Case study: How one task force reduced human trafficking
The goal of the task force is to rescue victims and create a coordinated law enforcement system to investigate and prosecute human trafficking crimes
Recent studies estimate that approximately 18,000 to 50,000 people are trafficked into the United States annually.
Florida is one of the top three "destination states" within the U.S. for trafficking. It's not Florida's beautiful scenery that draws them but rather industrial sectors such as a large service industry, agriculture and the presence of large airports, coastlines and other transit ports that make the state attractive to traffickers.
There is much information that we do not know about human trafficking due to the secretive nature and fear of the victims involved. However, we do know that the people who are often preyed upon by traffickers do not speak English, are very poor or vulnerable due to age, disability, education, etc.
People who are trafficked come from unstable and economically devastated places. They may have been victimized or abandoned, such as "throw away kids." Many are seeking work so that they can provide for themselves and their families. Traffickers count on economic deprivation, high rates of illiteracy and people who are desperate.
Next to drug trafficking, the illegal buying and selling of people is organized crime’s most lucrative business. For the criminals involved, human victims become their commodities — worth $9 billion per year, it is estimated — and after the initial sale, are often manipulated, exploited and left unaware of where they are or if they have rights.
Florida has some of the highest instances of women and children being trafficked into the country, and multiple cases have been identified in the Tampa Bay area specifically.
An abundance of law enforcement agencies in the area were all encountering the same problems, but had no way to combine resources to fight human trafficking in one united front.
In 2006, the Clearwater Police Department established the Clearwater Task Force on Human Trafficking using funds from a Department of Justice grant. The goal of the task force was to identify and rescue victims, create a coordinated law enforcement system to investigate and prosecute these crimes, and to deliver social, legal and immigration services to human trafficking victims.
The Task Force serves as a mechanism for communication and strategic collaboration between law enforcement agencies and service providers; coordinates community resources; promotes community awareness of the human trafficking; and trains intermediary communities on human trafficking indicators and responses.
How it works
By coordinating their policies and using standard procedures for identifying and treating victims, law enforcement can streamline the crime-fighting process through a uniform case management procedure for law enforcement and standardized resources for community organizations.
Cases move more quickly when the task force is enlisted, and it establishes a network both for law enforcement and for the victim’s recovery. Because the task force handles so many cases, name recognition by the state attorney can get a search warrant issued faster.
Materials to use
• In 2009, several women (domestic) were rescued from a human trafficking ring in Pinellas County in a case initiated by the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office, which is an active member of the Task Force. The women's cell phones and all their personal identification were taken away. The abuse was violent: mental, physical and sexual, with an attempt to control their minds — The women were forced to dance and sell themselves at various nightclubs. Warned that they would be harmed or killed if they escaped or talked to anyone, someone watched them wherever they went. This case is still active.
• In 2007, a 15-year-old Mexican girl was rescued in the Clearwater area after having been trafficked into the US and becoming pregnant by her trafficker. The trafficker was arrested and prosecuted in another state and the victim was case-managed by Task Force victim services agencies. She has since been certified by HHS as a victim of a severe form of trafficking and received her T-Visa.
• In 2007, two female victims were rescued in the Clearwater and Tampa Bay areas who had been trafficked into the U.S. by large, organized criminal prostitution enterprise operating out of Guatamala and Colombia. The defendants in this case were convicted and sentenced up to 20 years in federal prison.
Suggested screening questions
The following are sample questions law enforcement, health care and other social service providers can ask in screening an individual to determine if he/she is a potential victim of human trafficking.
Before you ask the person any sensitive questions, try to get the person alone if they came to you accompanied by someone who could be a trafficker posing as a spouse, other family member or employer. However, when requesting time alone, you should do so in a manner that does not raise suspicions.
• Have you been physically harmed in any way?
• What are your working or living conditions like?
• Where do you sleep and eat?
• Do you sleep in a bed, on a cot or on the floor?
• Have you ever been deprived of food, water, sleep or medical care?
• Do you have to ask permission to eat, sleep or go to the bathroom?
• Are there locks on your doors and windows so you cannot get out?
• Has anyone threatened your family?
• Has your identification or documentation been taken from you?
• Is anyone forcing you to do anything that you do not want to do?
Key elements in the planning and development process
• Must have approval from the chief/sheriff
• Apply for any relevant federal funding/grants
-City council/local government may be needed to approve grant funding
• Create a new position of head detective in charge of human trafficking
-Will act as liaison with community, judges, other law enforcement
-Have human trafficking detective attend training courses to prepare for his/her new caseload
• Identify a point of contact who advocates for the cause that is non-LE, non-government
-Clearwater Police chose World Relief
International reach ensures victims from other countries can get help across borders
Bringing in nonprofit organizations with a name recognition can get citizens, legal community in support
• Fighting community disbelief
-Many unaware that human trafficking takes place within their community
-Send volunteers to local churches, etc to give presentations on the crimes
Train volunteers beforehand in how to frame the problem