SBPD Sting Sheds Light on Human Trafficking

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Thursday July 17, 2014

last month the South Burlington Police Department (SBPD) arrested seven men at the Anchorage Inn after they responded to an ad placed in a prostitution sting operation. It was the first of this type of undercover operation performed by the department, but the larger issue of human trafficking is a familiar problem internationally.

Human trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery, and is a crime defined as the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purposes of exploitation. According to the United Nations, there are an estimated 2.4 million victims of human trafficking worldwide at any one time; half of those victims are children. There are several types of human trafficking including bonded (or forced) labor, domestic servitude as a maid or nanny, and sex trafficking. Push factors (i.e. poverty, history of abuse or lack of education) and pull factors (i.e. receiving basic needs, promise of economic opportunity, etc.) keep the vicious cycle turning. The U.S. Department of Human Services cites that human trafficking generates $35 billion annually, making it the second largest criminal enterprise in the world.

On the state level, Vermont established a Human Trafficking Task Force in 2010, and July 1, 2011, Vermont passed its first anti-trafficking legislation, Act 55: An Act Related to Human Trafficking (H. 153). Under federal law, the Trafficking Victim’s Protection Act is in place.

With this in mind, Police Chief Trevor Whipple articulates that prostitution runs deeper than just an incentive to earn tax-free money. 

“If we could get them [prostitutes] to tell us the truth, I believe that we’d find that there’s some sort of need in their life they need to fulfill,” he said. “I think what we also see a fair amount of in our community, is that many of these women are drug-addicted.”

“What we know about drug addictions, particularly opiates and heroin, is that individuals who have that addiction are driven so strongly by that addiction and will do anything to obtain that drug, and that would include selling their bodies,” he added.

Drug addiction can therefore present  both a push and a pull factor.

Earlier this year, Vermont was recognized nationally for its heroin and opiate addiction problem; to tackle the issue, state and local officials honed in on punishing suppliers and providing assistance to those who are addicted. Whipple explained that the same principle applies to this situation.

Arresting victims of sex trafficking is not the solution, he said. However, when officers do encounter prostitutes and ask for information, obtaining it is often difficult since they are fearful and have been abused in the past, Whipple said.

Therefore, decreasing the demand has been the focus. SBPD is working with Chittenden County State’s Attorney Thomas J. Donovan, U.S. Attorney Tristram J. Coffin and two crime analysts from the Vermont Air National Guard who have been monitoring web sites known to publish sex ads. Officers have also been working closely with hotels and motels to provide information and photos that employees can reference should one of the identified prostitutes try to use their facilities. 

Hotel and motel managers have responded positively to the effort to have their staff better trained and equipped to confront the issue if it arises. 

Owners of the Anchorage Inn agreed to help the SBPD in its undercover operation, and the result of the arrest of seven ‘johns’ was a quick and effective way to send the message that South Burlington does not condone this behavior. 

 “It’s unfortunate, but this type of activity really makes a huge impact not only in the community, but in other people’s lives,” Whipple explained. “You find out that several of the individuals arrested are individuals who have families, and that’s a tough message to bring back home.” 

The seven men will not be prosecuted; instead, State Attorney Donovan required the men take a course about the complexities of prostitution. 

“It’s important that we educate community members that prostitution is far more complex and dangerous than just a business transaction,” Donovan explained in a statement.

Give Way to Freedom, a private operating foundation, ran the course, held July 8. Give Way to Freedom provides care services for human trafficking survivors as well as educational services. Edith Klimoski, the director of Give Way to Freedom and a member of the Vermont Human Trafficking Task Force, instructed the course.

“Our aim for the class was to give the men the information they need to make decisions about their behaviors that will not perpetuate the crime of human trafficking,” Klimoski shared. “It included definitions, facts and statistics as well details on the characteristics of victimization and the trauma it causes.”

If you suspect human trafficking or believe you are in a human trafficking situation, call Vermont 2-1-1 for resources, counseling, referrals to services, and guidance. Professionals are on-call 24-hours and local representatives are available to provide assistance. For help from law enforcement, call 1-888-98-HUMAN (1-888-984-8626).

More information about human trafficking is available at www.givewaytofreedom.org. Those interested can also view the Vermont Victim Resource Directory: http://www.ccvs.state.vt.us/resource-directory.

SOURCE: Miranda Jonswold, Correspondent