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Human Trafficking and Smuggling: What’s in Your Backyard?
By Mark Butler
Published: 05/13/2013

Van Human trafficking and smuggling—whether sex trafficking, indentured servitude, or debt bondage—have existed in every century and in every country. These crimes are usually committed because they meet a cultural need or because dominant groups are exploiting less powerful groups; but whatever the cause, these forms of slavery are about the worst crimes humans can commit against each other. Perhaps even worse is that we often treat the victims like criminals or rationalize that these crimes are just a way of life. But the worst aspect of all is that these crimes will continue as long as we allow—and so we can no longer turn a blind eye to them.

Since 9/11, the United States has focused on homeland security, and a spotlight on human smuggling has caused local and federal law enforcement to attempt to address these heinous crimes. In the debate whether human smuggling falls under the jurisdiction of federal or local law enforcement, some states have decided to create laws to restrict these crimes in addition to their residual activities like harboring and transporting victims. But with all the other important issues that compete for law-enforcement attention—narcotics trafficking, firearms violations, bombs, immigration—we have not yet even scratched the surface in addressing the issue.

Training in identifying human trafficking and smuggling has fallen painfully short in many jurisdictions. Has your district ever used zoning violations to enforce housing regulations? Did you know that enforcing the regulated number of bedrooms to persons at a residence can often uncover sex-trafficking violations? Have your officers responded to a 911 call with 10 military cots positioned in the basement? Did they know that such positioning is typical of sex trafficking? When processing women for prostitution, have your officers been able to identify which women are victims of sex trafficking? Your officers might be dealing with an offender and a victim at the same time—and recognizing this can be a unique challenge, since officers on the street and working in corrections have been trained to recognize criminals, not victims. But proper training can help officers in all phases of law enforcement understand and combat these situations.

It’s true that nonprofit organizations have spent millions of dollars educating officers on human smuggling and trafficking—but this training doesn’t include methods to actually combat these crimes, which is key for law enforcement and corrections. To combat human smuggling, officers don’t need to know what the crime is; they need to know how to identify its patterns and attack residual crimes to disrupt supply chains.

As a police officer who has devoted the last 10 years to fighting these crimes, I can tell you that your average criminal does not possess the organization, manpower, and resources required to smuggle a living, breathing human through different regions. These criminals have to be highly organized to move people, money, guns, drugs, and other profitable items through our towns and cities. In fact, the intricate planning and resources needed are similar to those of gangs and narcotics-trafficking organizations—which law enforcement has been able to successfully infiltrate for decades. Countless officers have been trained to uncover hidden information when infiltrating gangs and drug-trafficking organizations; they can also be trained to do so for insidious sex-trafficking crimes, which require a few more questions and inquiries.

For example, just a few questions could uncover a criminal organization hidden in your jurisdictional backyard:
  • How long have you been in the United States?
  • Do you ever travel back to your country?
  • Did you pay someone to get here? If so, how much? How did that transaction work?
  • Did you owe money when you arrived here?
  • Is anyone responsible for your debt?
  • How do you travel around the United States?
  • Is someone responsible for your movements?

Asking questions like these can help officers identify indicators and victims of human-smuggling organizations.

These questions are just the beginning of the process; once the victims and crimes are identified, department leadership and the legal system can provide the support to successfully prosecute the perpetrators and disrupt their supply chains, ending the horrific cycle of trafficking. My work in the last decade has shown me that human trafficking and smuggling occurs throughout the United States. To combat it, we need to train our officers not to focus on what but on who is responsible for these crimes and how. Once they are trained to do so, we will have moved one step forward in the long war against this heinous criminal activity.

Mark Butler, CEO of 3D Professional Training and Consulting, has spent more than 20 years in military and public service for citizens of the United States. Mark is currently an officer with the Herndon Police Department in Virginia, he is available to shares his knowledge and experience with officers through training courses.


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