For Colorado Sex Trafficking Victims, Rescue Is Just The Beginning

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Photo: Denver FBI Special Agent in Charge Thomas Ravenelle (HV)
Special Agent in Charge Thomas Ravenelle is head of the FBI Denver Division.

Sex trafficking is modern-day slavery in the eyes of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. So every year, the bureau leads a nationwide crackdown to arrest traffickers and johns and to rescue victims, many of whom are children. Last week, the FBI announced that, in this year's sting, more underage victims were recovered from Colorado and Wyoming than anywhere else in the country.

Special agent in charge Thomas Ravenelle heads the FBI Denver Division. He spoke with Colorado Matters host Ryan Warner about what's next for these young victims and explained how the operation unfolded. Highlights from the conversation are below. Click the audio above to listen to the full interview.

Ravenelle on the conditions these victims often live in:

“They’re usually with the trafficker, wherever the trafficker lives. They’re made to work long hours, not always fed sufficient amounts of food. The only [money] they see out of the ordeal is what the trafficker provides them -- it might be to have their hair done, their nails done so they can look more presentable out on the streets. Some of them that we [find], they don’t even have the basic hygiene products and needs taken care of for cleanliness.”

On how traffickers lure these victims in:

“There are several different angles they can lure them in. They can use the ‘boyfriend approach,’ sometimes called the ‘Romeo pimp,’ where they pretend that they’re their boyfriend and like them. They use that sometimes with combined promises of them giving them a better life. […] They may use food, shelter, even drugs to entice them into this. And these are children that often times have run away from home.”

On what happens to the recovered teens when reuniting them with their families isn’t an option:

“Some will go into foster homes. Some into group homes. Others enter residential treatment programs. And some of them will even go into out-of-state facilities… to get care, depending on the safety and security issues. […] There’s a lot of counseling.

"Through these homes, there’s a guardian assigned to them to watch out for their specific interests and what’s best for them. It’s a team approach to figure out what this child needs and to set up each child where they can feel like they actually have a future.”

On why the Denver Task Force recovered the most underage victims during the sting:

“We’ve done outreach and training over the last three years, and we’ve trained as many as 15,000 people from social service agencies, schools, churches, law enforcement. And these people are the ones that give us the tips, even hospitals.”


CPR news fellow Sam Brasch contributed to this story.