January is Human Trafficking Prevention Month. To raise awareness of this issue, Acuity teamed up with Detective Tamara Remington of the Sheboygan Police Department. Also, please check out the video series with Detective Remington focused on the transportation, hotel & motel, hair & nail salon, and rental property industries.
Detective Remington has been in law enforcement for 23 years and is a member of the Federal Human Trafficking Task Force for Southeastern Wisconsin. She first encountered cases of human trafficking during her tenure as a Gang Detective in San Jose, California. Many of her San Jose cases had international ties, and it was not until she came to Sheboygan, Wisconsin, in 2005 that she realized this is also a very serious domestic problem. For nearly 10 years, Detective Remington has been researching resources of victims of sex trafficking and giving presentations to raise awareness about the issue.
1. Why are you so passionate about fighting human trafficking?
I had my eyes opened about human trafficking about 10 years ago, when I became a school resource officer in Sheboygan. I am forever grateful to the students who opened my eyes and made me aware of sex trafficking not only being an international problem but also a domestic problem and, in fact, it was going on right here in Sheboygan.
I joined the Federal Human Trafficking Task Force for the Eastern District in Wisconsin in 2013 and have worked numerous human trafficking cases, taking some federally and some stateside for prosecution. Having worked many human trafficking cases and working with many survivors of human trafficking, I have become very passionate in fighting human trafficking.
The survivors inspire me. Despite preconceived notions some people have about who the victims of human trafficking are, I have come to realize that they are some of the best and brightest. Having worked with survivors, seeing the lifelong challenges and trauma they face after entering “the life” of human trafficking, I truly believe prevention is critical. That is why I am so involved in raising awareness and striving for prevention of this terrible crime of human trafficking.
2. Is there more than one type of human trafficking?
Yes. Human trafficking is the umbrella word that refers to sex trafficking and labor trafficking. Sex trafficking accounts for about 80 % of the human trafficking totals both internationally and domestically. This leaves about 20% of the human trafficking as labor trafficking.
3. How many victims are trafficked every year?
The true number of victims is unknown. The National Human Trafficking Hotline, operated by Polaris, has received reports of 34,700 sex trafficking cases inside the United States. In 2017, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children estimated that 1 in 7 endangered runaways reported were likely sex trafficking victims. Globally, the International Labor Organization estimates that there are 4.8 million people trapped in forced sexual exploitation globally. The numbers and statistics that Polaris has are only the identified or known victims. The victims of human trafficking often don’t self-identify and due to many circumstances (threats, brainwashing, lack of self-identification, addiction to drugs provided by traffickers, moving victims repeatedly to avoid detection or identification), it is very difficult to identify victims of human trafficking. It is a very under-reported crime.
Wisconsin has one of the highest numbers of human trafficking in the United States. All 72 counties in Wisconsin have documented or reported human trafficking, and 80% of all trafficking cases in Wisconsin are sex trafficking.
4. Who are the victims of human trafficking?
Victims of human trafficking are men, women, boys, and girls. While it is generally said that the average age boys are recruited is 11 to 12 years old and the average age for girls is 12 to 13 years old, in our Eastern District of Wisconsin we have seen victims ranging from 2 to 72 years old. The victims are of all ages, all races, all backgrounds, and all sizes and shapes. The one thing that all the victims have in common is that they were vulnerable and, I like to point out, as human beings, we are all vulnerable at some point in our lives.
An alarming trend in Milwaukee of 8, 9, or 10-year-olds getting taken off the streets and given heroin and sold for commercial sex acts is occurring, and we need to continue to educate the community and raise awareness to stop this trend.
5. Where is human trafficking occurring?
It can and does happen anywhere. Most of the recruiting is via social media. Recruiting is now being done via video games, over the headset. I say that nowhere is immune from it happening and, if you have access to the internet or Wi-Fi, you can have trafficking.
Social media meetings and recruiting and setting up “dates” is pushing this crime into a different place. It used to be that recruiting took place face to face and victims were taken to a “track” to “find dates” to earn money for the trafficker. Now, the internet is pushing this crime off the streets and into places like apartments, motels, businesses—anywhere the “dates” are set up.
At large events such as sporting events, and the football championship game in particular, we will see increased cases of sex trafficking, especially around the venue of the event and the time frame leading up to, during, and right after the event. Please be aware of events that draw a large crowd into your area, whether this is a large music festival, golf tournaments, or any large concert or gathering. This creates an environment where there are a lot of people (potential customers) and money.
6. How do traffickers obtain victims?
Most recruiting is via social media—Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, KIK, Whisper, etc. I am seeing an increase in recruiting over dating sites and via video games where traffickers will recruit via the headset. There is still face-to-face recruiting, too, which was so much more common years ago before the prevalence of the internet.
In the face-to-face recruiting, traffickers know they have a small window of time to size up a victim and figure out what it is the victim wants or thinks they want or need. The trafficker will often offer the victim the thing or things that the victim is seeking or lacking in order to groom or recruit the victim.
Over social media, the grooming process is more drawn out and traffickers think nothing of researching and grooming victims for days, weeks, months, and even years. The traffickers will invest a great deal of time into grooming or recruiting victims because this is a very lucrative business for them. It is a $150 billion a year industry. If they can get one human being to sell for commercial sex acts, they can sell that human repeatedly. They could only sell a drug, a gun, or stolen property once, but a human can be sold over and over.
It is said that the average amount of time to recruit someone into trafficking is 4 months. Once someone is recruited and in “the life” or “the game” as it’s called, the life expectancy is 7 years. Once recruited into “the life” or “the game,” if and when they get out, they return to trafficking 7 to 10 times.
Traffickers are very manipulative and are often very savvy at reading people. They are master manipulators. There are three types of traffickers: the Romeo or finesse trafficker, the gorilla trafficker, and the CEO trafficker.
The Romeo trafficker is very charming and showers the victim with fake love and gifts—tells them what the trafficker thinks the victim wants to hear. They will often initially act as a boyfriend or girlfriend to the victim. There can also be physical violence at the hands of a Romeo trafficker, but they primarily lure a victim in through manipulation, fake love, and providing things the victim wants or thinks they want, such as clothing, food, shelter, and drugs.
The gorilla trafficker is one that is more of an abductor type with a lot of threats and physical or emotional violence and physical control or harm and what is called “seasoning” or breaking down of a victim.
The CEO trafficker is a newer version we are seeing, where the trafficker portrays that they are in a “business model” with the victim and they work together. Additionally, two top ways traffickers are recruiting is by posing as photographers for modeling or music producers (e.g.,“Come be in my music video”).
Providing and/or withholding drugs is a major way traffickers are obtaining and controlling victims. I feel that if a person isn’t addicted to drugs when they get recruited, they most often will be addicted to drugs upon getting out of “the life.” Drugs are a primary way to control victims of sex trafficking. Traffickers will often enlist the assistance of younger females or younger males to help get a victim to let their guard down. Think about it, wouldn’t you let your guard down if approached by a younger female or male? This can happen in person or on social media. Traffickers use a combination of force, fraud, coercion, isolation, confinement, emotional abuse, economic abuse, physical abuse, or threats of any kind to control victims.
7. Are there any common signs that someone is being trafficked?
There are many signs that could indicate someone is being trafficked. The red flags are only a selection of possible indicators and may not be present in all trafficking cases. Each case or situation is unique. Each indicator should be taken in context and not considered in isolation. Some of these include the following:
Is the person free to come and go as they please, or is there someone always around them?
Is the person in control of their own ID/documents?
Is the person able to answer or speak for themselves, or do they defer to someone else to answer or speak for them?
Does the person have signs of physical abuse (burns, cuts, bruises)?
Does the person suddenly have a lot of unexplained material items, such as multiple cell phones, new clothes or shoes, hair or nails done with no explanation or no job?
Does the person have new tattoos? A tattoo of a name or symbol of money or barcode can sometimes be indicators. Often victims in the same "stable" (under control of the same trafficker) have the same tattoo, which is a "brand" indicating that they are "property" of the trafficker.
Does the person appear withdrawn, depressed, or "checked out"?
Is the person under 18 and providing commercial sex acts?
Does the person owe a large debt and is unable to pay it off (debt bondage)?
Was the person recruited through false promises, threats, force, or by being provided drugs (force, fraud, coercion, or the providing or withholding of drugs)?
Does the person appear to be under the influence of drugs or have drug addiction?
Does the person talk of having to reach "quotas" for "work"?
If the person is a juvenile, does he or she have unexplained absences in school? Is he or she a runaway or have an older "boyfriend/girlfriend/partner"?
Does the person demonstrate fearful and anxious behavior, especially if law enforcement is brought up?
Does the person show signs of physical and/or sexual abuse, physical restraint, confinement, or torture?
Is the person malnourished?
Is the person lacking health care?
Does the person have few or no personal possessions?
Does the person appear to be frequently monitored?
Is the person unable to clarify where he or she is staying or an address?
Does the person have a lack of knowledge of his or her whereabouts—not knowing what city or location he or she is in?
Does the person lack a sense of time?
Does the person protect the individual who may be hurting them or minimize abuse?
Does the person avoid eye contact or social interaction?
8. Why is there such a demand for human trafficking?
Until the demand is addressed, this is a crime that will continue to thrive. Also, human trafficking is fueled by a high reward and low risk dynamic for the trafficker. Human trafficking is profiting from the exploitation and selling of human beings, and it is modern day slavery. Anyone can be a human trafficking victim regardless of ethnicity, gender, age, and economic status. It is now facilitated online and through social media. Traffickers use "love" and "affection" as ways to control victims and recruit, and many of those victims may not even self-identify as victims. Human trafficking is a very complex issue based on many factors.
Human trafficking is a very lucrative "business" with over $150 billion made annually. It's the second most profitable illegal industry, second only to the drug trade. Drugs are sold once, but humans are sold repeatedly. The costs are low, and the profits are high. Traffickers are willing to take the risks, believing that prosecution and conviction for trafficking are rare.
Human trafficking is the only industry in which the supply and demand are the same thing—human beings—people demanding the sale of people. Increased demand for commercial sex incentivizes commercial sex venues, including strip clubs, pornography, and prostitution to recruit and exploit victims, including children.
Ultimately, harmful social norms help fuel trafficking because traffickers target vulnerability. Traffickers look for people living in poverty and people looking for love and acceptance, a place to stay, or a source of income.
We must continue to advocate for legislation that increases penalties for traffickers and those who purchase the victims and that enhances protections/resources for the victims.
Much of it still comes down to awareness. We need to spread the word that human trafficking is really happening—everywhere.
9. What are some of the biggest misconceptions about human trafficking?
That all pimps are males. Females can be traffickers and can be equally brutal.
That this is a victimless crime or that victims want to be doing this.
That victims could just leave if they wanted to.
That victims would report being a victim or would identify as a victim of human trafficking as soon as they were out of view of the trafficker. Often, the trafficker has manipulated the victim so much through threats (to themselves and/or their family) or through brainwashing that the victim truly believes they must stay with the trafficker, even if they are out in public.
That this only happens to girls or women. Boys can be and are victims of sex trafficking too. This is a very under-reported group.
That this only happens to people who come from bad households or are poverty stricken.
That traffickers drive around in a “child molester” van looking for victims. While sometimes there could be a stereotypical van, I would like to point out that lately my cases involve handsome, clean-cut, nicely dressed, and charismatic men or pretty, dynamic, and friendly females driving nice vehicles.
10. How do drugs play a role in human trafficking?
Drugs play a major role in human trafficking. The providing and/or withholding of drugs is a major way traffickers are recruiting and maintaining control of victims. Many of my cases include getting subjects addicted to drugs, even slowly.
Some traffickers provide “free” drugs for victims, and they wait until the victim is hooked. Once a victim is addicted to a drug, the trafficker can cut them off the drug and make the victim “dope sick” to control the victim. The victim must do what the trafficker says or wants to get the drug they are addicted to and stave off dope-sickness. Sometimes the trafficker will give their victims just enough of a drug to keep them from being “dope sick” to ensure the victim will be controlled and do whatever the trafficker makes them do in order to get their next dose of the drug.
11. If you suspect human trafficking, who can you contact?
Call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 888.373.7888 and call your local law enforcement agency. It’s good to call the National Human Trafficking hotline in addition to your local law enforcement agency so the tip can be sent to other jurisdictions and linked to other investigations if need be.