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  • Writer's pictureJustin Jensen

Can cops stop trafficking?

In general, I believe that our law enforcement does an amazing job at identifying human trafficking indicators. Often, we don’t know how to help; as law enforcement, we see the signs, but we don’t know how to navigate without making an arrest or violating the rights of a victim. The first thing is to remind our law enforcement of the criminal elements of what constitutes trafficking.

· Act = The recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person

for labor or services…

· Means = …through the use of force, fraud, or coercion…

· Purpose = …for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt

bondage, or slavery.”

The more that our law enforcement is aware of what the elements of trafficking are, the more they can indicate these when completing their incident reports. Documenting this information is the key and it is where we need help. Some types of government support for trafficking victims require a report by the police or the help of an attorney to initiate the process. Additionally, we cannot prosecute trafficking crimes if the elements for trafficking do not match the evidence.

Signs may differ from labor trafficking or sex trafficking, and laws can be different for minors versus adults; however, many indicators can apply to both. The following are a few of the signs that fit both types, there is no priority of order, and there can be many more indications:

Is the person fearful, timid, or submissive?

Does the person have bruises in various stages of healing?

Does the person show signs of having been denied food, water, sleep, or medical care?

Is the person often in the company of someone to whom he or she defers?

Or someone who seems to be in control of the situation, e.g., where they go or who

they talk to?

Does the person have freedom of movement?

Can the person freely leave where they live?

Are there unreasonable security measures?

See the Department of Homeland Security – Blue Campaign for more indicators.

When we ask potential victims of trafficking questions, we are likely not to get helpful answers. This is because of the use of force, fraud, or coercion. Victims may not trust us or be afraid to answer questions for many reasons.

Keep in mind that the very techniques we teach law enforcement to build trust or rapport are likely the very ones that the traffickers used to entrap them. It is recommended that we ask questions that empower or give control to a victim. They may not look like the types of questions we would normally ask while conducting an investigation or interviewing a potential witness. Addressing safety and potential risk may be a good place to start.

· Tell me about what you need to feel safe right now?

· Tell me about what other needs you have right now?

· Tell me more?

· We can put you in contact with an advocate to help, what would the best way to do

that be for you?

· For you, what is the safest way for an advocate to contact you?

Essentially, by directly assessing needs the victim tells us what they want. It gives law enforcement a way to assess priorities with the victim. If the need is for safety or to investigate further criminal wrongdoing, law enforcement can follow up on it. Examples of law enforcement follow-up may be taking the person to a shelter, making an arrest, or initiating a report for investigators or prosecutors to look at.

If the needs are not immediate safety or the needs are for other services outside of the responsibility of law enforcement, directing the victim to an advocate is a way we can further assist. We have soft spaces for adult victims throughout the state that are available to law enforcement as a safe place to connect with an advocate or for law enforcement to follow up with a victim when appropriate.

We have learned that a person in crisis rarely gives information that can help law enforcement in that moment, or they may choose to not press charges against the perpetrator while they still feel afraid. However, if we can get the victim to a safe place where they have resources, they may come forward with valuable information or want to press charges later. It empowers the victim/survivor to be in control of what may happen next.

The officer can indicate in the police report the signs of trafficking and how the signs reflect the different elements of trafficking even if an arrest isn’t made. If the report shows that the victim was connected to an advocate for services, there may be a chance to follow up later with the victim.

Can cops stop trafficking? Not without collaboration from advocates, prosecutors, and community support. Not without becoming victim-centered, trauma-informed, and survivor informed.


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