On July 17, the Colorado Sexual Health Initiative (CoSHI) hosted a one-day symposium titled “Standing Together Against Real Slavery” (S.T.A.R.S.) focused on sex-trafficking prevention for CoSHI grantees and community partners in Colorado Springs. The symposium was led by guest speaker EleSondra “El” Romano, a motivational speaker, activist, child sex trafficking survivor, and a 2016 Presidential Lifetime Achievement Award recipient, who has committed more than 20 years of her life to service.
“Have a conversation as soon as your young person understands, girl or boy. Don’t forget about the boys; we don’t know what they are going through,” said El when an attendee asked her when to start the discussion about sex trafficking prevention with children.
El endured cycles of violence and exploitation from the tender age of four and now works tirelessly as a survivor to raise awareness and offer resources and hope to youth facing similar situations. In her presentation, El warned that young people are more vulnerable to traffickers because they are easier to manipulate and have less life experience. To protect children, El urges parents to be involved in their children’s lives and to know their friends and their friends’ parents.
“Talk to your children; understand the topic now. Later it can be too late and devastating,” she emphasized.
During the Symposium, El identified crucial red flags that might indicate a young person is being recruited into child sex trafficking, such as having a new older boyfriend or partner, possessing expensive objects that they can’t afford by themselves, changing friends, experiencing declining grades in school, and noticeable shifts in attitude and behaviors.
Parents, caregivers, educators, and the community can become part of the solution by educating themselves and learning about organizations dedicated to combating human trafficking. Information and education are primary methods that can be used to combat human trafficking. A 2020 study in the Journal of Adolescent Health provided evidence that age-appropriate, medically accurate, inclusive, and evidence-based sexual health education can help prevent both trafficking and intimate partner violence. CoSHI provides youth and adults with this education and offers funding and training to counties and organizations interested in providing young people and the trusted adults in their lives with education and resources around topics like puberty, consent, healthy relationships and the prevention of untimely pregnancy, HIV and sexually transmitted infections. The Colorado School Safety Resource Center offers information for schools, educators, and other school staff, including this helpful guide on Human Trafficking. The Colorado Human Trafficking Council also has helpful resources on the types of human trafficking and other resources and training that is Colorado specific. Additional resources seeking to provide educational prevention resources include S.T.A.R.S, Shared Hope International, The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and The Laboratory to Combat Human Trafficking. The book “Renting Lacy, A Story of America’s Prostituted Children” by Linda Smith with Cindy Coloma can also serve as an informative resource and equip readers to take action.
“Without you, there is no us.” El’s statement reminded attendees of their collective responsibility to safeguard their communities and shield the vulnerable from the trauma of child sex trafficking. El’s hope is that through awareness, education, and proactive measures, communities can create a united front against this crime and ensure a safer and brighter future for every young person.
Anyone concerned about a child or youth potentially involved in sex trafficking should call the Colorado Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline 844-CO-4-Kids (844-264-5437). Anyone with concerns about an adult who may be the victim of trafficking should call the Colorado Human Trafficking Hotline at 866-455-5075.
Learn more about child trafficking on co4kids.org.