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Cook County Sheriff Eliasen warns of human trafficking

Jun 29, 2019 11:47AM ● By Editor

Sheriff Pat Eliasen.  Photo:  Cook County


By Sheriff Pat Eliasen from the Cook County Sheriff's Office and Public Safety Facebook page - June 28, 2019


Human Trafficking – What You Should Know
By: Sheriff Pat Eliasen

Human trafficking is one of the largest criminal enterprises in the world. Unlike the distribution and sale of drugs, human trafficking “supplies” are not expended after a single use. In comparison, the illegal drug profit in the United States is approximately $100 billion and human trafficking brings in approximately $32 billion annually. This makes people trafficking the most lucrative trafficking crime after drugs, according to statistics from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD, 2006). Every year, one to two million children, women and men become victims of human trafficking; while traffickers make anywhere between $4,000 and $50,000 per person trafficked, depending on the victim’s place of origin and destination. Traffickers will utilize their “product” over and over making this criminal business very lucrative. The organizers of a trafficking business are not foolish and use many forms of control such as; coercion, drug addiction, mental and physical manipulation and the promise of a romantic relationship or security or belonging to lure and eventually enslave their victims. 

What to Watch For
Unfortunately, the signs of a trafficked victim are not glaring and may in some cases seem minimal unless you are looking for them. These signs can include:
• Appearing malnourished or destitute, e.g. lacking personal possessions
• Showing signs of physical or sexual abuse: bruises, cuts, black eyes, burn marks
• Visible anxiety or fear; lack of eye contact or social interaction
• Seeming to adhere to scripted or rehearsed responses in social interaction
• Lacking official identification documents
• Working excessively long hours or living at place of employment
• Checking into hotels/motels with older males. An older companion who seems to be in control of a younger person.
• Tattoos or branding on the neck and/or lower back
• Lingering at bus stops, hotel lobbies or other public places
• Untreated sexually transmitted diseases
• Inappropriate dress for the individual’s age or weather
• Security measures that appear to keep people inside an establishment, i.e. barbed wire inside of a fence, bars covering the insides of windows, not allowing people to go into public alone, or speak for themselves.

Of course, these signs are exhibited by our population each day in some form and are typical of a routine life, but when you begin to put some of them together in a specific situation, they may point to someone in need of help. 

Beginning in 2011, the State of Minnesota began looking at those who were involuntarily caught up in the trafficking business as something other than criminals with the passing of the Safe Harbor legislation. This law focused on a paradigm shift from treating youth victims of human trafficking as suspects and criminals to looking at them as the victims which they are. These people are treated with dignity and respect, and directed to supportive services, and shelter and housing that meet their needs and recognize their right to make their own choices. It is widely known by law enforcement that victims will cooperate very little even when detained due to the dependence which has been ingrained into them by the handlers. By shifting the focus to victim rather than suspect, there has been an increased number of cases brought to prosecution due to the willingness of victims to speak out and assist law enforcement. Victims are moved from state to state and city to city quite often to avoid detection from law enforcement and targeted areas for solicitation are truck stops. Along with the Safe Harbor law, the issue of transportation of victims both within our borders and internationally has been addressed by the State. The Minnesota Department of Transportation (MNDOT) has begun an initiative to increase awareness in this area by issuing a proclamation announcing MNDOT’s commitment to take a stand against human trafficking, educating employees on how to recognize and report signs of human trafficking, raising awareness among the traveling public on human trafficking issues by utilizing common messaging in targeted outreach campaigns, measuring our collective impact on human trafficking by tracking and sharing key data points.

Who Is at Risk and Local Initiatives
Trafficking victims can be anyone. It is very easy for adolescents and teens to become vulnerable to traffickers, especially if there is a lack of support around them. Studies have shown that runaways have been “recruited” within 48 hours. Average entry into prostitution is between 12-14 years old. While not reported as much, males are just as much at risk as females. 

Cook County is not immune to human trafficking. With a high tourist activity, many remote areas and proximity to an international border and tribal communities, this is a concern and something we can all be vigilant against. Vulnerable people from communities all across Minnesota have been victimized into trafficking, it’s not just an international trade. Through participation in several joint initiatives with neighboring counties we’ve learned of many cases from central and northern Minnesota of people getting sucked into the trade. 

The Cook County Sheriff’s Office has been working collaboratively with other agencies in northern Minnesota to combat this crime with specific focus on reservations and tribal communities. Due to the complexity and clandestine nature of these crimes, the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa has organized the Tribes United against Sex Trafficking (TRUST) Task Force. The project seeks to:

• Increase the number of sex trafficking cases identified and investigated
• Assist victim/survivors of sex trafficking in accessing resources for their recovery 
• Identify individuals at risk of being trafficked and initiate interventions
• Offer cross-jurisdictional training on sex trafficking in urban, rural, and tribal settings
• Increase cultural competency and create go-to contacts for outreach  
• Increase offender accountability
• Develop a communication system among Tribal Communities and neighboring communities.

Collaboration is a staple for successful sex trafficking investigations. Many cases involve data collected across multiple jurisdictions. The Cook County Sheriff’s Office has a dedicated member participating on this Task Force which has successfully completed several trafficking “stings” and will continue to operate into the future. Continued vigilance into the investigation and prosecution of these cases is a very high priority of all enforcement in the State of Minnesota. 

If You See Something That Doesn’t Seem Right, Report It
If you witness any signs of an individual being trafficked and your intuition tells you something isn’t right, don’t be afraid to report it. Call the Sheriff’s Office, either at 911 or Dispatch Non-Emergency number at 218-387-3030. Your instincts and awareness could very well save a life. 

The State of Minnesota provides a statewide network of victim-centered, trauma informed services and safe housing through Safe Harbor services for sexually exploited youth. To connect with a trained navigator and find services, call the Day One Crisis Hotline at 1-866-223-1111 or text 612-399-9995.

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