Sheridan organization seeks to raise awareness of human trafficking in Wyoming

Uprising is a Sheridan-based organization that seeks to prevent human trafficking through education, awareness and awareness. Since launching in 2019, they have built connections within Sheridan’s law enforcement and professional community and seek to raise statewide awareness through these initiatives.

Uprising recently held its premiere Grand Rockier Immersive Training (GRIT) conference in Sheridan to spread their message and provide training to professionals throughout the greater region.

“We had representatives from across the Rocky Mountain region,” said Terri Markham, co-founder and executive director of Uprising. “I would say most of the attendees were from Wyoming, but we also had Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Colorado, Minnesota. And then we had outliers like Oregon and Texas.

Markham admitted she wasn’t sure how some of the attendees got wind of the event, but she was glad they were able to attend. Feedback has also been positive, she said, with some attendees saying they would return for next year’s conference and bring other professionals they know for it.

Human trafficking is often seen as a problem in other regions or more populated areas, Markham said, so many Wyoming residents don’t necessarily think it’s happening here. There are also misconceptions that trafficking equals sex trafficking, and while there are many overlaps between the two, human trafficking occurs for many reasons, not just sex.

“I think we have a lot of different kinds of traffic happening in Wyoming, but the ones I see the most and get the most personal revelations about are above all the rest. [are] domestic trafficking cases,” Markam said. “There are cases that I will see on the state news where they never call it human trafficking, but it is a human trafficking case.”

Markham added that some parents, guardians or family members may engage in trafficking their children or other family members for financial reasons. These include selling a family member out for their job to make ends meet or if they have addiction issues. And despite the stereotype of victims kidnapped by strangers or somehow trafficked against their will, trafficking can be a more low-key crime than others.

“I think that’s one of the reasons it’s such a hard crime to identify because it’s not like it looks a certain way, there’s about 25 different types of sex trafficking in the United States who have been identified,” she said. “And so, it can look so different. But I always tell people on the sex trafficking side, there’s a formula, if a sex act in exchange for something of value where a third party benefits from that exchange.

Markham and the others at Uprising saw the need to better educate and prepare communities for the realities of human trafficking. She was also worried that someone who thought they were or was being trafficked would contact law enforcement to be told that trafficking “doesn’t happen here.” There are indications that Uprising’s efforts are working. Polaris, a national anti-trafficking organization, provides a heatmap that indicates levels of awareness of trafficking. For the majority, Wyoming ranks lower than areas in neighboring states, but Markham said victims of trafficking may come from out of state and circuit across the state before leaving.

“I mean, in the last month alone, I’ve probably had three calls about victims in Wyoming, who need help and services, and people asking me for referrals to see where they can send these victims that they have now identified,” Markham said. “So we see that change.”

Next year’s GRIT conference is scheduled for May 1-4 at the Ramkota in Casper.

If you or someone you know is being trafficked, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1(800) 373-7888 or text “BeFree” to 233733. A live chat is also an option when staff are available. Tips may also be reported on the website. If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, call 911 for the most immediate response.

Aubrey L. Morgan