“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.