“I was standing on the beach this morning,” a police officer from the Midwest told me as we sat outside a hotel in Clearwater, Florida, “and I thought, man it feels good not to have to look at child pornography for a few days.” Assigned to cyber crimes in his police department, part of the officer’s job is to track down and arrest those producing and transmitting child pornography. At the fifth annual International Association of Human Trafficking Investigators conference, he was provided a much-needed break from a job that can grind away at even the strongest individuals.
I was invited to the IAHTI conference this June by the organizers and was more than pleased to attend due to my interest in the issues involved, issues which touch everything from the welfare of our children to national security. Bringing together law enforcement officers, prosecutors, and experts from around the globe, the IAHTI is a place where investigators can share their experiences and evaluate growing trends. Presenters ranged from policemen detailing specific cases they have worked on to DARPA talking about how child pornographers peddle illegal images on the dark web.
Although human trafficking generates a lot of outrage amongst the public, the electorate still pushes this particular issue to the side in favor of other law enforcement issues ranging from white-collar crime to counterterrorism. If only al-Qaeda was involved in domestic human trafficking, maybe our law enforcement agencies could finally get the funding they need to truly crack down on the problem. The cyber-crimes cop I spoke with told me that he and his partner are overwhelmed and that his office could easily employ six to eight more officers full time.
Likewise, resources are often not available to help victims process what has happened to them and transition into normal life. Imagine a teenage girl who has been sexually abused in her home as long as she can remember before being trafficked for sex. For her, this is her normal—she doesn’t know anything else. As one presenter pointed out, the victims often do not see themselves as victims when they are interviewed by law enforcement.
The reality is that human trafficking will never be completely eradicated, but degrading the practice requires resolving some issues that appear rather mundane by comparison to SWAT team raids or even televised “catch a predator”-type stings. These are issues like poverty, a broken foster care system, and child abuse within the family, all of which leave girls and boys (it is estimated that about 40 percent of human trafficking victims are male) vulnerable to traffickers.
Vertical and horizontal proliferation of human trafficking is truly shocking. It’s vertical in the sense of how frequent trafficking is, with somewhere around 15,000 people, often juveniles, being trafficked per year in the United States. It’s horizontal in the sense that the various types of perpetrators and victims are astounding. From pimps running underage sex trafficking rings in prison to those strong-arming girls on America’s streets and at truck stops. The victims are largely impoverished, but not all; even affluent children with good parents sometimes end of being trafficked.
The volume of victims and traffickers that our law enforcement officers are charged with helping and prosecuting is truly astounding, with no end in sight. As a hundred-plus attendees sat watching a presentation, everyone’s cell phone began going off in unison. It was an AMBER Alert for a missing girl in Tampa.
What should particularly interest SOFREP readers is human trafficking in and around U.S. military installations. If soldiers knew they were purchasing sex from a trafficked individual, I believe that most would turn away from such an opportunity. Just the other day, a report emerged about a 19-year-old soldier, stationed at Fort Bragg, being trafficked. Even strip clubs and amateur pornography are tied up in human trafficking, as these seemingly legitimate businesses can be used to launder money for the pimps.
America cares about human trafficking, but for the time being, we do not seem to care enough to attack the issue with the seriousness that it deserves.
Featured image courtesy of George Hand. The girl is estimated by experts to be as young as 11 years old, which is not uncommon among trafficked girls.