Jim Ehrman, Love146’s Executive Director, North America, presented testimony at a forum at the Connecticut Legislature on March 31st, regarding law enforcement’s response to sex trafficking in the state. In his remarks, Jim spoke about Love146’s experience working with youth who have been trafficked or exploited, and the importance of investigations and prosecutions for their recovery. The following are excerpts from his remarks.
Love146 was founded almost 14 years ago, focusing mostly on solutions based in Southeast Asia. In 2010, we added a focus on child trafficking in the US and began work in Connecticut, offering prevention education in schools, residential facilities, and detention centers throughout the state. To date, Love146 has provided prevention education to over 9,800 children across the state and has recently created a prevention curriculum that is promoted and utilized nationally.
In January 2014, Love146 began implementing our Survivor Care Program to support victims of child sex trafficking in Connecticut. Love146’s Connecticut Survivor Care Program provides Long-Term Services as well as Rapid Responses, which are one-time interventions that provide information and safety planning for confirmed survivors and youth at high risk for domestic minor sex trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation across the state. As of December 31st, 2015, Love146’s Connecticut Survivor Care Program had received 157 referrals, with the rate of referrals steadily increasing since the program’s inception. Of the children referred, Love146 has provided Long-Term Services to 12 children and Rapid Responses to 74 children, providing us with a deeper understanding of the issue of domestic minor sex trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation within this state.
Research indicates —and our own experience confirms — that victims of child sex trafficking experience short-term and long-term emotional, physical, developmental, social, financial, and legal consequences as a result of their victimization. Once identified, children often require crisis intervention, safety planning, assistance meeting basic needs, mental health services, sexual health services, assistance navigating the criminal justice system, and education/employment services.
Governments and anti-trafficking organizations together have identified prosecution as one of the four key elements necessary to effectively combat the crime of human trafficking. The purpose of the criminal justice system is to hold identified offenders responsible for their crimes, to prevent the identified offenders from committing future crimes, and to deter others from engaging in similar criminal activity.
For the children we work with, prosecution is important because it helps them further recognize and understand their victimization. Unlike other victims, many victims of child sex trafficking do not understand that the exploitation they have experienced is a crime, and thus, do not self-identify as victims.
Children often feel complicit in their victimization and experience feelings of guilt, shame, and embarrassment. When the criminal justice system does not pursue these cases, it can seem to further confirm these beliefs.
In addition, following their identification, some of the most traumatized children require inpatient hospital stays or services offered in congregate care settings. For these youth, there can be a perception that they are “locked up” while their offenders are “free.” Finally, it is not uncommon for the youth we work with to be aware of other youth being victimized by their trafficker. For these youth, it is often important that charges are brought against their offender so that they cannot continue to victimize others.
Since the program’s inception, Love146 has witnessed a significant increase in buy-in from law enforcement and prosecutors in the recognition of this crime. There have been increased victim identification and law enforcement investigations. In addition, we have worked with law enforcement and prosecutors on a number of multi-disciplinary teams and have successfully collaborated with them on cases involving youth we have served.
From our perspective, one of the most prominent challenges to prosecuting these cases is the lack of available resources. Cases of human trafficking are often complex and require significant time and resources. In addition, these cases are often highly victim dependent; therefore, in order to support successful prosecutions, additional resources are also needed to secure specialized services to help support victims following their identification.
While notable progress has been made in terms of buy-in, some agency leaders and personnel continue to not see human trafficking as a concern in their local communities. Continued training of law enforcement and prosecutors will help deepen their understanding of human trafficking and their recognition of human trafficking as a concern. In addition, it will facilitate their development of structures and policies that support an on-the-ground understanding and enforcement of current laws, as well as tools and protocols for identifying, investigating, and prosecuting these crimes.
Finally, the way we talk about the issue plays a part in the responses we make. I encourage all involved, and particularly the media gathered here today, to carefully consider the language and nomenclature we use to describe human trafficking. One simple example being the fact that there is no such thing as “child prostitution” — those two words should never appear in the same sentence. If we want to see increased awareness and meaningful response amongst the public and our law enforcement partners, then we are responsible for stewarding the vocabulary that surrounds this issue.
Additional coverage of the forum from March 31st can be found in the New Haven Register, The Hartford Courant, and Connecticut Public Radio.