Law Enforcement Learn New Approach to Investigate Human Trafficking Crimes
Law enforcement professionals in South Carolina learned new skills to identify human trafficking victims and investigate human trafficking crimes. 148 dedicated officers and agents from 58 agencies attended the training. Officers from neighboring states, North Carolina and Georgia, also attended the human trafficking training. From November 2018 through April 2019, ERASE Child Trafficking (ERASE) through several collaborations, presented five classes in different locations in South Carolina.
ERASE started providing the Advanced Human Trafficking Investigations Law Enforcement Course in January of 2017. Many changes have been made to account for new laws, technology, trafficking trends, and above all, participant feedback. The current course curriculum was developed by Richard Hoffman, along with Victor Williams, and Sandra Sparks. Together they have expertise in local and federal law enforcement operations, investigations, and task-force leadership. In addition expertise in public policy, community engagement, and advocacy.
Instructors for the class were Rick Hoffman and Victor Williams. There are also several guest instructors that present during different classes, Shanika Ampah, Kelly Alsobrook, Jane Anderson, and Victim Assistant Specialist, SAC-Dallas, Homeland Security Investigations. Guest instructors include survivor leaders, community advocates, attorney advisor, and mental health professionals.
Human Trafficking Training
The goal of training is for officers to learn how to complete high impact investigations while being victim-centered. Lead instructor, Richard Hoffman, founder of IRIS Training and Consulting explains, “When teaching investigations on sex trafficking, one of the most common struggles for officers is differentiating between a prostitute and a person being prostituted. Every sex trafficking victim is forced or coerced to commit an act of prostitution. It is not always evident that these acts are being coerced or forced. Identification of victims and collection of evidence of coercion is a learned skill. A skill that must be taught and rehearsed to gain proficiency.”
The training covers the culture and mindset of human trafficking, principles, and practices of investigations and law enforcement tools and techniques. Due to regional and changing trafficking trends, Instructor Hoffman adjusted to the curriculum specifically for each class in South Carolina. The class includes several training labs for officers to gain experience utilizing new tools and technology. Throughout the class and during the labs, officers learn how to identify and recover a potential victim of sex trafficking. In addition, officers are provided training on a tool specific for law enforcement, created by Thorn and Digital Reasoning. Participants learn how best to use the tool as it applies to their investigations. Officers also learn the importance of focusing on the demand side of the commercial sex market. One of the labs covers how to use cost-effective deterrence methods to address sex buyers in their communities.
Viewing Human Trafficking Crimes Through a New Lens
Often, due to a lack of resources law enforcement agencies are unable to dedicate individuals exclusively to human trafficking investigations. Therefore, detectives and agents are shown, especially when working together, the resources they already have can be utilized to investigate human trafficking crimes. When officers view human trafficking crimes from the new perspective taught in class, they see the skills they use on a daily basis can be applied to human trafficking cases. Participants are taught new approaches along with no-cost law enforcement tools to address these crimes. Approaches that not only result in arrests but ones that positively impact their communities. And most importantly, they make a difference in the lives of trafficking victims.
Instructors covered in-depth why using the victim-centered approach is imperative. A victim-centered investigation is defined by Homeland Security Investigations, as “where equal value is placed on the identification and stabilization of victims, as well as the investigation and prosecution of traffickers,” Emphasized throughout the class is the needs of a victim are a priority in human trafficking investigations and placed above all other matters.
Instructor Victor Williams discusses the collaborative approach and why building and maintaining partnerships are key. All levels of law enforcement are needed to effectively investigate human trafficking crimes. Furthermore, NGO’s and community partnerships are needed for creating community events, spreading awareness, and finding resources to help individuals who have been trafficked.
Collaboration is Key
The classes included local guest speakers who shared their knowledge and expertise. Scott Hixson, Chief Deputy Solicitor, 15th Judicial Circuit, Special Assistant United States Attorney presented several times covering South Carolina and Federal Human Trafficking laws. Mr. Hixson discussed case scenarios and spent time answering questions from the officers. Assistant United States Attorneys Jamie Schoen and Matt Austin also presented at two of the classes.
Homeland Security Investigations Special Agent Shawn Caines presented a local case study to the participants of several classes. The case involved the disruption of a sex trafficking ring that resulted in the federal prosecution of more than 9 traffickers involving over 100 victims. The case was investigated in collaboration with Det. Charles Benton Jr. from the North Charleston Police Department. Detective Benton also presented to the class when ERASE’s training was held at Charleston County Sheriff’s Office in November.
The classes were co-hosted by regional human trafficking task forces, local law enforcement agencies and by Homeland Security Investigations (HSI). Homeland Security Investigations Assistant Special Agent in Charge (ASAC) Bernardo Pillot and Resident Agent in Charge (RAC), William Mataya were instrumental in coordinating the training in South Carolina with ERASE. Homeland Security Investigations in partnership with local law enforcement have several human trafficking task forces across South Carolina committed to the fight against human trafficking.