A new task force has developed in south Alabama with the goal of combating human trafficking.
The South Alabama Human Trafficking Task Force is being spearheaded by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and assisted by the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) as well as the U.S. Attorney’s Office and other non-governmental organizations (NGOs).
According to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, south Alabama has the most significant concentration of trafficking victims in the state. U.S. Attorney Kenyen Brown that the region has several draws, such as the beaches, Mardi Gras, and numerous festivals.
“It’s like mist,” Brown said. “Once law enforcement gets closer to it, the victims, the witnesses to it disappear. And it’s because it’s such a hard crime to detect and investigate that I think that it’s worthy of special effort and a special collaboration between law enforcement and the NGOs. So I think it’s overdue.”
Friday marked the first public meeting of the task force, which said that part of its goal is to create an educated public, especially when it concerns trafficking children.
“We’re quite concerned for our youth as they are basically chosen and targeted. These traffickers know our children better than we do,” Donna Armstrong, a representative of Hope Haven, a shelter serving south Alabama, said.
Hope Haven does some outreach through the school system, but told Fox10 News that it’s crucial for parents to help educate their children as well.
“Unless we get our children educated to look out for one another and to stand up for one another, we’re going to be rescuing some of these children,” Armstrong said.
But it’s not just children the task force is working to protect. Raymond Parmer Jr., the special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations, said the majority of trafficking victims tend to be foreign national women.
The DHS has a number of trafficking indicators to be aware for both civilians and local law enforcement such as:
- Is the victim in possession of identification and travel documents; if not, who has control of the documents?
- Was the victim coached on what to say to law enforcement and immigration officials?
- Was the victim recruited for one purpose and forced to engage in some other job?
- Is the victim’s salary being garnished to pay off a smuggling fee? (Paying off a smuggling fee alone is not considered trafficking.)
- Was the victim forced to perform sexual acts?
- Does the victim have freedom of movement?
- Has the victim or family been threatened with harm if the victim attempts to escape?
- Has the victim been threatened with deportation or law enforcement action?
- Has the victim been harmed or deprived of food, water, sleep, medical care or other life necessities?
- Can the victim freely contact friends or family?
- Is the victim a juvenile engaged in commercial sex?
- Is the victim allowed to socialize or attend religious services?
To report any suspicious activity, call the DHS hotline 1-866-DHS-2ICE (1-866-347-2423). And for any NGOs or non-profits that would like to help the task force in their work, contact the U.S. Attorney’s Office at 251-441-5845. For more information about human trafficking click here.