Imprisoned in the American Nightmare

Freeing the silent sufferers of human trafficking and bringing their captors to justice


     Money laundering is one crime associated with human trafficking, adds Forman, who points out federal agencies are well poised to help investigate varied types of crime. ICE aids agencies by working with financial institutions to confiscate the money traffickers bring in. "This crime is a type of terrorism and it's all about the money," she explains. "The lifeblood of any organization is the money that allows them to do what they do. We target those assets."

     Working federally also secures access to needed money and services for victims, adds Kimball. "The federal government is ahead of the curve in terms of what state and local governments are able to do right now," she says.

     Forman states ICE rates victim rights and needs as high as going after the subjects of the investigation. The organization offers more than 300 victim-witness coordinators, who've received specialized training to deal with human trafficking victims. ICE also arranges T-Visas for international victims.

     When traffickers coerce or force modern day slaves to work in inhumane conditions, perform unspeakable acts, and isolate their victims both physically and psychologically to keep them from escaping, law enforcement officers must step in. Local law enforcement is in a unique position to shatter the silence these victims keep — if they ask the right questions and partner with local, state and federal agencies to bring these perpetrators to justice.

     In the words of the moderator on "I Just Keep Quiet," "Victims of trafficking cannot reach out to us, we must reach out to them." Working these cases the right way can give these silent sufferers back their voices.

Trafficking vs. Smuggling

     U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) defines the difference between human trafficking and human smuggling as follows:

  • Human trafficking: Sex trafficking victims are induced into commercial sex acts by force, fraud or coercion. Victims under age 18, who are induced to perform such acts, also fall under the human trafficking umbrella. Labor trafficking involves recruiting, harboring, transporting or obtaining a person for labor or services through the use of force, fraud or coercion. This person is then subjected to involuntary servitude, debt bondage or slavery.
  • Human smuggling: Importing people into the United States by deliberately evading immigration laws. This offense includes bringing illegal aliens into the United States as well as unlawfully transporting and harboring aliens already here.

     ICE offers agencies a Tip Identifying card to help distinguish the difference between trafficking and smuggling victims. Agencies also can produce a public service announcement in English or Spanish. Both can be requested through ICE at www.ICE.gov. ICE also has introduced the public service announcement campaign: "Hidden In Plain Sight' across the United States. The advertisements can be seen on buses and billboards in Washington, D.C., and other cities.

Questions to ask

     What appears to be a run-of-the-mill traffic stop, domestic abuse situation, or child neglect case may be far more — it may be human trafficking, says Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske of Seattle, Washington. Properly identifying these cases requires officers to ask the right questions at these calls, adds Det. Jason Young, law enforcement liaison for western Missouri's Human Trafficking Rescue Project. Among the things to consider are:

  • Are the victims nervous or uncooperative? Human traffickers often threaten to kill victims or their families, if they speak to police.
  • Do subjects have free access to where they live? Traffickers may lock victims inside a home, chain them up or put them in cages at night. Look for signs on victims themselves, such as marks on their wrist or ankles.
  • What are the conditions of the home? Are many individuals living in small cramped quarters?
  • Do subjects have access to their paperwork? Traffickers confiscate victims' passports or green cards so they cannot leave. With domestic victims, traffickers may seize their birth certificate and driver's license.
  • How long have they been in the jurisdiction? Traffickers may frequently move victims, particularly in the sex trade where they may transport them to new locations weekly.
  • What type of work were they doing and were they getting paid for their work?
  • How old are they? Kids on the street may answer 18, but make the inquiry in a number of different ways, i.e. What year were you born? What is your birth date?
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