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Plaintiff's Awarded $330,000 in Civil Human Trafficking Trial in Colorado

In a recent Colorado civil human trafficking trial, a federal jury sided in favor of Plaintiffs Esmeraldo, Maribel, and Justin Echon in a unanimous decision finding that the Defendants violated the federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act and Colorado wage laws. The jury awarded the Plaintiffs $330,000 in damages.

Matthew Baca—an attorney who worked on this case from the Migrant Farm Worker Division of Colorado Legal Services participated in a Q&A interview about this case.

Identifying victims of human trafficking can be a challenge. How did your team learn about the Echon family's situation?
People knew something wasn't right, but it wasn't like they knew it was a case of human trafficking. Still, those who took the time to get to know the Echons offered help—they provided food, transportation and other necessities to the Echons and helped them connect to service organizations in the community. This was critical in helping the family overcome the isolation that contributed to their trafficking situation.

What other signs or methods of control indicative of trafficking were evident?
The witnesses at trial testified that the Echons were completely dependent on the Defendants, for everything from food to other basic necessities. The Echons even grew vegetables in their front yard because they weren’t getting enough to eat, and weren’t getting paid anything to buy food on their own. One of the Defendants repeatedly threatened the Echons with deportation and withheld the family's identification documents. That’s an all too frequent indication of human trafficking. The Echons came here for the American Dream. They saw glimpses of that dream in the community around them, but these repeated threats of deportation put that dream at risk. In effect, the Echon's felt their future was contingent on pleasing the Defendants. 

Can you talk more about the isolation you referenced earlier?
Absolutely. Being in rural Rocky Ford, Colorado is somewhat isolating. The Echons also did not speak English when they arrived in the U.S. and had no 
vehicle. One of the Defendants told the Echons not to talk to people and to be skeptical of others, especially those who would offer to help them. That's a common control tactic in labor trafficking.

The traffickers, in this case, were family members. Can you talk about the family dynamic at play in this case?
One of the myths we had to dispel at trial was the notion that family wouldn't do this to another family member, or that this particular case was somehow a family spat. The evidence shown at the trial made clear that this situation was far more than a family disagreement. The Defendants constantly reminded the Echons of their debt and obligation to them, even though they were not paying them for their work. This psychological manipulation further solidified the Defendants hold on the Echons. The father, Esmeraldo, was scared about his and his family's future. At one point he contemplated suicide. There was a clear indicator that a line had been crossed, the situation was not a simple family disagreement.

What impact do you hope this case will have on Colorado's anti-trafficking field?
I firmly believe that we took a risk in taking this case. This was not a case where someone was shackled or forced to work with physical threats. I think a common refrain is to avoid bringing these sorts of cases to trial because the jury won't get it. In the end, however, the jury did understand the importance of psychological coercion and manipulation in this case. The positive outcome in this trial shows that these cases—cases that cut against the grain of what is typically thought of as human trafficking—can be won. I hope that Echon's story will inspire other victims to come forward and that other advocates will continue to press forward on this issue and bring other, similar cases to trial.  

In the News

Image of the hallway at a hotel.
The Atlantic published an article about Racida Eslabon's experience as a human trafficking survivor in the hotel industry. Eslabon's story echoes similar stories of trafficking survivors in the United States. The article discusses how the structure of many businesses—businesses that rely on contractor intensive work and a seasonal workforce—can create vulnerabilities by which unscrupulous labor recruiters charge individuals large recruitment and travel fees in exchange for the sponsoring their work visa.

Stetson Cowboy hat.
The Washington Post wrote an article detailing the development of the Texas Department of Public Safety's (DPS) Interdiction for the Protection of Children (IPC) program. The training program has increased proactive trooper action and created new Texas DPS policy to record all "child rescues" generated by traffic stops. The IPC training has been made available outside of Texas, including Colorado. The Colorado State Patrol was the first agency outside of Texas DPS to be authorized to teach the IPC program to all law enforcement agencies as well as a part of its own internal training.
Image of coco powder.
Massachusetts consumers filed a class-action lawsuit against Nestle for allegedly regularly importing cocoa beans from suppliers in the Ivory Coast that use child labor and slave labor of trafficked children. The lawsuit states that in violation of Massachusetts law, Nestle does not disclose that its suppliers in the Ivory Coast rely on child laborers and instead continues to profit from the child labor that supplies the chocolate sold to American consumers.

Photograph of empty seats in a conference room.
Colorado State University hosted a Human Trafficking Symposium at Colorado State University on February 22nd. The day-long event was a collaboration among A Face to Reframe, Free Our Girls, the CSU College of Business, and Rescue: Freedom. The event's keynote speaker was Rebecca Bender, a survivor of sex trafficking and author of "Roadmap to Redemption". Over 600 professionals, community members, faculty, staff, and students attended the event.

Colorado Judge to Serve on U.S. Advisory Council on Human Trafficking

Colorado Human Trafficking Council Member and Colorado District Court Judge Robert Lung has been appointed to serve on the U.S. Advisory Council on Human Trafficking by President Trump for a term of two years. The U.S. Advisory Council on Human Trafficking provides a formal platform for trafficking survivors to advise and make recommendations on federal anti-trafficking policies to the President’s Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons (PITF). Congratulations Judge Lung!

Event and Training Opportunities

The National Criminal Justice Training Center will host part 2 of its sextortion webinar series on March 28th from 12:00 PM - 1:30 PM MT. Visit the Sextortion Webinar Series page for more information, including how to register.

Registration is open for the 16th Annual Freedom Network Conference on April 4 – 5th, in Denver at the Grand Hyatt.  Learn more about the 2018 Freedom Network Conference, including the full conference agenda, by visiting the conference web page.

Regional Anti-Trafficking Collaboration Meetings

March 8th, 3:00 – 5:00 PM: North Eastern Colorado Coalition Against Trafficking. Meetings are held in Greeley, CO but are not open to the public. For more information, please contact Diana Laws.

March 12th, 4:00 – 5:00 PM: Western Slope Against Trafficking. WSAT meetings are not open to the public. For more information, please contact Tom Acker
March 13th,  10:30 – 11:30 AM: Alliance to Combat Human Trafficking (ACHT) Pueblo. ACHT meetings are not open to the public. For more information, please contact

March 13th,  5:30 – 7:00 PM: Human Trafficking Task Force of Southern Colorado. This meeting is held at the First United Methodist Church in Colorado Springs (map). For more information, please contact Roger Patrizio.

CHTC and FRAC Meeting Dates

Upcoming Council Meeting

March 23rd from 9:00 AM  1:00 PM. The meeting will begin at 9 AM. Colorado Human Trafficking Council (CHTC) meetings are always open to the public and held at the Jefferson County Human Services Building (map). For more information about the CHTC please visit the CHTC Homepage.

Upcoming FRAC Meeting

April 19th from 2:00 3:30 PM:  Front Range Anti-trafficking Coalition (FRAC) meetings are open to the public. The location of the next FRAC meeting is the Community Room at the DPD District II Station. For more information about the next FRAC meeting, please contact Catherine Bowman.
The content of this newsletter is not an endorsement nor does it reflect the opinions, views, or affiliations of the Colorado Department of Public Safety, Division of Criminal Justice, the Colorado Human Trafficking Council, or the Front-Range Anti-trafficking Coalition. The content of this newsletter is intended for informational purposes only. 

Copyright © 2018 Colorado Department of Public Safety, Division of Criminal Justice, Office for Victims Programs, All rights reserved.

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