224 – Crisis Impact on Human Trafficking

Ending Human Trafficking Podcast Logo
Dr. Sandie Morgan and Dave Stachowiak are joined by Nicole Strattman and Sgt. Juan Reveles. Nicole is a licensed clinical social worker, senior social services supervisor in Orange County Social Services, and she is the Commercially Sexually Exploited Children Coordinator for Children and Family Services. Juan has a background working with gangs and narcotics with the Anaheim Police Department and is currently the Chair of the Orange County Human Trafficking Task Force. They discuss how their work to end human trafficking has been impacted during the current public health crisis.

Key Points

  • Social service agencies in child welfare remain essential work, and while the work looks different right now in some respects due to COVID-19, they continue responding to children’s needs.
  • Law enforcement is operating under a new public health model perspective, which has allowed them to create new partnerships to better fight human trafficking despite the setbacks during the public health crisis.
  • Despite tactics and strategies changing, the goal to end human trafficking has remained the same.


  • KTLA Article
  • Child Abuse Registry: 800-207-4464
  • Orange County Social Services: 714-940-1000
  • National Human Trafficking Hotline: 888-373-7888

Are you enjoying the show?

If you enjoyed this episode, please take a moment to subscribe or rate the podcast on iTunes by clicking here. Click here for FAQs about podcasts and how to subscribe.

Haven’t been receiving our newsletter? Visit our homepage to join today.

Contact us with questions, comments, or suggestions at feedback@endinghumantrafficking.org.


Dave [00:00:00] You’re listening to the Ending Human Trafficking podcast. This is episode number 224 – Crisis Impact on Human Trafficking.

Production Credits [00:00:08] Produced by Innovate Learning, Maximizing Human Potential.

Dave [00:00:29] Welcome to the Ending Human Trafficking podcast. My name is Dave Stachowiak.

Sandie [00:00:35] And my name is Sandie Morgan.

Dave [00:00:37] And this is the show where we empower you to study the issues, be a voice, and make a difference in ending human trafficking. Sandie, today we have two people with us, two guests who’ve made a difference. And I’m really excited about our conversation ahead on crisis impact.

Sandie [00:00:54] Well, I’m very happy to welcome two wonderful friends and colleagues and experts. Nicole Strattman, licensed clinical social worker, senior social services supervisor here in Orange County Social Services, and she is the Commercially Sexually Exploited Children (CSEC) Coordinator for Children and Family Services. What that really means is that when we have a CSEC victim, Nicole keeps track of all of the services, she manages protocols, she keeps everybody in the loop- coordinator for sure. We also have Sergeant Juan Reveles from the Anaheim Police Department. Big shout out to Anaheim, they’ve been leading on this for several years now. He has a background in gangs and narcotics and is the Chair of the Orange County Human Trafficking Task Force. So, I want to welcome both of you, Nicole and Juan to the Ending Human Trafficking podcast.

Nicole [00:01:58] Thank you.

Juan [00:01:59] Thank you, Sandie.

Sandie [00:02:00] So, kind of is a way to get a little bit better acquainted. I want Nicole to tell us about the award that you recently received.

Nicole [00:02:11] So, the award is the Above and Beyond award, which was granted to me by the California Department of Social Services. It was granted in January of 2020, which was the first time they have done this award, and it was in recognition of Human Trafficking Awareness Month.

Sandie [00:02:26] I was really impressed that you were the local girl made a statewide star. So, we’re really proud of you.

Nicole [00:02:33] Yes, I was the only one in Orange County, so it was an honor for sure.

Sandie [00:02:37] We’re proud of you and grateful for your long history of serving well. Sergeant, you were on KTLA recently, so we’re going to put a link to that news story because it looks pretty impressive in the investigation right along by the journalist. Do you have your SAG card yet?

Juan [00:02:57] I’ve actually had it for probably 20 years and then it expired. So, I just got it back up again. But no, I do not.

Sandie [00:03:04] Well, we really appreciate what a great advocate you are locally and statewide and beyond in advocating for law enforcement training in anti-human trafficking. And so, the first question I’m going to ask each of you is how the COVID-19 crisis has impacted Nicole’s services to CSEC victims. And Juan for you, law enforcement response.

Nicole [00:03:33] OK, so with regard to services, we do continue to provide services to exploited youth. We still respond to calls of allegations of exploitation of human trafficking. Our social workers are still responding in the field and are still doing what they can to assess the safety of children. One of the things that has been impacted, though, is their ability to attend what we have in Orange County called Grace Court, which stands for Generating Resources to Abolish Child Exploitation. The specialized collaborative court that is there to really support the youth in foster care that has been exploited. And that court allows the youth to be there more frequently, to have more of a personal relationship with a judge and those on their team to provide services. And currently, because of the closures, they cannot go in person to court, although they are still able to call in, court proceedings are still moving forward to some degree. And so, there’s been a bit of a negative impact because they can’t physically be there. But we still are providing services the best that we can, given the current orders that we have.

Sandie [00:04:42] So, Juan, how about for law enforcement?

Juan [00:04:46] I’ll pick up on the comment that Nicole made, given the current orders that we have or directives from the department and the city and the state as well too, a lot of it has been to minimize contact and proactive investigations. And at the same time, though, especially when it comes to juveniles, nothing has changed for us regarding that respect. In fact, over the last several weeks, we’ve got a couple of calls from social services where we have responded and investigated the leads or allegations of potential human trafficking. So, as it relates to juveniles, nothing has changed for us because they maintain our highest priority. Now with respect to adults, that is a change that has occurred. I can get into that later.

Sandie [00:05:27] Well, we’d like to understand how the intersection with the crisis looks when we’re thinking about human trafficking. And Nicole, maybe you can start with what that means.

Nicole [00:05:43] We are concerned about the isolation and that youth are, we’re expecting, online more looking for connections online since they can’t do that as much in person. In addition, youth are not in places they normally would be, where there would be around mandated reporters such as school, even their therapist, doctors’ appointments, other caregivers that they have in their life that may be able to report an allegation of abuse or exploitation. So, our calls to our child abuse hotline have gone down, we have seen a decrease in that. And we don’t believe that’s because there is less child abuse. It’s just that children are no longer around others on a regular basis that can assess a child’s safety and possibly call it in if they suspect a child being abused or exploited.

Sandie [00:06:35] So, then for you, Juan, as chair of Orange County Human Trafficking Task Force, you’ve been accustomed to leading a proactive, vital, vibrant investigation team. So, what happened that shifted that for you?

Juan [00:06:55] Well it was the directives to really cut back on proactive investigations from all the way down from the courts, the jails, our department, the city. And you’re right, it was very, very different for us because we’re used to leading proactive investigations to get to victims and perpetrators. And as I mentioned before, nothing of that has changed for us when it comes to juveniles, but less with adults. And as you know, the takes place in massage parlors, residential brothels, hotels, the street. And there’s a certain point where my undercovers have to be in very close contact with initially the potential victims, in any of those places. And that was in direct violation of our directives all the way down the line. So, that’s when we have to think of something new to deal with this. And then when it became a reality this is a major public health risk. That’s where the shift happened for us in law enforcement, let’s say for my unit in our participating agencies, where we now saw it as a public health risk and then adjusted our response to that.

Sandie [00:08:01] So, now with a public health lens on, how do you respond to illicit massage parlors, and what happens when those are shut down?

Juan [00:08:12] Well, there was the balance is having following the directors of the department and having a public health risk. So, what we did was all those different locations that I mentioned were identifying that they were open for business. And based on our investigation, it appears that that business was illicit activity and we saw it either way. Either the potential for the customer bringing the virus in and infecting the workers there or the workers there having the virus and infecting numerous customers throughout the day. So, then our goal became to shut these places down about as quickly as we can. Now, from a law enforcement lens that takes longer, it’s strictly that it’s open in violation of the state or city orders. And we know illegal activity is happening there, that’s when we push just a straight out shut down this as quickly as we could.

Sandie [00:09:06] And when that started happening and they shut down, you didn’t just go back to your office and say that’s over, because unfortunately, in the illicit sex trafficking model, they just keep popping up. So, what did that mean for you as an investigator?

Juan [00:09:25] Well the easier ones were the massage parlors because they’re a fixed location. We can go back and check on them after they were warned or the ones that we found open were warned. The harder ones were the residential brothels because they move around. If we shut them down, they’ll pick up another spot. And it was a matter, and it has been as we speak, a matter of staying on top of them. But again, that’s the only thing we can do right now. And at the same time, we also think that it’s impacted them negatively where they have to shut down, at least with the cities that we have this response for. They move to other cities, you know, and I leave that up to those cities to respond in whatever way they feel fit. But this is what we’re doing for Anaheim, Irvine, Newport Beach, all the participating agencies in Santa Ana.

Sandie [00:10:07] That’s so good to hear, I live in Santa Ana, so I’m glad. Nicole, one of the things that I know about kids who are in difficult family circumstances, you’re not getting the calls because possibly there’s violence in that home. Kids take it into their own hands and decide that they’re going to get out of this. And I talked to a few survivors who are concerned about an increase in what they see as people running away. Have you seen that in your work?

Nicole [00:10:46] We have not quite yet in Orange County see more calls to our hotline regarding kids running away and being exploited that are running from their family homes. I suspect that will still happen. We have found that some of our youth center in alternative care, whether it’s a relative or our emergency shelter in Orange County because of the increased isolation, where they’re no longer able to have the kind of visitation with some of their families that they were able to in a supervised setting, that we have had more of our kids running away from our shelters. We still, as a social service agency in child welfare, we are first responders. We are essential workers. We have to continue our work. We have to continue responding to child abuse investigations and provide services. It looks a lot different right now in some respects where it’s more assessments over the phone with video conferencing, visitation is occurring that way as well. But we do have our kids that are still running away from their placements and the increased risk of not only whatever they might expose themselves to, but in addition to COVID-19 out there and bringing that back into a congregate-care facility is concerning, but we have safeguards in place to ensure their safety and the other kids’ safety in those homes that they’re running from and coming back to as well. And so, we are, like other kinds of child abuse with exploitation, we’re concerned that as time continues, we’re going to start to see more of that happening. And as things start to open up a little bit more and people start realizing that children are being affected in this way, that we’ll start getting the calls with this population in particular with children, they don’t identify as victims. So, we don’t have them coming to us calling for help and asking to be rescued or saved but just does not happen with juveniles. So, we need people who understand the signs and can assess the situation and know who to call for help so that we can then go out and do that assessment for their safety.

Sandie [00:12:53] And that’s where Sergeant Juan Reveles steps in because you’ve developed really strong relationships of collaboration and communication with the people who own the apartment buildings, the hotels. And so how are you using your new public health model for residential efforts?

Juan [00:13:15] Well, it was important that I made contact with city attorneys, code enforcement, that large apartment and condo complexes management, and then hotel management to let them know that I’m calling you for quick action because of these reasons. I’m not putting aside what my duties are. And once they understood that, it was easier. And they’ve been very cooperative because very easily all of those entities understood the public health risk. And that’s a change that’s happened for us that I’ve never seen. I’ve never looked at operating from that lens, from that perspective. So, this crisis, at least for me and my unit and other participating agencies, has caused it to now look at this law enforcement part now with a public health model lens to it. And we’ll see how this all moves forward. It certainly opened my eyes to broadening my perspective on the issue. And it’s just one more thing that I think we’re going to take into consideration, once it’s all done and we open up for business, as usual, it’s not going to be the same anymore.

Sandie [00:14:19] Wow. Change happens. And unfortunately for a lot of people, it happens in the context of a really serious threat and crisis. And the conversations I’ve been having with aftercare providers, with government policymakers, is that the most vulnerable are still out there and we cannot abandon them. And in the early days of this, in my conversations with Juan, I just have to publicly tell you, Juan, that your commitment to not quit looking because it’s like we can’t put people in jail. When I talk to survivors and I’m getting a little emotional, but they said knowing that somebody is still looking for us because many are trapped in really horrific circumstances and were very encouraging. Can you talk a little bit, Juan, about how you had to change investigative procedures to do this through a public health lens?

Juan [00:15:28] The first thing I had to get over, and my team as well, was the fact that we’re probably not going to be arresting perpetrators as often as we do. So, that was a shift for us. The other part was to really bring all those other entities, city attorney, code enforcement that I rarely, if ever, deal with because most of our investigations are felonies, not city code violations or anything like that. So, bringing other people to the table and get them to understand what is it that we’re trying to do, and the reason for the urgency. Because you may know this, Sandie, that whether it’s departments or cities, there’s a bureaucracy that sometimes says we’ve never done that, it takes way longer and we’re busy doing something else with COVID to look at a change. So, that was part of the process to bring people on board that they would understand what we were trying to do and the reason for it. What made it easier is that everyone down to kids understands there’s a public health crisis going on. And so, it wasn’t hard to really explain that, but just how we were going to respond to it.

Sandie [00:16:29] And you also worked with hotel owners. Has that collaboration improved?

Juan [00:16:36] Yes, we’ve always had a good relationship with them because of the collaborative in doing training for hotel management and the longer investigations. But what we found out is that we were impacting negatively, massage parlors and then residential brothels. We started seeing that, of course, they were going over to hotels or motels that are remaining open in Orange County. So, therefore, they were brought into the fold so that every one of the locations that I’ve mentioned from massage parlors, private residences, large apartment complexes or condo complex, and then the hotels. Everybody was on board and brought in, you know, as a slow rollout within two weeks that we were trying to do. And where we’re at right now, I said all those are for very cooperative and understand, and each of those requires from their end of it and our end of it a very nuanced response. The term is we’re trying to close them, but they’re doing different things. And so, it caused us to come up with new protocols for this that we can hold on until later that’s in place now. So, from that, I’m seen as a positive when this is all said and done that those relations for those reasons were built already.

Sandie [00:17:46] So, Nicole, when you’re talking about these kids who no one’s calling because they are not seeing their teachers and the people that would usually be mandated reporters. I read some articles in some countries where pharmacies around every corner, there are code words for people to let officials, authorities know that there is family violence. What do our kids have and how can they reach out for help? How can a community be a part of supporting children in a difficult crisis like this where they are even more isolated and more vulnerable?

Nicole [00:18:32] Yes, the community can look in on kids, whether it’s your own family member. We get calls not only from mandated reporters, but a concerned family member who is concerned about the care that their nephew or niece or grandchild is receiving, and they’ll call us. So, those family members, we need them to check in on those families more than ever right now. In Orange County, our agency is continuing training teachers who are able to have some idea of what’s going on in a family, whether they are in a zoom meeting or a child might express something during a call to the teacher. That we’re training those teachers they need to continue to call us if they suspect something is going on. So, we’re working with our mandated reporters in that way and trying to get the word out to the community neighbors if they see something or suspect something that they need to contact the child abuse hotline or even law enforcement to do a welfare check to check in on that child. So, we’re trying to get our word out that way, that just because everyone’s sheltering at their home, staying at home, that it doesn’t mean that we need to look the other way, that we need to be checking in on each other in whatever means we can in a safe way.

Sandie [00:19:46] Well, when I think about the intersection with existing vulnerabilities in the community, I’m really concerned about housing strategies. So, I was really encouraged by your comments about how we are continuing to provide residential care. What about families that are homeless?

Nicole [00:20:08] Yes, the shelters are still operating, and they are still able to take in families. Most shelters have, I know our shelter for our abused and neglected children, have implemented additional protocols like health checks, temperature checks when anybody comes in. A lot of other shelters have done similar kinds of things. If somebody, a child or a family member, comes in that has any symptoms, they are then put in a separate area for isolation and through the quarantine period. Children at our children’s home, we have a nice facility there that allows for the ability to separate children out from infecting anybody else potentially and assessing for symptoms. As far as our relatives in foster care placements go, we’ve been very thankful that many of them are still open and willing to accept children into their homes with these sorts of precautions put in place and checks put in place. So, everyone is really stepping up in really big ways right now.

Sandie [00:21:10] That’s so encouraging to hear about our community. And I’ve been hearing similar things from other regions across our country. So, when this is over, and I’m going to ask both of you pretty much the same question in the context of where you are, what things will change so that we’ll be better prepared because a crisis is a crisis and it can come in a lot of different ways. So, what will you take away from this one for the future and the same thing for you, Juan?

Nicole [00:21:42] Well, I think we’re going to be able to respond a lot quicker. You know, we have gone through some ups and downs. And for us, many policy changes have come through every single day. We’re making tweaks and changes the best, how to respond to our families and our children. So, I would imagine that. We also what’s very interesting is a recent story that came through to our agency is that we have found that some of the phone call visitations that have taken place have been very good for children and families where we have had children who haven’t maybe felt comfortable visiting their parent in person. But have been good with a phone call. It is opened the line of communication and has begun really therapeutic work between the children and families to hopefully then bridge that gap that was between them that caused them to be apart and hopefully reunify families a lot quicker. So, I think we’ve learned that telephone interaction, whether it’s teleconferencing or by the phone, has been valuable, an important part of healing. So, that’s been a huge takeaway.

Sandie [00:22:51] And for me, it’s like, oh, my goodness, I can touch so many more people from my desk on Zoom calls with my students. It’s just absolutely amazing. And they sit and talk, I didn’t realize what a great tool we had. I just used it for more formal things. So, I think I’ll keep some of these new lessons for the future. Juan, how about you?

Juan [00:23:18] I think I changed into looking at it from a public health perspective, made it a whole lot easier because Nicole had already invited us to Orangewood, invited us to what process they were putting together for getting the juveniles that we find getting to some medical help. She wanted us to understand that. And we had a discussion- what is it that we can do while we have this juvenile at the station? So, she was in part getting us to law enforcement, my task force to start looking at it from that perspective. And I can tell you, it was already there for me to now think, OK, let’s look at this as a public health risk. So, from that perspective, I think it’s going to be different. I don’t know what it’s going to look like, but I know we’re going to be looking through that filter as well as we do different things now that we’re going to be able to arrest people again. So, I think it’s been a positive end of it. The other part is that it still shows that this task force can adjust to a crisis and not skip too much of a beat. Whether its meetings with supporters with citizens of Orange County, our priorities remain when it comes to juveniles. We’re doing different things out here. So, I think it caused us to do something different and know that you know, we’re still that type of task force that we can mold and fit to a crisis and still come out stronger I think on the other end.

Sandie [00:24:39] That’s great. I kind of was reflecting on this before the interview, I was studying, and I watched your piece on KTLA a few Saturdays ago. And for me, I feel like you crack the door open with law enforcement on using a public health model as part of a proactive investigation strategy, much like the early law enforcement leaders in anti-trafficking open the door for the victim-centered approach. And each time we go through another cycle like this, we come out on the other side stronger and wiser. And both of you have been exceptional leaders through this crisis. And I know we’ll be stronger for the next one because you know that will come and we’ve got just a couple of minutes and I want to give each of you a few seconds to say what you want to say to the community. And Juan was just talking. So, Nicole, you go.

Nicole [00:25:39] So, I would want to say, too. If you see something, say something. And that’s absolutely true right now since a lot of people aren’t able to see as much. So, if you see it, to please contact in Orange County, the child abuse registry is what we have. And we will respond in person. We will take all the precautions needed to keep everybody safe. But we absolutely will respond in person to children that need to be assessed and we will ensure their safety. But we need the community to help us identify when that’s going on.

Juan [00:26:13] OK. From my end of it is that I do it as often as I can, is that I really appreciate the support that the Orange County community gives us in the anti-human trafficking efforts. I get the opportunity because of many different reasons to see where other task forces are at. I travel up and down the state and I can tell you that one of our biggest strengths is the community support that we have here. And then that, in turn, causes us to do our very best we can in dealing with human trafficking. So, that’s what I would like to tell the Orange County, thank you very much. And so, I want to really let them know that we’re still doing what we need to do, even under these trying circumstances for these victims.

Sandie [00:27:01] And if people see something and want to say something, what number do they call?

Nicole [00:27:05] For child abuse there’s an 800 number, it can be called from anywhere. It’s 800-207-4464. The local phone number is 714-940-1000

Juan [00:27:20] For my end of it, I would urge the Orange County community, please use that phone number that the Nicole gave, the local number because information gets to us quicker. The general human trafficking hotline, that’s fine too, if you can’t remember that number. But there are several different steps that happen with that, it may get lost in the process or go to someone else that it shouldn’t have. We are so dialed in with the child abuse registry that it goes to Nicole at one of these supervisors, and within minutes, I’m being called in assessing the situation. So, yes, please. Orange County community, please switch from the national hotline to that child abuse registry. That 714-940-1000 number that Nicole gave us, it makes a world of difference sometimes.

Sandie [00:28:00] And if you are not in Orange County, please use the National Human Trafficking Hotline 888-373-7888. Thank you so much, Nicole and Juan, for being on the show today with me. It’s been such a pleasure to have friends here with me.

Nicole [00:28:22] Thank you, Sandie.

Juan [00:28:23] Thank you, Sandie. You have a good day.

Dave [00:28:25] Thank you so much to all of you for the partnership. And Sandie, yet another example of how there’s such a strong vision shared amongst all of us to end human trafficking and when there’s a strong vision and change happens as it has, of course, over the last few weeks for all of us, the tactics change, the strategy changes, but the vision stays the same. So, thank you all for being a part of this. And thank you all as part of our listening community. And if you are perhaps taking the very first step on learning about how to end human trafficking, a great place for you to start is on our Web site, endinghumantrafficking.org. You can download a copy of Sandie’s book, The Five Things You Must Know, A QuickStart Guide to Ending Human Trafficking. It will teach you the five critical things that Sandie has identified that you should know before you join the fight against trafficking. You can access it completely for free by going over to endinghumantrafficking.org. That is also the best way to find all the links, the resources, the phone numbers we’ve mentioned in this episode today. And if you also have a question for us, perhaps you’d like us to tackle on a future episode, our e-mail address is feedback@endinghumantrafficking.org. And we will be back with you again in two weeks. Thanks, everybody, take care.

Scroll to Top