“They can sell drugs or guns once, but they can sell a person over and over and over.”
This was one of many sobering lines spoken at the International Association of Human Trafficking Investigators (IAHTI) annual training conference this week. In the sunny, tourist-laden Clearwater, Florida, representatives from law enforcement and non-governmental organizations met to share their resources and knowledge. Attendees hailed from all corners of the globe, not to mention a range of states within the U.S.
Human trafficking is a problem typically associated with low-income, foreign nations. And yet, many of the countries represented at the IAHTI are plenty wealthy and successful — the United States has its own, very serious problem with human trafficking. And in the U.S., it’s not necessarily relegated to major coastal cities as one might think. Rural human trafficking is alive and well; I recently covered a case in Ocala, a small town in central Florida where a man was pimping out his girlfriend, controlling and abusing her while forcing her to work the sex industry and give him all of her income. Ocala is a quiet town, and human trafficking even found its way there.
As human trafficking flourishes in many areas of the world, so there are men and women there to combat it. IAHTI is full of such people, and they all have their various specialties and niches. There was a detective who had worked these types of cases in the past, a Program Manager for a nationally integrated NGO that works to help trafficked children, and there was everyone in between.
Some of these people lead incredibly difficult careers. By definition, they are constantly interacting with traffickers, victims of human trafficking, victims’ families, media content involving human trafficking, or sometimes a combination of several. One duty described on Wednesday was of studying pornographic videos of children, attempting to discern the location and/or identity of anyone in the video.
Needless to say, these men and women have accomplished a lot, and through their strenuous efforts they have saved countless lives, given closure to anguished families, and built infrastructure to prevent these cases however often they can. The IAHTI annual training conference has been about sharing the knowledge that made them successful, and reaching out helping hands to one another as they combat human trafficking all over the world.
All images courtesy of the author.