In every corner of Colorado, from the Front Range to the mountains to the plains, prosecutors found enough probable cause in more than five years to charge 369 people with crimes related to sex trafficking children.
Rocky Mountain PBS analyzed statewide court data for cases between January 1, 2012 and July 31, 2017.
Victim advocates say the court cases likely undercount hundreds of related crimes that are never prosecuted or brought to light, including many sex crimes against kids that are carried out anonymously, online, or within the privacy of a family.
“I think the problem is huge, and we’re getting really good at identifying it,” said Stephanie Fritts, the chief trial deputy district attorney in Adams County.
Those cases that are prosecuted involve serious allegations. In one Arapahoe County case, police said they arrested a man who arrived at a hotel with “newly purchased high heel shoes” to be worn by two little girls with whom he anticipated having sex.
Detectives said the man believed he was making online arrangements to have anal sex with the girls, ages 11 and 13, on Backpage.com, but the girls were not real.
SUSPECTS FIND CHILDREN ONLINE
During the first seven months of 2017, 40 people faced charges for similar crimes against children including human trafficking, pimping of a child, procurement of a child for sexual exploitation, pandering of a child, and other child prostitution charges.
Some of the cases are still ongoing. Others ended with a variety of outcomes including plea deals or convictions on different charges.
More than a third of those cases involved online stings in which a man replied to an online advertisement offering sex with children. Most of those police set-ups occurred in Adams County.
While some suspects expressed concern with the age of the children and the possibility of being arrested, they showed up at a suggested location to have sex anyway.
“Put me down for the full monty,” one man told an undercover officer when he was offered oral and anal sex with a minor for less than $250. “Id wanna (sic) go home and shower before,” he wrote in a text exchange with the Aurora police officer before he was arrested.
Another man told an undercover officer in Ft. Collins that he would give her pain pills and even sign over the title to his van in exchange for sex with a girl whom he believed was 15.
And an investigator in Adams County discovered a Craigslist ad searching for “dirty little panties.” In the posting, the suspect wrote, “I have always wanted a pair, but have been too afraid to ask anyone.”
When an undercover officer replied to the message, the man said he would enjoy taking the underwear off of the child.
While many cases involved online advertisements for sex with children, RMPBS discovered most cases involved real girls and boys who police said were abused at the hands of their own family members, acquaintances, or complete strangers.
The majority of accused criminals during the first seven months of 2017 were men in their thirties.
WHAT IS TRAFFICKING
Offenses related to the human trafficking of a minor involve selling and purchasing sex, transporting, recruiting, and enticing a juvenile to participate in a sexual scheme that often results in a financial benefit or something of value.
“I think it’s the most sickening thing I have heard in my life,” said Sabrina Jones, who believes her daughter, Lashaya Stine, 16, was sex trafficked. Stine was a student at George Washington High School when she disappeared from her Aurora home during the summer of 2016.
The teen left behind many of her belongings when she vanished, including her cell phone charger. She also missed a job interview and an internship.
Authorities discovered a street surveillance video of Stine, wandering near Montview and N Peoria street, during the early morning hours of July 15, 2016, but they haven’t seen her since.
“If this is Hell, I’m in it,” Jones sobbed.
Although police detectives have not obtained evidence proving Stine was trafficked, RMPBS found Jones’ concerns are not unfounded. Trafficking-related crimes are prevalent around the county.
Since 2012 in Colorado, they have been uncovered and prosecuted most often in Arapahoe, Jefferson, El Paso, Denver, and Adams counties.
Visit Rocky Mountain PBS for more on Traded and Trafficked, an upcoming special on November 16, 2017 at 7:00pm.