Special Reports

Experts offer ideas to address trafficking

The Kansas City Star asked top human trafficking experts across the country to identify ways to improve America’s anti-slavery efforts at home. Their responses are edited for length. Bradley Schlozman

, former principal deputy assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and interim U.S. attorney for the Western District of Missouri; now in private practice in Wichita: “The exploitation of individuals in abusive work settings is, by design, a hidden crime. Thus, from a law enforcement perspective, there is perhaps no more effective method for combating the scourge of human trafficking than the establishment of dedicated, proactive units that share intelligence and work collaboratively across jurisdictional lines. This means assigning a cadre of prosecutors and agents who can master the mechanisms of recruitment, transportation, exploitation, and intimidation that impede victims from coming forward.

“Investigators must learn to develop solid evidence without reliance upon the victim. A dedicated trafficking unit must also work with other law enforcement agencies and members of the community.

“All too often, just when investigators and prosecutors attain an expertise, they are pulled away to other matters, reassigned to other units, or simply move on. This absence of continuity means that years of training and experience are continually lost.

“No criticism is intended here. After all, in a period of strapped budgets and competing priorities, every law enforcement agency must make hard financial choices.”

Nola Theiss

, executive director, Human Trafficking Awareness Partnerships, Sanibel, Fla.:

“First, we have to find the victims. Without informed eyes and ears in the community, law enforcement will not get leads they need.

“Most people don’t ‘get it’ until they actually hear someone who can not only cite facts and statistics, but can also make important distinctions, like the difference between smuggling and trafficking and prostitution and domestic minor sex trafficking.

“There are three groups which need to understand the crime and the remedies for it.

“Targeted groups: Often victims are found in fields, hotels, sex clubs, or on the streets, malls, or bus stations. Targeted outreach includes on the street, in the sex club targeted outreach. It also includes neighborhoods, churches, social clubs in the immigrant communities and schools and groups that serve teenagers.

“Professional Groups: Professionals such as hospital and health workers, clinics, code enforcement agencies, and labor and alcohol regulators may have access to victims.

“The Community: Citizens need to become aware that trafficking can occur in their neighborhoods and that any vulnerable person can be affected, including people who look like their children as well as their landscaper, domestic worker or the waitress in their favorite restaurant.”

Mark Lagon,

Forrmer State Department anti-trafficking czar and now CEO of the Polaris Project, a nonprofit that combats human trafficking, and runs the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hot line (1-888-373-7888):

“Victims of human trafficking should be afforded basic rights. Government should provide access to comprehensive social and legal services for all victims, without limitations based on gender, citizenship or documented status, language skills, age, or type of trafficking.

“Too often, victims of human trafficking are blamed for their circumstances and are detained and punished. A victim-centered approach needs to be a reality of deeds as well as words.

“But victim-centered efforts alone are not enough. Human traffickers should be prosecuted and punished. It is important to employ creative and innovative prosecution strategies that utilize all relevant parts of the criminal code, including applicable federal laws, state laws, and laws about financial crimes and tax evasion. Moreover, ‘johns’ or the so-called ‘customers’ who buy sex from adults or minors are also exploiters deserving punishment.

“Like the slavery of old, human trafficking must be abolished and eradicated. It will not suffice to mitigate or regulate the trade in humans. We must work to empower victims of human trafficking to reclaim their lives and make positive choices for their futures. We must hold those enslaving and exploiting them to account, to show our resolve to end this injustice.”

Alese Wooditch

, former intelligence analyst at the U.S. Department of Labor and now a doctoral student in the Justice, Law, and Crime Policy Program at George Mason University:

“Reducing human trafficking into and within the United States requires greater emphasis on assisting trafficking victims. Current anti-trafficking efforts focus on law enforcement efforts, yet the United States struggles to prosecute traffickers due, in large part, to the inability to identify trafficking victims.

“Foreign populations especially pose a challenge as victims remain wary of law enforcement’s role in investigating trafficking cases, and law enforcement officers often need to overcome language barriers.

“Human trafficking task forces address such issues, but have fallen short. Additional measures need to be taken to strengthen partnerships between law enforcement and victim service providers. An avenue that has yet to be explored is the solicitation of leads and assistance from immigrant and refugee assistance programs.

“Currently, a considerable portion of the U.S. budget is allocated to the investigation and prosecution of traffickers at the local, state, and federal levels. While United States policy does provide for the protection of victims, this goal is clearly secondary to the criminal prosecution of traffickers.

“A shift in focus to a more victim-centered approach will facilitate the conviction of traffickers through victim protection, and result in a more balanced and effective anti-trafficking strategy for the United States.”

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