Presentation by Richard Hoskins on The Human Trafficking Conference in Budapest on 4 December 2017
Good morning— I am grateful for the opportunity to speak with you today on this important topic. When making a presentation, I usually say I will try to make it enjoyable as well as informative, but this topic defies any attempts to be made enjoyable, because I have decided to focus on an aspect of human trafficking that is particularly offensive to consider.
Today, I will focus on child sex trafficking. A thorough examination of all aspects of any type of human trafficking could easily fill a semester’s curriculum. Allow me to provide an extremely brief and broad overview of sex trafficking of minors (from a law enforcement perspective).
In the 32 years I spent as a police officer and FBI agent, I dealt with all manner of criminals: I sat across from a mass murderer and took his confession as he detailed killing an entire family; I have looked into the soulless eyes of a LCN hitman knowing if the situation were different he would kill me without a minute’s hesitation and experience no remorse; I have spent months undercover with drug dealers knowing they had been responsible for the deaths of fellow officers. Throughout all of these experiences I maintained a professional perspective, distancing myself from personal opinions and feelings about the perpetrators. I was resolute and focused, always keeping my personal feelings out of it.
Approaching the job scientifically is part of our training and it is necessary for our mental well-being. I must admit that I have always found it challenging to maintain this professional detachment when the crime involves children. I was very focused on one of my trips to the city morgue investigating a case. We had word that a homicide victim might be an informant of mine so I went to identify the body. In a situation like this, it is important to view the body not as the person they were but as part of the crime scene containing potentially vital evidence.
While there I saw the body of a small child that had been killed while crossing a street. The body had yet to go through the initial examination. She was about five or six years old, with straight blonde hair and a pink and white dress. One of her shoes was off revealing mangled, scuffed socks. The angle of her foot indicated one of many broken bones.
This body stopped me in my tracks and pulled me right out of the detached professional zone to which I so often retreated, and such is the case with child sex trafficking. It is a real challenge to remain detached when you see these young lives being ruined. It is bad enough that there are those who would prey on children and rob them of their innocence with sexual perversions, but when I consider there are people evil and greedy enough to organize a business around trafficking these children I find it difficult not to be personally outraged.
U.S. Domestic Human Trafficking
U.S. domestic human trafficking often involves sex rings that use minors. Trafficking of minors takes place from state to state. Placing images on the Internet adds an entirely new dimension to trafficking and exploitation of minors. There are 100,000 new escort advertisements posted online every day, including those featuring children.
Supply and Demand
Demand: who are the customers? They are from all walks of life: sports coaches, teachers, doctors, and police officers. In regards to police I have personal experience.
Johnson Case (Name Changed)
At 23 I was a young police officer, and one of my closest friends on the force was just a couple of years younger than I. We were raised under similar circumstances, with similar values. We were among the first in our department to use available programs to study criminal justice, and later we both pursued graduate degrees in law enforcement.
Over the years we kept in touch as I continued my career in the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and he went on to become a Chief of Police. Several years ago I received a call from a relative alerting me that my friend had been arrested and charged with solicitation of a minor over the Internet. According to the evidence, he was engaging in online discussions with someone he believed to be an underage teenage girl; in actuality, he was communicating with a police detective. Before he could stand trial he suffered a stroke resulting in significant brain damage. His recall is severely compromised and he cannot remember visits or conversations that have taken place the previous day. Several specialists confirmed the damage was real and not likely to reverse itself, thus he was deemed unfit to stand trial.
His family has relayed messages to me as recently as last month that he has asked about me. I always tell his family I will call him soon but in truth I struggle to reconcile the crime he committed. I have a knowledgeable appreciation of the weight of the evidence, and having served undercover (UC) I can tell you there is little likelihood he did not commit the crime. The detective on the other end of the email exchange would have carefully collected all the evidence needed to satisfy the elements constituting the offense and would not have sought the arrest warrant until that threshold had been crossed. I have yet to bring myself to talk to him.
It is estimated that there are 100,000-300,000 American children at risk of being trafficked each year. The average age of a trafficked child is 15. The underground economy based on sex trafficking is USD 98.8 million in Dallas, Texas; USD 103 million in Washington, DC; USD 235 million in Miami, Florida; and USD 290 million in Atlanta, Georgia.
As a society, we often lack situational awareness—we miss important signs. We overlooked signs of increasing violent youth gang activity like increased fights and bullying in schools, kids wearing uniform colors, graffiti, and sneakers hanging from power lines. Parents, teachers, siblings, and friends might also miss warning signs that children they know might be susceptible to sex trafficking recruitment.
Recruiters are exceptional at targeting at-risk children, and now the Internet has provided them a powerful tool. 63% trafficking survivors report being recruited online. When a pre-teen or teen visits certain sites, the trafficker realizes there is a strong possibility this is a potential candidate. Provocative sites can entice curious teens, and no parental protection to deny access says a lot about home life. FBI agents currently working these violations advised me of cases where pimps promote the lifestyle they offered by posting pictures on their webpage wearing expensive jewelry and clothes or posing with expensive cars.
The recruiters tailor their approach to the particular circumstance of the victim carefully exploiting specific vulnerabilities. After recruiters establish initial online contact, they slowly and skillfully develop trust (asking questions like “when is your birthday?” “what do you like to do?” and “what’s your favorite music?”
Once they establish a relationship they entice pre-teen or teen by offering: a safe environment and protection from a dangerous home situation, a promise of freedom from adult supervision, the opportunity to gain more independence by making their own money through modeling, sales, etc., or offering to provide drugs or alcohol then later insisting they pay large debt, which forces compliance.
Case study: Girl recruited via email from co-worker at McDonalds. Email asked if she wanted to make real money and be in charge of her own schedule. They told her she would be selling handbags state to state. Her mother allowed her to go but panicked when she lost touch with her daughter. The child was recovered six weeks later in a hotel room in another state. She had been forced to have sex with adult customers on numerous occasions. She returned home to her mother but remains traumatized. She will not allow her mother to comfort or embrace her because she feels dirty and unworthy of affection.
Some might ask why she did not just leave or run to authorities for help getting home. Pimps are very experienced with controlling their victims. Their modus operandi is to gain psychological control and then use coercion and violence to maintain it.
The FBI has seen cases where the pimp posted video of punishments as a warning to other victims. In one such case a minor was forced to sit in a tub of ice water and was not allowed to move or make eye contact. At one point in the video the victim was struck with closed fists resulting in a broken nose just for requesting food.
Prostitutes or Victims
Unlike in the case of prostitution, these minors cannot legally consent. However, in some cases the victims are charged with prostitution. In many U.S. states the victims of human trafficking are not viewed as victims at all but rather as criminals. This is changing however; for example, in 2013 California passed a law that prevents child victims from being charged as adults.
There are fewer than 600 beds in the U.S. dedicated to specialized long term care of child sex trafficking victims. 27 states have no beds for long term recovery.
FBI Violent Crimes against Children (VCAC) Program
Mission: decrease the vulnerability of children to sexual exploitation; develop a nationwide capacity to provide a rapid, effective, and measured investigative response to crimes against children; and enhance the capabilities of state and local law enforcement investigators through programs, investigative assistance, and task force operations.
Investigative priorities include:
- Child abductions – non-ransom child abductions, domestic parental kidnapping
- Child sexual exploitation enterprises –domestic child prostitution, online networks and enterprises
- Contact offenses against children –domestic travel with intent to engage in illegal sexual activity with children, child sex tourism (international travel to engage in sexual activity with children), production of child pornography, coercion/enticement of a minor
- Trafficking of child pornography –mass distribution of child pornography, possession of child pornography
- International parental kidnapping
- Other crimes against children –all other crimes against children violations within the FBI’s jurisdiction are investigated in accordance with available resources
Some FBI divisions have various squads dedicated to these violations. Squads are directed to specific types of trafficking. There are squads that focus on domestic trafficking while others handle international violations.
FBI charges these pimps with several violations: up to 10 years for trafficking minors; if victim is under 14 the sentence can be tripled. Agents estimate as many as 60% of cases go to trial because pimps gamble that the victims will not testify.
Money-laundering charges may be applied for use of pre-paid credit cards to mask lavish purchases in support of the enterprise. This will also allow the FBI to use asset forfeiture, which in my experience is often a more effective tool than incarceration. One aggressive San Diego Assistant United States Attorney even took the pimp’s grill (teeth).
Human Trafficking and Organized Crime (OC)
The type of U.S. domestic trafficking I have described has limited associations with OC as defined by the FBI—most pimps run their operations alone. San Diego FBI had a case where rival gangs set aside their differences and operated their child prostitution rings together to increase profits. Pimps have also been known to entrust their stable of sex workers to the care of a rival pimp while incarcerated. There is no widespread involvement of major crime groups like Russian mafia, or LCN with domestic U.S. traffickers.
In the U.S., state and federal law enforcement partner to address this horrific crime. A typical task force might be composed of FBI, police department, state police, sheriff’s department, and prosecutor’s office.
National organizations are equally crucial, such as the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Task forces will also work with local agencies such as child and family protective services. These agencies are crucial because many minors often have open cases. The social services can provide crucial historical background information and fill intelligence gaps, and take custody or provide immediate counseling after the arrest of a pimp. There are also programs designed to transition the victim back into society.
In addition to its domestic human trafficking cases, the FBI-VCAC also conducts international cases. International child sex tourism cases address individuals who travel overseas to have sex with children, including making images of these children in support of the violation, because of less structured, investigated, or enforced child sex laws. If the intent can be proven, these violations can lead to separate charges, even if the act did not take place.
FBI squads often become involved pursuant to complaints from a host country. Being issued a passport and visa is a privilege, which implies U.S. responsibility to protect granting nation from repercussions after extending permission to U.S. citizen for visit. The U.S. takes complaints that U.S. citizens have violated host nation laws seriously.
Cases are generated when the host country’s law enforcement agencies contact the FBI Legal Attaché (LEGAT). The LEGAT then brings the appropriate US FBI divisions and resources into the investigation. The FBI conducts cases parallel to the host country’s which is not the same as a joint investigation. They support one another’s cases but if the offense takes place in the host country then that is who will make the arrest. Cases are tried in the host country because the laws were violated there. Upon conviction the defendant is imprisoned in the host country. The U.S. citizen defendant owes a debt to that nation for violating its laws and victimizing its children.
The top priority of the FBI and all U.S. law enforcement is to avoid re-victimization of the child.
The concern over their well-being and the desire to avoid trauma outweighs the need to use them as witnesses. Even if a U.S. based case would benefit from a victim testimony, the victim will not be requested to fly to the U.S. to serve as a witness if there is even a remote chance it will be detrimental in any way to the victim.
As with domestic child sex trafficking cases, the FBI depends heavily on non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and faith-based organizations. In the U.S., the victims often come in contact with these organizations rather than the police. These groups often have history with the victims and have maintained files containing useful information.
NGOs also contact FBI through the LEGAT. NGOs face huge challenges when cooperating with FBI on cases. Once the FBI becomes involved there are restrictions on the information they can share with the NGOs about the ongoing investigation. Unfortunately the defense may also try to attack the credibility of NGO witnesses by claiming their only motivation for turning people into the authorities is to generate donations.
According to the agents with whom I have spoken there, is not a strong nexus between OC and child sex traffickers. There may be some tangential connections but no firm established partnerships. Pimps may use hotels with OC connections without being part of the OC organization.
Operation Cross Country
Operation Cross Country XI, a nationwide effort focusing on underage human trafficking, conducted 12-15 October 2017. The FBI and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children reported 84 minors recovered and 120 traffickers arrested. This 11th iteration of the FBI-led operation took place in 55 FBI field offices. There were 78 state and local task forces, consisting of hundreds of law enforcement partners. Several international partners, including Canada (Operation Northern Spotlight), the United Kingdom (Aident 8), Thailand, Cambodia, and the Philippines also worked in concert with this effort.
In one incident from the operation, Denver FBI arrested a subject who offered an undercover officer access to two children for sexual purposes in exchange for USD 600. The subject was a friend of the children’s family. The two children were little girls: three months old and five years old. The FBI is working with Child Protective Services to conduct a forensic interview and secure safe placement of the children.
I thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today on this important topic. I must admit it has been inspirational on many fronts. I am always reassured when I have the opportunity to speak with active duty FBI personnel carrying on the traditions of the agency. I am especially proud when I see their dedication to addressing crucial issues such as Human Trafficking in any form. It is no less inspirational to see the gathered assembly of experts here today who share that awareness of the importance of this matter and dedication to combating it.
Thank you again for this opportunity.