. It’s very interesting. I was at a hotel in Dallas, and this hotel caters to women. And there was a girl who came off the street and all these professional women are sitting in the lobby. This girl has got scabs all over her face, her mouth is hurting so bad because her teeth are rotting from the meth that she’s been using. She’s wearing a shirt made out of chains. She’s trying to find a place to plug in her cell phone. Of course, because of my background, I realized that she was a prostitute and she was hungry and she was cold and she’d been running for three days from her pimp and had come into this lobby to get warm. When I turned to my professional friends and I said, “This is a prostitute,” they couldn’t believe it. They said, “Why would a man ever want a woman who is so damaged?”

(How much of a problem is human trafficking in Boulder?) When I—Stan Garnett has been an amazing partner and advocate in this. I think he is one of the strongest voices in our state against human trafficking.

(He’s the city attorney?) He’s the district attorney. What we have more in Boulder are the massage-parlor type thing. In Longmont, I have come to be aware that there are probably about fourteen children up there that are being prostituted right now. Mayor Bryan Baum also was very committed to this, and he has, with the district attorney’s office, put together great reintegration programs for kids on the street, because if you can get the kids back in the school, if you give them a break on expelling them or whatever—because these are the kids who get picked off—you can reduce the problem. 10:05 And so there’s a lot of teamwork with the Longmont police and Boulder and the school district up there that’s just absolutely miraculous.

(Is there prostitution in Boulder?) Sure.

(How much of a problem is it?) That I can’t tell you. I don’t know.

(Is it sort of below the radar pretty much?) You bet. Yep.

(Is the sex trade where most human trafficking is occurring in Colorado?) We’re able to see it the most, I think, and we have law enforcement, especially the vice squad in Denver who are very well-trained, and now they’re getting more organized with the DOJ grant that we just got—the Department of Justice grant. So we can see the advertisements on the back of Westword. We can monitor it. Craigslist used to have a place where people could advertise kids for sale.

(I think that’s been stopped now.) It has been stopped through the activist pressure on that company. So we can see the sex trade a little bit easier. When you’re talking about migrant workers in a field, we just don’t have a police force that goes out and takes care of that. We do now have ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] and our immigration laws that have been very toughened up. So we’re seeing just automatic deportations. Sometimes you won’t even know if somebody’s been trafficked and you won’t be able to get the perpetrator, the “coyote” that brought them here. The people are just gone. And that’s OK, that’s our policy in the United States, but if you want a number, that’s one of the reasons why we can’t give a number.

(So the possibilities are the sex trade, migrant workers, other sorts of workers as well? Hotel, restaurant, do we see human trafficking—and enslavement, basically—in those areas as well?) You can, and it’s funny to me because even when you are maybe in the presence of it, you don’t know that it’s happening. So if for example, you’re in a manicure salon—I think a lot of your women listeners will understand what I’m talking about. There’s the man in front who does the acrylics and the girls who don’t say anything and maybe you look around the corner and you figure out they’re actually living there. You know, you ask a question like, “Can you leave? Are you OK?” and they won’t say anything to you. That can be it, too. Anywhere where there’s manual labor required that people don’t want to pay out money for. (If we are observant, how would we recognize human trafficking or involuntary enslavement as we go about our daily activities? What should we look for, and what should we do if we see a situation that doesn’t look right?) First of all, I want to say we have our own hotline here in Colorado. We can put that up on the website later. It’s through COVA. They’re very responsive, so people can dial that number. That’s directly tied into the police and we can get people there pretty quickly. (And COVA stands for—) The Colorado Organization for Victims Assistance.

(There’s a website for that, I presume?) When you see a girl on the street that looks young, if you see a girl in a truck stop that looks young, ask them if they need some help. Ask them if they’re OK.

(It’s a pretty safe question to ask?) And it’s a kind question, and you can get good answers. With the girl in Dallas, she was starving, and we bought her food and were able to get the police there pretty quickly so that her pimp wouldn’t find her and beat her up. So sometimes by just reaching out to the poorest of the poor, the people who look sick and afraid. Hospital workers here can have a big impact, because people sometimes in the sex trafficking world, when they’re injured and they’re bleeding or they’re hurting or they’re losing consciousness, they’ll make it to an ER. If you just ask the next question—“Are you OK? Is there anything I can do to help you?”—have them stay a little bit longer and talk to you. You can find out something and then call the number and we can get them help.

(How do you help victims of human trafficking? What’s your work been? You have contact with these people. They intersect the legal environment with you sometimes, right?) They do. I tried to figure out what I was good at, and what I’m good at is writing a law that makes a difference. Seeing where the laws are at and helping legislatures and police departments figure out things and strategies so they can get funding and get more help out there. When the funding really shakes loose for it, we’re going to see some very big strides forward. 15:17 I’m so proud to say we’re opening our first eight-bed facility to take care of these kids off the street and they are so traumatized. I think that reaching out as a mentor, giving kids options, helping them learn to read and helping them get through the trauma process is so important. So when you sign up to mentor a kid, you’re actually preventing human trafficking.

(Do you also provide legal representation for people who’ve been trafficked?) Yes, I do, and that comes in hundred different ways. Sometimes it’s helping somebody open a checking account. It can be helping somebody find a safe place or it can be suing a perpetrator. So it goes from simple to big. It depends on what your client wants and what they need, and sometimes they just want to go home.

(Are the perpetrators often or not very often prosecuted?) Pimps in Colorado are being prosecuted at a huge rate. It’s great. I think the Denver pimp prosecution was like three in 2010 and now it’s over fifty.

(Why is that? Is there more of an emphasis now on law enforcement or more awareness or what’s causing the increase in prosecution?) I think all of the above: the training of the prosecutors, the commitment to this crime from our leadership, and not just thinking this is a “boys will be boys” problem.

(Is the governor behind this?) I think so.

(You head his committee on human trafficking in Colorado, right?) Right. What that is is basically a study group that brought together the heads of the different departments that thought they might have some assets to contribute to the problem to see what we could do, where the gaps were and things like that. The committee is now being run out of, I think, Social Services instead of the governor’s office. We learned about Colorado’s commitment to cognitive training for people involved in this and retraining people and getting information out so people can make different choices. We’ve talked about how shaming doesn’t make any difference in longterm behavior.

(Shaming of victims? Or perpetrators?) Both. Anybody. Everybody.

(So shame doesn’t work.) It’s not working— (When it comes to reducing human trafficking.) When it comes to changing behavior, shame truly doesn’t work. I mean, maybe it will work a couple of times, but in the long run, it doesn’t work. So you have to come with longer, better, more complete strategies. Our john school in Denver, it gave one-on-one counseling to men. Up to four hours of personal counseling to see what was underneath their choice. I have to tell you, the retraining that they got in just having relationships or feeling like they’re even worthy enough to have a real relationship, you can see how damaged both sides are. Both the prostitute, both the john—both have big holes in their souls. I saw letters that came through Michael Holtby’s office where men were saying, “I so appreciate just having been called out on this and now having the opportunity to actually have a relationship with my family, and not feel like I have to be hiding something.” So when you get a letter like that and a man’s become strong and you know that a family is better off. That’s good stuff.

(So the provision of social services is really the most effective way of dealing with this problem, do you think? It’s not incarceration or—) For the johns I don’t think incarceration helps us, and frankly we don’t have the budget to support it. We can’t have dead items in our budget so we have to find ways where these men pay for their own treatment and they are accountable under a court-supervised system for completing those things. And that’s what our john school bill really tried to do is create a system where men would have the time and space to go in and figure out what the heck they’re doing, and actually be able to see something new. See an empathy maybe they didn’t have or see something in their self that was always there but they didn’t think it was and move on with their life in a good way. 20:00

(When johns are prosecuted, do they have an option? I mean, is it prison or a rehabilitation program typically?) Johns really don’t go to prison. In the past they might have served maybe a day in jail, maybe a $50 fine. That kind of a system tells johns, eh, it’s just silly, you know, this is a small—

(A slap on the wrist basically.) —and the charges increase and the penalties increase if you’re caught again. But now, you know, the fine in Colorado is up to $5,000. For an offender who’s solicited—that means just asked for sex.

(What’s the role of the Internet in all of this in human trafficking?) Well, it’s huge. I mean, the Internet has facilitated instantaneous communication, instantaneous connectivity. It’s been a great tool for law enforcement. We’ve seen all kinds of human trafficking networks being completely busted apart. We know that “Anonymous,” the underground group—they have hacked pedophile websites and turned over all the data to DOJ for further investigation.

(Oh, interesting.) So every capacity that the Internet has—the Internet brings both good and bad to this problem.

(So it’s used both by the traffickers to facilitate business and also by law enforcement to counteract business.) Yeah, and I will tell people—I think they need to be very clear about this. That if you’re going to get on a website and noodle around and solicit a prostitute or order one, you may be very well talking to a cop.

(Are there any studies or estimates that tell us what the cost of human trafficking is?) When I meet with these girls—you know, they’re so little, they’re so—young teenage girls. They’re still young. And they like that happy kitty, you know, and cute little sparkly trinkets and all of that, and they’re so little. They tell me they’ve been servicing ten to fifteen men a night and that they can’t leave and they can’t run and they’re so afraid. They’re so hungry and they feel so sick. That is a huge toll, and I don’t even know how you quantify that.

(Let’s just talk briefly about resources. You mentioned one already. Are there other resources that our listening audience should know about?) There are a number of NGOs—non-governmental organizations or you might call them 501(c)3’s—that are actively raising money to put together a comprehensive rescue and rehabilitation program. Restore Innocence out of Colorado Springs and the faith-based community in Colorado Springs have completely come together and they’re starting to do and have the resources to put together these kinds of operations. In June, I hope to hold a convening with all of the people who are raising the money for rescue and rehab: Children’s Hospital, the Kempe Foundation, and the American Academy of Pediatrics, and our government, so that we can bring all of these resources together and start rowing this boat in the same direction.

(Is this a meeting that you’re putting together?) Yes.

(OK. And that will be in Boulder?) It will be at wherever I can get a facility donated that will be big enough to hold everybody. So if there’s anybody who wants to support that, that would be a great way to facilitate the communication and step forward here in our state.

(Well, Beth Klein, thanks so much for joining us today.) Thanks, and I appreciate you getting involved, too. 24:01 End of interview

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Beth Klein

Beth Klein is an attorney, leadership trainer and writer. Beth empowers people through the practice of law, seminars and writings. She speaks about kindness, making the world a better place, foreign affairs, technology, treaties, terrorism, and beauty, music, science, and play. In 2018 she is committed to a kinder world, and she "uses her powers for good."

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