Myth vs. Fact: A Wake-Up Call about Human Trafficking
On June 6-8, Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen hosted the 2012 Attorney General’s Summit on Public Safety in Wisconsin Dells, WI, concentrating on the issue of human trafficking.
The presentations made at the summit served as a loud “wake-up call” to most of the law enforcement personnel in attendance. Notably, the fact that human trafficking is NOT just a border or international issue, but rather a crime that is occurring locally in many of our towns and often going undetected.
As a police officer, what is your level of understanding about human trafficking? Ask yourself if you have accepted some of the following myths:
- All prostitutes are willing participants
- All pimps look and act the same way
- All victims of human trafficking are from another country
- All human trafficking victims are children
- The victims knew what they were getting into
- The victims were paid for their services
- The victims had freedom of movement
- U.S. citizens can’t be trafficked
- The trafficker’s actions are culturally appropriate
- It can’t be trafficking when the trafficker and victim are related or married
If you, like many of us in attendance, believed some or all of the above statements to be generally true, it may be time for a closer look at this hidden crime.
A good starting point is to look at the statutes, both federal and local: Fed 22 USC & 7102 and WI 940.302 (Wisconsin). Basically, Human trafficking (HT) is exploitation-based and can be labor (13.9%) or sex trade (82.1%), and involves crimes against persons who are involuntarily recruited or coerced.
Human trafficking is not smuggling, although smuggling can lead to trafficking. Smuggling across the U.S. border involves transportation and is voluntary. HT can be local, is not voluntary, does not have to involve movement, and is prevalent throughout the United States.
Perhaps the most startling aspect from the presentations made at the Public Safety Summit were focused on how prevalent these “hidden crimes” are and, indeed, how likely it is that they are occurring in our own, local jurisdictions! Human trafficking may be taking place on farms, in factories, massage parlors, commercial work (stores, motels, restaurants), through the Internet, in residential areas, and in strip clubs—all of which may be in our local areas.
I recently came across an article in the St. Paul Pioneer Press, which demonstrated just how local this “hidden crime” can be. The article pointed out that a 17-year-old girl ran away from her home in Des Moines, IA to meet with a man she met on a social media website thinking he would be her new boyfriend. Instead, when she arrived in St. Paul, Jones took her to a local hotel, forced her to have sex with him, and then posted an online ad for her services soliciting some 30 men to have paid sex with the victim.
Where to go from here?
Law enforcement and those interested in combatting the devastating toll of human trafficking can continue to address the following steps:
Familiarize yourself with the true face of human trafficking. Review the latest research and inform yourself of the many resources available about this critical issue. Here are some resources:
- Human Trafficking Library. APUS is working in conjunction with the FBI National Academy Associates and has developed a library for human trafficking. This is a free, searchable library focused on resources about human trafficking.
- Department of Homeland Security Blue Campaign
- Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking – CAST
- Free the Slaves
- Polaris Project
- Safe Horizon
- Bureau of Justice Assistance Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force Initiative
Officers need to become aware of and recognize the signs of potential human trafficking. Here is a list of key indicators and questions to ask suspected victims.
As awareness grows and officers begin to recognize the indicators of this growing epidemic, enforcement will increase.
Officers need to continue educating themselves about human trafficking as well as working to educate the community about the prevalence of human trafficking. It’s important for police to establish working relationships with government and social service agencies, victim-witness agencies, and other non-profit organizations that may also encounter human trafficking.
Support and encourage those volunteer groups and organizations that are already formed in order to reach out to victims of human trafficking (more than half of whom are children, according to the presentation by ICE at the summit). The more communication and awareness out there, the better chance a community has of identifying and stopping human trafficking in the area.