Threats force anti-human trafficking agency to close services | Buzz Blog
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Threats force anti-human trafficking agency to close services


The Utah Health and Human Rights Project [UHHR], which works with victims of violent crime and human rights abuses, informed the law enforcement and legal services community yesterday it was closing down its human trafficking assistance program.--- UHHR executive director Jocelyn Romano sent out an email on Wednesday that the decision "was prompted by a series of threats directed at UHHR staff. The threats continued over several months and became increasingly more hostile." While the FBI and local law enforcement were called in, the agency decided to transition its care of trafficking victims to other agencies and is no longer accepting referrals of cases.

Set up in 2003, UHHR, according to its website, is the only federally funded torture treatment provider in Utah and was, until this decision, the lead agency of the Utah Trafficking Victim Assistance Program. Along with identifying, counseling and caring for victims of human trafficking, the nonprofit works with survivors of wartime conflicts, victims of indentured servitude - modern day slavery - and child brides.

Romano noted in the email that "human trafficking, by nature, is extremely violent and complex; we cannot assume the level of risk and potential harm to staff and clients at this time." She thanked partners in the law enforcement and legal community for their assistance. "With your help, men, women and children were identified, rescued and provided the opportunity to live free of fear, violence and imprisonment."

While some expressed concern over nonprofit UHHR's future federal funding, now that it is relinquishing victim assistance, Romano says "the agency is moving forward." The funding stream for its torture treatment program is not connected with the human trafficking work, and so its key role in providing counseling and support for torture victims will continue uninterrupted. Romano stated in the email that the agency will work on designing and implementing human trafficking assistance programs, presumably to be put into effect by other agencies in Utah.

Whether other nonprofits will be willing to continue UHHR's work is debatable, since they will have to look closely at security issues after the UHHR's decision to retreat from working with victims. One question some advocates want answered, however, is why federal and state agencies aren't more proactive in protecting human trafficking victims. "Federal and state agencies should be doing more," said one advocate. "While there is federal funding, there isn't safety." Either for UHHR staff or victims, it seems.