Terror can come in many forms, and although all of us have read articles that document human brutality, the opening section of associate editor Daliah Singer’s “The Girls Next Door” is one of the more chilling scenes I’ve read recently. What strikes me most about the narrative, even after having read the piece multiple times, is the juxtaposition of mundane, everyday life details with the absolute horror of human sex trafficking.

For those who don’t know what human trafficking is—I didn’t understand the extent of the definition until Singer began working on her story—the simplest explanation is that it’s a version of slavery. Although the practice is illegal internationally, Singer reports that researchers believe roughly 27 million people around the world are still, in the words of the FBI, “bought, sold, and smuggled like modern-day slaves,” sometimes as part of the illicit sex trade.

Because of the word “trafficking,” many of us conjure images of girls and young women in foreign countries being brought to the United States. But as the title of Singer’s piece makes plain, that is not always the case: Children in Denver, Aurora, Boulder, and Colorado Springs—everywhere, really—are being enslaved. They are brainwashed, beaten, raped, and robbed of dignity. “The day-to-day work on this story was emotionally taxing,” Singer says. “It took a toll on me—I’d have to step away from reporting and writing for days at a time to gather myself. But the survivors I wrote about didn’t have the option to just walk away, and that’s what kept me going.”

It’s a mind-bogglingly tragic and complicated issue. Indeed, the most challenging part of reporting the piece for Singer was trying to understand the bureaucratic and funding processes that make it possible for the state to work with recovered children. “There are so many agencies dedicated to the issue, and they’re doing incredible work,” Singer says. “But trying to get various departments, each with different missions, to come up with a streamlined approach is nearly impossible. Those conversations have started, though, which is proof of Colorado’s commitment to confronting this issue.”

The Centennial State is not on its own when it comes to combating trafficking. In a speech at the Clinton Global Initiative a year and a half ago, President Barack Obama said, “Our fight against human trafficking is one of the great human rights causes of our time, and the United States will continue to lead it.” In that same speech he said, “It is barbaric, and it is evil, and it has no place in a civilized world.” I have no doubt you will agree once you’ve finished Singer’s profound and important article.

This article was originally published in 5280 April 2014.
Geoff Van Dyke
Geoff Van Dyke
Geoff Van Dyke is the editorial director of 5280 Publishing. Follow him on Twitter @GeoffVanDyke