Last week the FBI announced the sentencing of three suspects in Fremont, California on charges related to human trafficking. The sentencing marked the end of an investigation launched in April 2009 after the victim fled the home of the suspects, where she had been forced to cook, clean and provide child care for a year after her arrival from China in 2008.
Just how many different agencies can be involved in a human trafficking investigation? Let’s look at this case, since it provides an excellent example of a multi-disciplinary response.
The victim fled the suspects’ home and made contact with a citizen who, in turn, contacted the Fremont Police Department. Three officers responded and initiated an investigation. Since the victim did not speak English, the officers had to use a translation service so they could communicate with the victim. In the written report, the officers never use the terms slavery, domestic servitude or human trafficking to describe what the victim had been experiencing, but the officers clearly knew they had come across an unusual situation and prepared an excellent police report.
In a perfect world, the officers would have already received training on human trafficking and had a department or county protocol to follow, or known to contact a law enforcement agency or NGO (non-governmental organization) already involved in responding to human trafficking who could assist them. I don’t fault the officers or the Fremont Police Department, since most local law enforcement agencies have not received training. (There are many valid reasons for this being the current state of affairs, some of which I’ve written about previously.)
So the officers did what all good police officers do in a situation like this; they clearly documented their investigation, and then looked for the best way to protect the victim. They could not return the victim home, so they took her to a local hospital so her physical condition could be evaluated. After being treated at the hospital, the victim – now a “survivor” – was placed in a shelter operated by an member-organization of the South Bay Coalition to End Human Trafficking. It was this organization’s caseworker, and representative to the Coalition, who, reading the police report on the survivor’s experience, first recognized the case as potentially involving human trafficking.
The Coalition and the San Jose Police Department Human Trafficking Task Force are partners in responding to human trafficking. We are both funded by the U.S. Department of Justice, and are part a nation-wide, multi-disciplinary response to trafficking. Wanting to verify the case was being criminally investigated, the caseworker phoned our office and spoke with my colleague, Officer Jenn Dotzler. Jenn contacted the Fremont Police, obtained a copy of the initial police report and offered to coordinate passing the case onto our anti-trafficking partners at the United States Attorney’s Office.
We have great relations with all of our Federal partners and, since we are a federally-funded task force, in cases involving foreign nationals our standard protocol is to get them involved as soon as possible. Since this case was located outside our jurisdiction, we simply coordinated getting the case into the hands of the USAO. The USAO, in turn, brought in ICE Investigations and the FBI to assist with the investigation. The federal investigation moved quickly, with the suspects being indicted just weeks after the victim escaped.
Since April 2009 the victim has received aid from a variety of Coalition organizations, including immigration, housing, and language assistance.
(Several organizations comprise the membership of the South Bay Coalition to End Human Trafficking. Since some of these agencies routinely protect and assist individuals who are victims of violent crimes, for the organizations’ security and the security of the individuals they assist I have chosen to only identify the law enforcement organizations involved in this case.)
To summarize, this case involved two local police departments, three federal law enforcement agencies, one hospital, several victim service providers working in partnership through the Coalition, and the translation service used during the initial rescue of the victim. I’m sure there are others I’m not mentioning. And we should not forget the Good Samaritan citizen who did the right thing by contacting Fremont Police. Everyone involved deserves credit for freeing a woman from slavery.
The strategy of the U.S. DOJ Anti-Human Trafficking program is to build multi-disciplinary teams with law enforcement and service providers working together with a victim-centered approach. This approach works! None of the agencies involved in this case could have succeeded on their own. We need these connections. We need people in our community who know what trafficking is , and we need the professionals to care for the rescued slaves.
This why many of us spend so much time working with other agencies, service providers, faith- and community-based organizations. All of us want to make a difference. And when a victim of crime, any crime, is given aid, and the perpetrators are brought to justice, it has been a very good day, indeed!
Our thanks and appreciation go out to the Frement officers who did a suburb job. (Perhaps we will see you at Freedom Summit 2011). On a routine day in April 2009, you did the right thing and it has made all the difference in the world for one human trafficking survivor!