An organization in Sheridan seeks to increase awareness of human trafficking in Wyoming
Uprising is an organization based in Sheridan that seeks to prevent human trafficking through education, outreach, and awareness. Since they launched in 2019, they’ve built connections within the Sheridan law enforcement and professional community and are seeking to build statewide awareness through these initiatives.
Uprising recently held their first Greater Rockier Immersive Training (GRIT) conference in Sheridan to spread their message and provide training to professionals throughout the greater region.
“We had representation from all across the Rocky Mountain region,” said Terri Markham, co-founder and Executive Director of Uprising. “I’d say most of the attendees were from Wyoming, but we also had Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Colorado, Minnesota. And then we had some outliers like Oregon and Texas.”
Markham admitted she doesn’t know how some of the attendees got word of the event but is glad they were able to attend. Feedback was also positive, she said, with some attendees saying they would return for next year’s conference and that they would bring other professionals they knew for it.
Human trafficking is often considered an issue in other regions or more populated areas Markham said, so a lot of Wyomingites don’t necessarily think it’s happening here. There are also preconceived notions that the trafficking equates to sex trafficking, and though there are many overlaps between the two, human trafficking occurs for many reasons, not just for sexual ones.
“I think that we have a lot of different types of trafficking that's happening in Wyoming, but the ones that I see the most, and that I get the most personal disclosures about are above anything else [are] familial trafficking cases,” Markam said. “There are cases that I will see come across news in the state where they never call it human trafficking, but it is a human trafficking case.”
Markham added that some parents, guardians, or family members may engage in trafficking of their children or other family members for financial reasons. These include selling a family member for their labor to make ends meet or if they have addiction issues. And despite the stereotype of victims being kidnapped by strangers or somehow being trafficked against their will, trafficking can be a more low-key crime than others.
“I think that's one of the reasons why it's such a hard crime to identify because it's not like it looks just a certain way, there's about 25 different types of sex trafficking alone in the U.S. have been identified,” she said. “And so, it can look so vastly different. But I always tell people on the sex trafficking side, there's a formula, if any sex act in exchange for any item of value where a third party is profiting off of that exchange.”
Markham and the others at Uprising saw a need to better educate and prepare communities of the realities of human trafficking. She also feared having someone who thought they were or were being trafficked to reach out to law enforcement only to be told that trafficking “doesn’t happen here.” There are indications that Uprising’s efforts are working. Polaris, a nationwide anti-trafficking organization, provides a heat map that indicates awareness levels of trafficking. For the most part, Wyoming ranks less highly than areas in surrounding states, but Markham said trafficking victims can be from out of state and make a circuit through the state before leaving.
“I mean, just in the past month alone, I've probably gotten three calls about victims within Wyoming, who are needing help and services and people asking me for referrals of where they can send these victims that they've now identified,” Markham said. “So, we're seeing this change.”
Next year’s GRIT conference is scheduled for May 1-4 at the Ramkota in Casper.
If you or someone you know is being trafficked, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1(800) 373-7888 or text ‘BeFree’ to 233733. A live web chat is also an option when staff is available. Tips can also be reported on the website. If you or some you know is in immediate danger, call 911 for the most immediate response.