Linda Oppelt

Salida parishioner publishes book on human trafficking

by William J. Dagendesh

COLORADO SPRINGS. Human trafficking is a violation of human rights and everyone must act now in order to prevent this crime from spiraling out of control, according to John DiGirolamo, author and member of St. Joseph Parish in Salida.

These were among the thoughts shared by DiGirolamo during a Sept. 13 Human Trafficking and on-line safety presentation at the First United Methodist Church. According to DiGirolamo, everyone should do everything possible to rid this crime from modern society and bring to justice those who take advantage of those unable to fight back.

The presentation was designed to benefit the Human Trafficking Task Force of Southern Colorado and human trafficking survivors. Human trafficking is a term used for recruiting, harboring, transporting, providing or obtaining a person for labor or commercial sex acts through coercion, force or fraud.

An author and anti-human trafficking advocate, DiGirolamo was invited to speak after contacting local organizations offering to provide community awareness. The Human Trafficking Task Force of Southern Colorado was interested in DiGirolamo’s new book, “It’s Not About The Sex,” the topic of on-line safety for teens and predators’ on-line tactics.

DiGirolamo believes human trafficking is one of the most under-reported issues that darkens every economic, racial, social and political boundary. 

“The first way to combat human trafficking is to start with awareness. Then, you can get involved in the community as there are many non-profits fighting this issue,” DiGirolamo said.

In his book, DiGirolamo exposes a dark world of addiction, despair, and human brutality. He believes human trafficking is a heinous crime because the predators hold another human in captivity and force them to work against their will. The stories, from first-hand accounts of those involved and affected, are tragic and horrifying.

The author talked about people in his book, about the misperceptions versus reality of human trafficking and how predators target teens on-line, and offered tips for parents and how they can protect their child. Also, he touched on what undercover police officers want people to know, and how to recognize trafficking signs.

The book offers four unique perspectives: an advocate, law enforcement officer, a survivor and a brothel madam. The stories accurately describe the horrors of human trafficking and start with a fast-paced plotline that inspires readers to turn the page to find out what happens next.

“Many people believe it (human trafficking) only occurs on our country’s border or in large cities. The various circumstances detailed in the book are based on real-life experiences and all too common. Unfortunately, it is pervasive throughout this country and throughout the world,” DiGirolamo said.

“Essentially, this (book) was their (victims) platform, to have a voice, talk about the survivors and how they persevered in the face of adversity.”

More than half of DiGirolamo’s presentation was directed to parents about on-line safety and the tactics predators use to target teens. “I interviewed an undercover officer who poses as a 13-year-old girl and this fake profile is immediately noticed. He has made arrests of people meeting someone who they think is a 13 year old girl at a motel,” DiGirolamo said.

“I re-tell several of his cases and it shows how the predators operate.  They also seek nude pictures for child pornography websites. Ultimately, I hope parents take action to talk to their kids and monitor and limit their on-line activity. Their kids may not be looking for trouble, but trouble is looking for them.”

DiGirolamo decided to tell stories which occurred primarily in rural and suburban America because many people are surprised to find out it exists in idyllic small towns and “nice” communities as well as larger cities. Also, he wanted to shine a light on one of the most evil acts a person can do to another, he said.

“The last chapter in the book includes a section on what you can do and tips for parents. The lecture expands on the tips for parents section so the benefit is tremendous insight to what is happening on-line,” DiGirolamo said.

DiGirolamo believes that awareness is the first way to combat human trafficking. “After that, people can get involved in the community as there are many non-profits fighting this issue,” DiGirolamo said. 

However, getting people interested in the subject matter was DiGirolamo’s biggest obstacle in writing the book, he said. “Many citizens think it isn’t a large problem or that it doesn’t happen in their circle of friends, family or community,” DiGirolamo said.

In a testimonial, sex trafficking survivor Breahannah Leary said the book is a “must read” for everyone. “From the beautiful suburbs to small country towns, the stories accurately portray the horrors of human trafficking happening right under our noses,” Leary said.

BV HOPE (Buena Vista Helping Others Protecting Everyone) is a nonprofit organization that exists to eliminate human trafficking in Central Colorado. “Human traffickers are truly hunting their prey, the innocent and the desperate. Educating ourselves and others is the only way we will stop them and make our communities safer,” Director Beth Ritchie said.

George Gramlich, editor of the Sangre de Cristo Sentinel in Westcliffe, added, “These stories will break your heart. But maybe that is what it will take for society to take some action. Read this book to see what our society is up against. Then, demand action.”

Sue Hess, executive director of Reclaiming Hope, described the book as a non-easy read. “It will make you uncomfortable. It will help you to understand what millions of people live through as they are trafficked. And once you’ve read this, you will find that you want, you must, do something to fight trafficking,” Hess said.

One way to join the fight is to support Bakhita Mountain Home in Colorado Springs, a residential community designed to heal, restore and empower adult women who have been impacted by human trafficking. The non-profit BMH assists women transitioning from human trafficking to self-sufficiency and successful reintegration into society.

The home provides a quiet, prayerful and hospitable environment where persons of all faith traditions are welcome to discover God and themselves. While living in the home, women’s basic needs are met, enabling them to focus on their personal processes for healing.

To learn more about BMH, visit http://bakitahountainhome.org. Financial donations, which go toward helping the women, can be set up in monthly installments.

Also, report suspicious behavior to the toll free National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888.

Signed copies of DiGirolamo’s book can be purchased directly from the author at https://itisnotabout.com. Print and Kindle versions are also available on Amazon.

DiGirolamo’s other works include “It’s Not About the Badge,” a creative nonfiction book that profiles the human side of policing, featuring rural officers and features compelling personal and professional stories of small-town police officers.

He has written a newspaper column in the Sangre De Cristo Sentinel and Winter Park Times, and published a collection of short stories.

DiGirolamo will speak to the St. Serra Club of Colorado Springs on Nov. 17 at 11:30 a.m. at the Catholic Student Center, 4725 Stanton Rd., Colorado Springs, 80918.

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