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Human Trafficking in the Land of Zion

Updated: Jun 3, 2022

  • Lee Barnard Feb 1, 2020

The first Anglo-European settlers, Mormon pioneers, arrived in the area now known as Utah in the late 1800s. They named the area Zion, which is ancient Hebrew for sanctuary or refuge.

Human Trafficking in the land of Zion

Utah and Zion has become known for the Mormon Religion (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints). It is known for Families and many children. It is known for beautiful mountains and beautiful Temples. Unfortunately, in 2015, the beautiful State of Utah had the 36th highest National Human Trafficking Resource Center call volume of all 50 states. Fast Forward to 2020 and human trafficking, labor and sex, seems to be on the rise.

First how do we identify a victim of trafficking. Well there’s questions that need to be asked but the victim must be in a safe environment. Ask them about their employment and how they are being paid. Easy question for most people to answer but to a young trafficking victim it’s surreal. What are their working and living conditions like? Can you leave your job if you want to? That question might invoke a fearful response. Same with asking them if they’re allowed to go to the bathroom, eat, or sleep when they want to. Do they have identification or documentation?

Usually this has been taken from them. Trafficking victims are unable to answer scheduling questions or questions regarding living and working conditions. They are minors, fearful, timid, and submissive. They have obvious signs of physical and/or psychological abuse. Many times they’re with someone else and it may be impossible to break them apart. If that’s the case go with your gut and call the authorities.

I recently went to a Human Trafficking symposium at the University of Utah sponsored by the Utah Attorney General’s Office. So why Utah of all places? Utah is known by pedophiles and predators as a “Target rich environment.” Pedophile’s victims are usually elementary aged and toddlers where predators target teenagers and pre-teens (tweens). With the religion brings families. Families bring kids and kids bring targets for the traffickers. That’s not the only reason. Utah is a drug and trafficking pipeline. With interstate 15 running East to West and Interstate 80 running North to South it is an easy travel route getting to borders, airports, and seaports.

So how do they do it? So how do traffickers groom the trust of teenagers. We know elementary and below you’re looking at kidnapping but teenagers how? Do you know that 95% post their class schedules on social media along with other family or personal problems. This gives an insight about the victim for the trafficker. The trafficker will often times try and isolate the victim before even meeting them. Put the victim against their parents or friends. It is very subtle and gradual and they are very patient. Traffickers can be patient because they have more than one victim they are communicating with. They appear, of course, genuine and have consistent contact with the victim. They might go as far as to buy gifts, utilize flattery, attention, and secrecy. After all they must be trusted. With this alleged trust they can now build some emotional rapport with the victim. Simple right?

Utah is making strides against human trafficking. It is a worldwide problem that has hit home. In 2017, Utah enacted a Sextortion law. Sextortion is only a small piece of the equation as social media and gaming has opened doors and have made it easy for the trafficker to enter your home without being there. If you have any suspicion of possible human trafficking in Utah contact the UTIP task force 1-801-200-3443. You can call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 1-888-373-7888 as well for any services or resources.

Human Trafficking and the Church


I was introduced to the world of human trafficking several years ago on a trip to Athens, Greece, in my role as director of new initiatives at Mission to the World (MTW). As I spoke with the pastor I was working with about my past experience with street children and my heart for working with people in exploitive situations, he made arrangements for me to visit a ministry that did outreach to the brothels in Athens. I had seen “Taken” and was shocked at the story it told, but nothing could compare to seeing women trapped in the horrors of being trafficked from their home countries to be sold into the world of “sex for sale.”

The images I saw haunt me to this day, but I must say, many more have been added. I have had the opportunity to see the horrors of sex trafficking in Bulgaria, Thailand, Cambodia and sadly enough even here in our own country.

Shortly after my trip to Greece I was introduced to a ministry here in Atlanta dedicated to the rescue of women caught in the sex trade. Their training and friendship opened my eyes to the need in our own country and also in my own back yard.

The issue of human sex trafficking strikes at the very core of our families and church communities and is growing at a rapid pace throughout the world. A few numbers from a report from the Polaris Project shows the magnitude of the issue.

  • There are an estimated 2 million children exploited by the commercial sex trade.

  • The human sex trade is a $32 billion per year industry

  • It is the second largest illegal business following drug sales and newer statistics show it is about to surpass the sale of drugs

  • In the US, 14,000 – 17,000 people are trafficked into the US every year

  • An estimated 100,000 – 300,000 children are prostituted in the US each year

  • Average starting age of a victim in the US is 13

The list could go on. There is a lot to be done to stop the cancer of human trafficking and exploitation of those who are vulnerable to this trap.

One might ask, is this really happening around me and if so, what can I do? I would say, it is happening around each of us on a daily basis. While it might not be out in the open, it is certainly there. From massage parlors, to truck stops, to pornography it touches all of us.

Where does this fit in the role of the church? God has called His children to care for the persecuted and to reach out to those who are mistreated. While the mandate from Micah is used often, I think we must never grow deaf to the command to walk justly and do mercy. The church can become more aware of what is happening in their community in the realm of young girls and boys being lured into the business of sex trafficking. How can we do this?

  • Be aware and sensitive to the signs that might be there, such as questionable massage parlors and nail salons.

  • Note how desensitized we have become to the way women and young girls are portrayed in the movies we watch and the TV shows that are aired. Learning to turn them off is a beginning.

  • Pray for God to raise up those who are willing to stand in the gap and be a spokesperson for the vulnerable ones who are easily drawn into the industry.

  • Raise awareness in your congregations, schools and businesses of the growth of sex trafficking. With the rise of public media and internet usage, pornography has become one of the largest contributors to the demand side of sex trafficking.

Mission to the World has teams across the globe that have taken the challenge to address the issue in their countries as a part of their church planting role. They have found organizations that are fighting the issue and joined with them as the arm of Christ to bring healing, helping hands to reach those who are exploited.

In Atlanta, MTW has also organized a training opportunity for churches who are interested in learning more about the problem in the US and how they can be effective in their own communities. We are partnering with an Atlanta-based organization to bring together panels of experts from law enforcement, government agencies and private providers to share the issue, what they are doing and how they are all working together to stamp out the problem in our communities.

There will also be opportunities to participate in street outreach, service projects, and ministry to those who have been rescued. The goal of the training is to equip participants in several ways: a) to be more aware of how to pray for the issue b) to recognize and become more aware of the problem in their communities c) to be equipped to take action or join with organizations in their community who are actively engaged in working with those caught in the world of trafficking.

Talk to your kids, pay attention, take action!

Special Victims Unit Detectives and investigators from multiple county and federal agencies are investigating reports of ritualistic child sexual abuse from as far back as 1990.

*** PRESS RELEASE May 31, 2022 ***

In April of 2021, an investigation began into ritualistic child sexual abuse and child sex trafficking that occurred in Utah County. The ensuing investigation discovered that other victims had previously reported similar forms of ritualistic sexual abuse and trafficking that occurred in Utah County, Juab County, and Sanpete County during the time between 1990 and 2010.

Portions of these allegations were confirmed. These allegations are being investigated by the Utah County Sheriff's Office in cooperation with other local and federal agencies. We are pleading with the public and encourage victims, or individuals with knowledge of these crimes, to contact the Utah County Sheriff's Office Special Victim's Unit, so that they can be offered all the assistance possible. We understand that there are individuals who have concerns for their safety and/or well-being, who have been silenced. We need your help. Contact the Utah County Sheriff's Office at (801)851-4010.

For questions contact Sergeant Spencer Cannon, Public Information Officer, Utah County Sheriff's Office. (801) 404-1912 - Cell Twitter: @SGTCannonPIO or @UCSO Email:

Utah Sex Offender List

National Sex Offender Public Website


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