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6 Idaho victims helped during human trafficking operation

A victim-oriented operation took place Thursday, providing clothing, food, housing and hope to 6 Idaho women.

BOISE, Idaho — Hope. It is one word that can be very powerful. That is what one operation provided to 6 Idaho women who were victims of human trafficking. 

Treasure Valley Human Trafficking Taskforce is made up of multiple law enforcement agencies and community partners coming together; their goal is to combat human trafficking in Idaho. 

On Thursday, they performed a victim-centered sting operation where they were able to provide clothing, food, housing and hope to six victims.

"If we save one female, if one female shows up and we're able to love her and wrap around her, win-win. It's a success," Paula Barthelmess, president of Idaho Community Outreach Behavioral Services (COBS) said. "Because that's one person that has hope. And that's the number one thing that these women are telling me, they never had any hope. So that was our goal."

The operation has been in the making since February. Idaho State Police put the operation together with collaboration between multiple city and county police departments. Several community organizations were involved too, including non-profit Idaho COBS

The operation was victim-centered, designed to help and find care for victims of trafficking. 

"They've been labeled as prostitutes their whole life and don't understand the difference between prostitution and human trafficking," Barthelmess said. "There is a very big difference."

The sting operation was set up at a local hotel. "Chatters" were set up to portray soliciting the victims. When the women showed up, they were provided care by the task force.  

"We were able to make contact with six women, which is huge. And out of those six women, we were able to provide clothing, housing, food, any kind of essentials," Barthelmess said. "We even had a triage, a medical team there. So they were able to have a medical exam upon coming to the area that we had all our services at."

Idaho COBS operates safehouses for victims of trafficking.

Advanced Clinical Trauma Services (ACTS) was also on-site to provide mental health care and trauma therapy.

Idaho COBS works with law enforcement in human trafficking training. They also act as a third party when talking with victims, since many come from traumatic backgrounds. 

"We come in, a lot of our victims unfortunately have bad pasts and have questionable relationships with law enforcement and child protection and all the different government entities," Barthelmess said. "As a non-governmental organization and a non-profit, I’m able to offer them that middle ground where I can bond with them and provide them some comfort while they’re dealing with law enforcement."

Barthelmess says they hope to do more operations in the future.

“I really want to emphasize how amazing all the law enforcement entities came together," Barthelmess said. "We did a briefing before the operation and there were 60-65 people in the room...This group of people coming together for these victims."

Sex trafficking is an issue that plagues every state. Barthelmess says most of the victims she sees are native Idahoans. She also says the biggest problem is familial trafficking; the selling of a member of one's family. 

“We actually have a very large issue with sex trafficking," Barthelmess said. "The sex trafficking industry here in the Treasure Valley. It’s happening in every single hotel. It’s happening in all different socio-economic levels. So there’s no discrimination." 

Outside of the operation, Idaho COBS gets in contact with 2-4 victims of trafficking every week. The organization was founded eight years ago, 

Barthelmess has advice on what to do if you suspect someone is being trafficked:

“If something doesn’t look right, if something looks off, that you recognize if a female is very young and she’s with an older man. Or there’s just some other stuff happening that you see the clothing, they’re not fed, please call," Barthelmess said. "Call any of the police departments, the non-emergency numbers, because we have people at all the different police departments that are beginning to specialize in trafficking…It’s better to be careful, and it’s better to step up and say something.” 

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