Faces of Human Trafficking Video 8: The Victim-Centered Case
This video features survivors, service providers, prosecutors, and local law enforcement who have worked on human trafficking cases that have ended with a successful prosecution. They stress the importance of proactive cases and collecting various kinds of evidence rather than relying solely on victim testimony.
Faces of Human Trafficking: The Victim-Centered Case TRANSCRIPT
Alfred Tribble, Jr., FBI Special Agent, Houston Texas: The collaborative effort, the collection of evidence, the insertion of undercovers, and surveillance are keys to human trafficking investigations.
Jack Blakey, Chief, Special Prosecutions Bureau, Cook County State’s Attorney Office: If you can combine the lessons of organized crime with domestic violence and sexual assault, you really have the approach that’s required to successfully work these cases.
Anita Alvarez, Cook County Sheriff’s Attorney: These types of cases need to be victim-centered but not victim-built. Yes, we need to focus on that victim, and that victim should be the center of that case, but we can’t solely rely on that victim to help us make the case.
Suamhirs , Survivor Advocate: As victims or survivors, we have been through a great deal of trauma in our lives.
Keith Bickford, Detective, Multnomah Sheriff’s Office, Oregon: We start from the beginning and go very slowly, accepting the fact that one interview is not going to get all your answers.
Alia El-Sawi, HIS Victim Assistance Specialist, Atlanta, Georgia: A lot of times, if we have a minor involved, we have a forensic interview specialist.
Interviewer: José, have a seat, please.
Sharon Cooper, M.D., CEO, Developmental & Forensic Pediatrics: A forensic interviewer is a person who has been trained on how to ask questions in a non-leading fashion about how they have been victimized, and to make sure that we get as much information that would be relevant to the court with respect to what has happened to that person.
Keith Bickford: There’s a lot of trauma. There’s also a lot of memory problems, and the understanding of that is very important, too.
Kate Crisham, Assistant U.S. Attorney, Western District of Washington State: We consult with victims every step of the prosecution. We work with social service agencies in partnership.
Moderator: So, I think it was a great meeting. There was some good back and forth, and it got people, I think, thinking about what clients actually need.
Michelle Nasser, Assistant U.S. Attorney, Northern District of Illinois: In order to have a successful prosecution, it involves detection of the crime, investigation, prosecution, and providing appropriate services to the victims. And for all four of those stages, it’s really important for the state and federal and local law enforcement to be able to work together.
James Fitzgerald, Lieutenant, Seattle Police Department: In our john sting, during the actual arrests, officers will want to know more from the john—if their goal was to find an underage victim, if they can identify a pimp—so give us investigative leads.
Alfred Tribble, Jr.: You’ve got everybody discussing the same leads and sharing information.
Amy, Survivor Advocate: The code enforcement and the health inspectors that already have a lawful ability to enter the businesses—they can be trained in human trafficking and look for signs without intimidating the managers and potential victims that might be in there as well.
Alfred Tribble, Jr.: They can go into an establishment with a lot less paperwork and start looking.
Michelle Nasser: We look for other corroborative evidence. Those can be weapons. It can be photos. We have found charts, which are almost the equivalent of drug ledgers, where the victims are writing down dates for the clients where they are going to go engage in a commercial sex act. Because sometimes a trafficking case is hard to make, there are other charges that either can be an addition or a replacement to a trafficking charge. There can be a child pornography charge, kidnapping charges, immigration charges, extortion charges, felon in possession of a firearm. Those charges can ensure that that evidence gets into trial. Oftentimes, the defendant will post their victims on online advertisements. We can get electronic evidence in that form that also helps to corroborate the victim.
Jack Blakey: One of the cases that we’ve worked in the task force is Operation Little Girl Lost, which was the first use of the Illinois Safe Children’s Act wiretap provision.
Anita Alvarez: And we saw victims in that particular operation—one as young as 12.
Jack Blakey: By having that insider view of electronic surveillance, were able to charge 10 individuals, and that case resulted in positive outcomes without a single victim having to testify.
Keith Bickford: Looking for labor trafficking is a lot more difficult than I thought it was going to be. You have to expand and step outside of the boundaries a little bit. I try not to show up in uniform or in a patrol car. Try to avoid interrogative type of questioning. You want to try to make them understand that they’re your main priority. Until the victim feels safe, they’re not going to be very helpful as a witness, so your case is going to be difficult to put together.
Alia El-Sawi, HIS Victim Assistance Specialist, Atlanta, Georgia: We see that a lot of the victims fear testifying in court because they fear that, what if the trafficker’s released? And they fear reprisal.
Suamhirs: My trafficker was my godmother. Going through the whole court process was not easy. One, it’s because I have to be in front of my godmother once again, and, two, because someone was trying to defend her. She was taken to jail, so she has two life—two consecutive life sentences. I needed someone to help me and guide me and be my advocate in court and help me navigate through the process.
Kate Crisham: Part of a victim-centered approach is working with the victim throughout the entire prosecution. The last thing we want is for a victim to feel re-traumatized. We may reach a resolution where a sentence may be less than a defendant would receive at trial, but it’s appropriate to keep the victim from having to experience testifying.
Opinions or points of view expressed in these recordings represent those of the speakers and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice. Any commercial products and manufacturers discussed in these recordings are presented for informational purposes only and do not constitute product approval or endorsement by the U.S. Department of Justice.