2 Days to Human Trafficking Awareness Day: What Can You Do?

With two days to go before Human Trafficking Awareness Day on Monday, we have some good news to share!

The North County Times, a newspaper in the San Diego area reported yesterday, that Adrian Zitlalpopoca-Hernandez, a man who had two women smuggled from Mexico to Vista to work as prostitutes in North County migrant camps, is guilty of sex trafficking by force, fraud or coercion. Link to full article.

This case was heard in Federal court, and Zitlalpopoca-Hernandez now faces a minimum sentence of 15 years. This is great news for a couple of different reasons. First, simply, the bad guy was caught and found guilty in court. We police officers are always happy when the bad guys are convicted, because real life is not like TV where every case is solved in 60 minutes. The truth is that many times victims are never able to identify the suspects, or the investigator cannot develop enough evidence for the prosecutor to move the case forward. It is a melancholy day when you must look a victim of violent crime in the eyes and tell them you cannot take their case to court.

The other reason this conviction is noteworthy is that one of the victims went ”sideways” (that’s cop jargon for surprising everyone in the middle of trial) while testifying, stating she had lied to investigators during the course of her interview. She essentially spoke out in defense of the defendant! Link to full article. The prosecutors were obviously successful in overcoming this surprise, which means they had more evidence than just this one woman’s testimony. A solidly investigated and prepared case can usually survive these unforeseen events.

I have no knowledge of this particular case beyond the news articles linked, but I want to use this case as a backdrop to address a potential reason for this victim’s change in heart: Stockholm Syndrome. Victim’s having positive feelings towards their abusers or captors is fairly common. Perhaps 1 in 4 victims will exhibit symptoms of the syndrome, and it is not limited to hostage-type situations. The psychology can be complex, but the bottom line for those of us involved in assisting victims and investigating trafficking cases is this; we must understand that trafficking victims may change their statements, shift their allegiance back to their trafficker, or go “sideways” for a variety of legitimate (in their mind) psychological reasons. They may have experienced trauma far beyond that suffered by a person who is assaulted only once, or whose period of confinement is quite short.

As investigators and service providers we sometimes need to show great patience with victims of crime. All of us who are interested in the plight of survivors must realize that the depth of victimization, and an individual’s response to that experience, may be beyond our own comprehension.

Only a relatively small percentage of cases where trafficking victims are identified end up with a criminal prosecution. Training of law enforcement will raise that percentage over time, and that is one of our long-term goals.

Congratulations to all of the people involved in this Southern California case! I am sure it took many law enforcement officers, victim service providers, prosecutors and others to care for these victims since their discovery, and prepare the case for court.

And good luck to the women, as they move on from being “victims” to “survivors”.

(I would like to thank my friend Marisa Ugarte, Executive Director of the Bilateral Safety Corridor Coalition for passing on these news articles. http://www.bsccoalition.org/ )

9 Days to HTAD: What can you do? Send this blog to 10 friends, so they can learn more about trafficking over the next 9 days.

8 Days to HTAD: What can you do? Study and understand the definition of the law so we are all talking about the same thing. Help others understand what the definition addresses, and what it does not.

7 Days to HTAD: What can you do? Leverage media, educational, and community outlets to raise awareness of HTAD.

6 Days to HTAD: What can you do? Be a billboard! And be ready to talk about trafficking when asked. Host a party, or open a business selling products that support survivors of trafficking.

5 Days to HTAD: What can you do? Know who to call to report suspected trafficking! The National Human Trafficking Resource Center, 1888-3737-888

4 Days to HTAD: What can you do? Study the TIP Report, and share your knowledge!

3 Days to HTAD: What can you do? Realize that trafficking victims are hard to find, and low wage situations do not always include trafficking. More importantly, everyone deserves our respect, even those on the margins of our economy.

2 Days to HTAD: What can you do? If you are in law enforcement ,or a service provider, be patient with victims and understand their statements may change over time. Prepare for that possibility through good investigative and case management practices. If you are not professionally involved in working directly with victims of trafficking, remember that putting a case together can be very tough. Keep in mind that trafficking survivors have been through experiences we probably cannot even imagine.

source: http://jvanek.wordpress.com/2010/01/09/2-days-to-human-trafficking-awareness-day-what-can-you-do/

Published in: on January 9, 2010 at 8:42 am  Leave a Comment  
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