Denver Man Arrested for Sex Trafficking

Denver Man Arrested for Sex Trafficking Five Girls

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In early March, Joe Avalos was arrested for sex trafficking five girls in the Denver area.

He took the girls all over the Denver metro area to have sex with men—including Boulder and Wheat Ridge—but he ran the sex traffic operation from his suburban house in Arvada.

If you were under the impression that sex traffic only happens in places other than calm Colorado suburban neighborhoods, think about that.

No, you’re not going to see scantily clad girls in stilettos sauntering up and down your suburban street. Plenty of girls are trafficked right out of their homes, or out of someone else’s home. The internet makes everything possible, friends.

Avalos is 35. He’s accused of trafficking girls who are 15, 16, 18, 18, and 20. Apparently the 16-year-old girl ran TO Avalos, because she was afraid of another trafficker named Gonzales. She also seems to have been living with Avalos.

But just because she was less afraid of Avalos than Gonzales, doesn’t mean she was there willingly. Avalos is also accused of kidnapping (although it might not have been the 16-year-old he’s said to have kidnapped).

He advertised the girls locally. The reports I’ve read didn’t say where or how, but I imagine it was on a website like BackPage.com. BackPage is notorious for being a hub where traffickers and johns go to exploit, abuse, and rape girls.

(If you’re a trafficking victim, you’re being coerced into sexual activity. That’s non-consensual. That’s rape.)

In order to keep the girls compliant, Avalos gave them drugs, such as meth.

(I don’t want to hear arguments that because the girls received drugs in exchange for it, they were somehow willing participants. If you’re on drugs, or drunk, or are being coerced in any way, you are unable to consent to sex. That’s rape.)

Here’s a quote from the First Judicial District Attorney’s Office about how Avalos worked:

“Avalos orchestrated the advertisement of the women and scheduled the calls. He drove them to the jobs at motels in the metro area and provided protection for the women. He would sit in his car, armed with a gun, waiting for them to finish the job. He would then collect the money.”

“Provided protection”? I could spit. I get that it was probably just a poor choice of words, but still. Expectoration abundant.

Here’s the kind of “protection” we’re talking about:

  • Kidnapping
  • Sexual assault
  • Pandering of a child
  • Pimping
  • Distributing drugs to a minor (sorry—distributing a “controlled substance” to a minor)
  • Trying to pimp a child
  • Running a brothel
  • Sexually assaulting a child
  • Identity theft

Those are just a few of the charges Avalos is dealing with. Nice guy, right?

Denver was one of eight major cities examined by the Urban Institute in a recent report about the size and structure of the sex traffic economy. While the numbers rank Denver on the lower end of the scale, that could be because Denver’s population is lower than every other city in the report.

Also, no one is really sure those numbers are accurate. Law enforcement only began to understand the problem in 2006, when one detective—who happened to know a lot about prostitution—opened their eyes to sex trafficking in Denver.

Ever since then, things have only gotten worse. One Denver Law Enforcement Official said, “We have seen a drastic increase pretty much every year since we keyed into it.”

Either sex traffic in Denver is on the rise, or law enforcement is getting better about recognizing it.

Maybe both. A lot of pimps turn to trafficking instead of drug dealing, because it’s more difficult to get caught as a trafficker. The consequences are seen as less severe. Research indicates it’s a rapidly expanding criminal industry, right up there with arms dealing and drug trafficking. Catching Avalos was a big win for these girls, but not big enough to dent trafficking.

Sex trafficking is happening in Denver. It’s happening in Boulder. It’s happening in Arvada, Wheat Ridge, and many other cities in the area. We just can’t see it. Maybe we need that one guy in the police department who understands these things to slap us all into awareness.


L. Marrick is a fiction writer and freelance copywriter. 50% of proceeds from her book Working Girl, a memoir of her time working for a professional escort, go to sex trafficking non-profits. She waxes poetic about swords and the Renaissance Faire at her author blog. She looks all professional-like at her copywriting site. You can connect with her on Facebook and Twitter @LMarrick.

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