On Saturday, May 22, in the Rexburg Tabernacle, the founders of Dahlia’s Hope and founder of Adaptive Operations met with community members to discuss an aftercare facility in Rexburg for sex trafficking survivors in the surrounding areas. The meeting was by invitation only.
According to the program for the meeting, their collective objective “is to establish an aftercare center here in the Rexburg area.” The program added, “We need your help and invite you to join us in this fight.”
Dean and Kristin Coleman, two Rexburg residents passionate about fighting against human trafficking, organized the event.
“I view this as absolutely a plague of our generation,” Dean Coleman said. “This is a battle, this is a war, and we’re inviting people to join the fight.”
According to Dean Coleman, the three main focuses of the meeting were to:
— Raise awareness about the scourge of human trafficking.
— Provide additional training: what signs to look for and what to do about it if it’s noticed.
— Discuss plans to build an aftercare facility for survivors in Eastern Idaho.
Dean Coleman explained that sex trafficking happens in Idaho more than most people are aware of. On May 18, Isaac Anthony Ybarra was arrested for rape that stemmed from sex trafficking activity at a local youth group home in Idaho Falls. A 17-year-old girl in the group home was said to be the one selling younger girls for sex.
According to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, Texas, Florida, New York and California are the states with the highest sex trafficking activity, and metropolitan areas are the most active. However, it does happen in smaller cities like Idaho Falls and the surrounding areas.
“Yes, this is a problem in Idaho. It’s right here,” Dean Coleman said. “This is not a distant problem.”
Speakers at the Dahlia’s Hope event each iterated the importance of having a safe place these survivors can go for protection after escaping from trafficking situations. This facility would seek to do that. Dahlia’s Hope is dedicated to offering complete aftercare for survivors, including multiple therapeutic and medical services, housing assistance, life skills training and more.
Aros Mackey founded Adaptive Ops in 2019 in Utah as a counter human trafficking organization; they partnered with Dahlia’s Hope in the human trafficking fight. The mission of Adaptive Ops is listed below:
— Our work focuses on identifying human trafficking activities, documenting the key information, and developing it into intelligence that can be used as evidence for law enforcement.
— We use private investigation techniques to hunt down wanted predator fugitives and coordinate their arrests.
— We search for missing persons (adults and children). We participate in and coordinate community searches for missing children.
— We provide runaway teenager recovery services. We will safely transport the child home or to a youth treatment of the parent’s choice.
“I have had many situations where I’ve had a newly free human trafficking victim in our vehicles and we had traffickers on our tail, and we had nowhere to go,” Mackey explained. “We’ve tried domestic violence shelters. They’re not completely equipped to provide the help that human trafficking victims need that needs to be very specialized.”
According to the Dahlia’s Hope website, “In 2015 the U.S. State Department estimated that 1.2 million individuals were being trafficked here, domestically. In stark contrast, there are currently less than 1,000 spaces total, in aftercare programs in the United States, dedicated solely to the rehabilitation and transition of trafficking survivors.”
The supply for aftercare services does not meet the demand. Dahlia’s Hope seeks to make these services more thorough and accessible. Multiple speakers shared that there are facilities that offer only limited services for survivors. For example, they may lack proper therapeutic options or medical/dental coverage. Many of these survivors do not have the financial capacity or emotional stability to seek after these services on their own — complete aftercare options is crucial to their healing.
“It cannot be okay that we do not have aftercare,” said Cherstyn Stockwell, one of the co-founders of Dahlia’s Hope. “It cannot be an option.”
Two trafficking survivors shared their stories at the meeting. They both emphasized the role Dahlia’s Hope has played in their healing from their physical, mental and emotional trauma.
When the meeting changed to a question panel, Mayor Jerry Merrill stood and vocalized his support for starting a facility in Rexburg.
“I hurried back from Utah because I wanted to be here because I think this is very important,” Mayor Merrill said. “I am strongly in support of what you’re doing here. I would be happy to support you financially and with volunteer time and do what I can to support this organization.”
Specific details for when the facility will be established in Rexburg will be released as they come.
Further investigation and details on the human trafficking situation in the Rexburg and Idaho Falls area, along with personal interviews with the people mentioned in this article, will be posted in the near future.