Prosecutor Sherri Bevan Walsh
Every 30 seconds…
Every 30 seconds another person becomes a victim of human trafficking. This modern day slavery impacts every community. Victims lose more than just their freedom; the life expectancy from the day that a person is first exploited is just seven years.
Human traffickers use force, fraud, and coercion to control victims. The victims are many times forced to have sex or work in squalid conditions for little or no pay. Those most at risk are people who are already vulnerable. Human traffickers prey on foreign migrant workers, persons with drug addictions, persons with mental disabilities or those who suffer from some illness. More than a quarter of a million children are commercially exploited every year in the United States. Traffickers recruit children at schools, malls, parks, bus and train stations, shelters, and group homes. Within 48 hours of running away from home, one out of three homeless teenagers is lured toward prostitution.
January was Human Trafficking Awareness Month. But law enforcement officers can stop human trafficking year round by keeping alert and knowing the signs of human trafficking. Businesses associated with human trafficking include fake massage parlors, small businesses, nail parlors, hotels and motels, restaurants, and farms. Keep close tabs of places which have gates and barb wired fencing, lighted “open” signs after hours, businesses with rear entrances only, plus a lot of people, especially men, walking in and out.
There are many red flags an officer may notice inside those businesses. Things like large amounts of money, multiple computers and cellular phones, appointment books, prostitution paraphernalia, reloadable credit cards, as well as indications people are residing inside the business. Some additional signs to look for are employees who are paid very little, work long hours, are not provided work breaks, and are not able to come and go as they wish.
Law enforcement officers can also stop human trafficking by looking for signs during traffic stops. Since human traffickers tend to control their victims by frequently moving them, it is important when conducting traffic stops to look for certain indicators such as whether one person speaks for all occupants, whether the passengers are much younger than the driver; whether the passengers lack identification and/or knowledge of where they are, whether the passengers are runaways or missing children, and whether the stories are inconsistent or too well rehearsed. Likewise, the vehicle’s contents may provide indications of human trafficking such as evidence of frequent travel, multiple electronic devices and reloadable credit cards, large amounts of cash, and prostitution paraphernalia.
But once an officer thinks they have a human trafficking victim, their job is not over. A victim of human trafficking may be apprehensive and fearful of law enforcement. In addition, a human trafficking victim may appear malnourished, show signs of physical abuse, and lack the ability to provide you with an address.
As a law enforcement officer, it is important when interacting with human trafficking victims to understand these victims often will not leave their situation, will not ask for help, and will not even accept help. Human trafficking victims live in fear and may have developed a traumatic bond with the trafficker. Human traffickers often take on a role of protector, friend, boyfriend, teacher, or mentor. They capitalize on girls not knowing what a normal relationship is so they groom the victim to create a sense of family. Therefore, human trafficking victims often will not identify themselves as victims and will deny that they are being exploited. As in situations of domestic violence, the perpetrator becomes the most powerful person in a human trafficking victim’s life. The perpetrator uses rewards and punishment to keep control of their victim. By looking for signs of human trafficking, especially signs of isolation, captivity, and confinement, law enforcement officers can help put a stop to human trafficking.
This article is not to be considered legal advice. Please consult your police legal advisor regarding any legal issue.
Sherri Bevan Walsh
Summit County Prosecuting Attorney