One of the components necessary to effectively combat human trafficking is local law enforcement. In every country corruption is one aspect that allows trafficking to flourish. In some countries everyone – from the police to the commissioners – will take a bribe. Sometimes it’s for money; sometimes it’s for free access to the girls. Whatever it is corruption allows the traffickers/pimps and buyers to move freely and bypass the very people whose function is to protect others.
But what if the offense of the authorities is not corruption but ignorance? What if the police don’t know that the prostituted woman they just picked up is, in fact, a victim of trafficking? Instead of treating her like the criminal they should treat her like the victim. What if when they go to investigate a domestic dispute or a drunk driving incident they never stop to consider who the quiet twelve year old in the corner really is?
What amount of trafficking in the US is committed because the authorities just don’t know? Some of this ignorance is self-inflicted. Some don’t care where that girl came from; some don’t want to get involved. But when you take an oath to protect and administer justice that includes extending it to those brought here against their will, the runaway trafficked by a pimp and the little girl being prostituted by her uncle. To administer true justice is to provide it to those who cannot defend themselves.
So what can be done? I think there should be a trafficking task force in every station – a controlled, accountable, transparent force that fights trafficking. We have it for drugs and we have it for murder. Trafficking in persons is the second (or third depending on the source) highest grossing illegal trade after drugs and weapons. According to the FBI, 17,034 people were murdered in the US in 2006. That is equal to the number of people trafficked into the US annually. So if we have detectives to solve murders in every department, and we have drug units in most (if not all) stations, then why not a trafficking force whose job it is to track down brothels and arrest pimps? They would be the ones called in when a prostituted woman is picked up to train their colleagues on the facts and faces of trafficking.
It is great that we have anti-trafficking departments in many government agencies, but they can’t patrol I-95, be in the middle of Nebraska, and monitor our borders all the same time. They need to work with more local forces; organized, trained, transparent units.
The US long ago determined corruption in our force would not be tolerated. It still happens, it always will. But if we can combat ignorance, while keeping the penalties for corruption costly enough, our law enforcement officials will be able to spot that trafficked twelve year old before she meets her next purchaser.