DENVER — On Sept. 27, 2020, a tip came in on the human trafficking hotline.
It was a family member desperate to find her sister. Investigators started looking, carrying out surveillance.
When they eventually had a chance to talk to the survivor, she said the suspect was her drug dealer when they lived in another state.
She told investigators she was tricked into coming to Denver and promised to be taken care of, but after arriving in Colorado, he took her cell phone and identification.
Court documents said he advertised her online, driving her from hotel to hotel around the metro area.
She told investigators she worked every single day but didn't get the money promised. Instead, the arrest warrant said, some of that money was used to fuel her addiction, while the suspect threatened her.
"We filed three counts," said Denver District Attorney Beth McCann. "A third-degree felony human trafficking for sexual servitude, third-degree felony for pimping and class-five felony for pandering."
McCann said those kinds of charges can carry as much as 40 years in prison. His trial is set for July.
"We wouldn't have known about this woman and her situation, or about this man and the kinds of things he was doing," said McCann. "So, it's a very important hotline."
The survivor is still receiving support and resources and is doing well, according to the DA's office.
Since January 2021, the Denver DA's office received 42 tips. Five resulted in investigations and one resulted in criminal charges -- the case we just shared. This doesn't include cases handled by the Denver Police Department, the FBI and other agencies.
Statewide, from 2019 to 2021, 338 cases were investigated:
- 71 were filed for prosecution.
- 7 turned into convictions for human trafficking.
- 38 turned into convictions for another crime.
- 14 were dismissed.
- 12 are still pending.
At the same, time calls and tips jumped from 697 in 2020 to 922 in 2021, and 1,028 in 2022.
"It's discouraging that we weren't able to file more cases," said McCann.
Sometimes a complaint isn't really human trafficking. There also has to be enough evidence. Then, there is the delicate matter of witness and survivor testimony.
Even if a case wasn't filed, McCann said they are able to work with survivors to get them services, and hopefully, get them out of that kind of lifestyle.
"Even if it's a gut feeling, call in the information to the hotline," said Maria Trujillo with Colorado's human trafficking council. "Let the experts figure out if it's human trafficking or not."
Katlyn Pryshlak, who manages the hotline, is one of those experts.
"They're tips reported by community members who are seeing something concerning at a grocery store, or maybe at their neighbor's house," said Pryshlak. "Some of our other callers include family members and friends of suspected survivors, law enforcement professionals, school professionals."
She knows the hotline campaigns are making some kind of impact because more survivors have been reaching out, as well.
"People have called us from their home people have called us from somewhere on the street, they've called us from their doctor's office," said Pryshlak.
Sometimes, call takers have as little as 10 minutes to connect with a survivor and get them help.
All the experts said every call and text that comes in is looked at and passed along to investigators.
There are resources available in Colorado to assist survivors of human trafficking. The Colorado Human Trafficking Hotline can be reached at 866-455-5075 or via text at 720-999-9724.
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