Joey BunchJoey BunchOctober 23, 20173min2420

The new director of Colorado Office of Behavioral Health has another new title: Friend of Children.

Robert Werthwein received the award from Court Appointed Special Advocates, or CASA.

Werthwein was recognized for his work with the Colorado Department of Human Service’s Office of Children, Youth and Families from March 2015 to September 2017, before DHS promoted him last month.

For 24 years, CASA has given the Friend of Children Award “to those who personify the values of humanitarian outreach and volunteerism with children, families and the community,” DHS said.

The award typically goes to judges, law enforcement, doctors, legislators or individuals who work to make life better for kids.

“At CDHS, we’re charged with ensuring every child in our care knows that they can rely on us, that we’re going to work to equip them with the tools they need to succeed and when the burden is too much, we’ll be there to help lighten the load,” Werthwein said in a statement. “Our kids are our future, and we’re going to keep showing up for them every day to help put more Colorado youth on a path to success.”

Since earning his doctorate in clinical psychology, Werthwein has worked to strengthen child-welfare programs and improve treatment for at-risk children. At the Office of Children, Youth and Families, Werthwein focused on juvenile justice, child welfare, human trafficking and other complex issues.

DHS referenced his work on House Bill 1207, the legislation sponsored by Rep. Pete Lee, D-Colorado Springs, and Sen. Kevin Priola, R-Henderson, that removes incarceration as an option for children younger than 12.

The rule already applied to children 10 and younger. The bill signed into law by the governor in May.

“Dr. Werthwein worked tirelessly to advocate for 10-12 year olds in the juvenile justice system, keeping those youths with low-level offenses from mandatory detention facilities,” DHS said.


Joey BunchJoey BunchAugust 24, 20175min1120

Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman is joining an effort to amend federal laws to empower state and local authorities to prosecute child sex traffickers.

A letter sent last week by 49 state attorneys general to Congress urged federal lawmakers to change the Communications Decency Act, primarily to clarify the power of local authorities to prosecute online sex trafficking.

“Human traffickers are some of the worst of the worst criminals in our society,” Coffman said in a statement. “As Attorney General, it is my job to ensure that we have laws in place that can put these vile perpetrators in prison, where they belong.”

The National Human Trafficking Hotline says it received 120 reports of unique potential human trafficking in Colorado in 2016. Most of them came from the Denver and Colorado Springs areas, the Hotline reported.

The General Assembly organized a group called the Colorado Human Trafficking Council in 2014 to address human trafficking. Its 31 board members come from government agencies, law enforcement and nonprofit organizations. The group is preparing a plan for state lawmakers.

Although human trafficking is worse in some states, “It’s a significant problem that needs to be addressed in our state,” said Maria Trujillo, human trafficking program manager for the Colorado Human Trafficking Council.

One of the problems in stopping child sex trafficking is the difficulty in pinning the blame on any one kind of person, she said.

Child sex traffickers “come from all different walks of life,” Trujillo said. “There is not a typical profile.”

Most of the victims are sexually exploited. Others were forced into slavish labor. The exploited children often are victims of poverty, bullying at school or feelings of being unloved.

“Traffickers are keen on being able to detect that vulnerability and manipulate it,” Trujillo said.

Another obstacle to stopping child trafficking is the expansive reach of the Internet, where solicitations for sex can be posted anonymously.

The government’s primary tool for halting child sex trafficking over the Internet has been the Communications Decency Act. Congress passed the Act in 1996 to regulate pornography on the Internet.

Several lawsuits have challenged the law, saying it violates free speech provisions of the First Amendment. In the 1997 case of Reno v. American Civil Liberties Union, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down anti-indecency provisions of the act.

Other court decisions have created uncertainties about whether the federal law can be enforced only by federal law enforcement agencies or whether it also authorizes local and state prosecutions. The uncertainties prompted the letter last week from Coffman and other state attorneys general.

“Federal enforcement alone has proved insufficient to stem the growth in online promotion of child sex trafficking,” the letter says. “Those on the front lines of the battle against the sexual exploitation of children – state and local law enforcement – must have clear authority to investigate and prosecute facilitators of these and other horrible crimes.

“It is both ironic and tragic that the CDA, which was intended to protect children from indecent material on the Internet, is now used as a shield by those who profit from prostitution and crimes against children,” the attorneys general wrote.

Colorado’s overseers of human trafficking noted big steps forward in their 2016 “Colorado Human Trafficking Council Report.”

They included 42 prosecutions in the previous year, which “represents the largest number of human trafficking case filings in any given year since human trafficking statutes were enacted in the state,” the report said.

The report recommended additional training standards for law enforcement agencies and mental health providers. The standards are intended to help victims cope with the trauma of human trafficking and to identify the persons responsible for it.

Coffman described human trafficking as “profiting off the suffering of our vulnerable citizens…”

Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirMarch 17, 20173min1090

Colorado state lawmakers are putting extra effort into their campaign to wipe out the scourge of human trafficking for the sex trade.

House Bill 1072, sponsored by Republican Reps. Lois Landgraf of Colorado Springs and Polly Lawrence of Roxborough Park, passed the House Judiciary Committee unanimously on Thursday. The legislation would tighten current law against human trafficking in several ways:

  • It adds to the definition of human trafficking for sexual servitude the act of purchasing another person for the purpose of coercing him or her to engage in commercial sexual activity;
  • It adds that same change to the definition of human trafficking of a minor;
  • It adds human trafficking for sexual servitude to the definition of “unlawful sexual behavior,” requiring those convicted to become part of the sexual-offender registry. Under current law, only those convicted of human trafficking of a minor are included in that definition and thus must register.

A press release from the House GOP quotes the sponsors:

“Human trafficking has tragically become a major industry in Colorado and the nation, and we need to be targeting both the supply and the demand for this horrifying crime,” said Landgraf.  “In five years, Colorado has gone from a D rating to a B in 2016, and the bill we passed today will help Colorado earn an A for its laws protecting against human trafficking — I hope these efforts will save more victims.”
Representative Lawrence added:

“Colorado has become a crossroads for human trafficking, making it very difficult for law enforcement to track victims’ movement in the area. I am pleased to see Colorado strengthening its laws to combat human trafficking, and adding the crime of facilitating the travel of a victim will allow law enforcement more flexibility to arrest and prosecute people proliferating this crime.”


Ernest LuningErnest LuningFebruary 17, 20177min761

Although it starts with a splash of levity, the House Republican caucus’s weekly video update quickly moves onto more serious ground. “This is Jim Wilson from Salida, Colorado,” says state Rep. Yuelin Willett, R-Grand Junction, as his serious gaze dissolves into a grin and an imposing figure enters the frame, shooing away the imposter. “Not even close,” says Wilson. “I’m the real Jim Wilson.”