250 – How to Work with Law Enforcement, with Dr. Stephany Powell

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Dr. Sandie Morgan and Dr. Stephany Powell discuss the role law enforcement plays in the fight against human trafficking. They consider the relationship between law enforcement and nonprofits and how to best support and serve victims. Dr. Powell and Dr. Morgan discuss the future of the anti-human trafficking movement and how it can evolve to better combat exploitation.

Dr. Stephany Powell

Dr. Stephany Powell retired from the Los Angeles Police Department as a Sergeant in charge of a Vice unit. Dr. Stephany Powell’s unique insight into the world of sexual exploitation and trafficking gained through her thirty years with the Los Angeles Police Department has made Dr. Powell an unparalleled choice to lead Journey Out in 2013 (formerly known as the Mary Magdalene Project). Journey Out assists victims of human trafficking in finding their way out of violence and abuse, due to sexual exploitation or forced prostitution. In 2020, she joined the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE) as the Director of Law Enforcement Training and Survivor Services. She is also the law enforcement human trafficking training consultant for Selah Way Foundation.

Key Points

  • Dr. Stephany Powell trains law enforcement officers on the ins and outs of human trafficking. She shares stories of times she missed signs of human trafficking and wishes she had known better. Now, she educates officers, so they can detect signs and help victims.
  • When law enforcement works with non-profits, victims can receive the well-rounded support that they need, which builds trust between survivors and non-profits.
  • According to a study done by ASU, out of all first responders, firefighters are the most likely to be the first point of contact of someone who is in captivity.
  • In order to combat demand for human trafficking, we must enforce consequences on those that are creating the demand and treating human begins as a commodity.


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Dave [00:00:00] You’re listening to the Ending Human Trafficking podcast, this is episode number 250, How to Work With Law Enforcement, with Dr. Stephany Powell.


Production Credits [00:00:10] Produced by Innervate Learning, Maximizing Human Potential.


Dave [00:00:30] Welcome to the Ending Human Trafficking podcast. My name is Dave Stachowiak


Sandie [00:00:36] and my name is Sandie Morgan,


Dave [00:00:39] 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’s conversation I’m really looking forward to because we have with us an expert who’s going to really help us to discover the practical ways to work with law enforcement as we talk about, often on the show, the importance of partnerships across organizations, across agencies and, of course, law enforcement. Such a critical partner in all the work we are doing to end human trafficking. I’m so pleased to welcome to our show today. Dr. Stephany Powell. Stephany retired from the Los Angeles Police Department as a sergeant in charge of a Vice unit. Her unique insight into the world of sexual exploitation and trafficking, gained through her 30 years with the Los Angeles Police Department, made her an unparalleled choice to lead Journey Out in 2013, formerly known as the Mary Magdalene Project. Journey Out assists victims of human trafficking and finding their way out of violence and abuse due to sexual exploitation or forced prostitution. In 2020, she joined the National Center on Sexual Exploitation as the Director of Law Enforcement Training and Survivor Services. She is also the law enforcement human trafficking training consultant for the Selah Way Foundation. Dr. Powell, so glad to have you here on our show.


Stephany [00:02:06] Thank you so much. Thank you so much for inviting me.


Sandie [00:02:09] Well, I can hardly wait to dive into this conversation, and I know our listeners will benefit from your years of experience. We were doing a little pre-show recording talk, and during covid, we haven’t seen each other very much. And the last time that we were in person was literally at the human trafficking summit in the White House. So, I just say that because I want you all to know what a rock star, we have on our show today. So, Stephanie, let’s start talking about what are the keys to training your peers around the unique issues related to human trafficking and especially sexual exploitation. You’re like the guru of law enforcement training.


Stephany [00:03:04] You know, thank you so very much, and I think the key is when members of law enforcement can connect the dots, meaning that not only is it happening to the people they serve, but to perfectly understand that this could be their family member as well. So, giving them the human side of this, because usually when I’m doing a presentation with law enforcement and I start talking about the fact that this could be their daughter or their granddaughter or grandson or son, they are on the phone during the break either calling their daughter or son, and that’s the way in college or calling their wives and telling them all the ins and outs of what they’ve learned. And so, I think when there’s a relationship or they can identify personally, I believe that it gives them more of a push. The other aspect, I think, is when you’re working with law enforcement, there’s so much scrutiny, you know, especially now with the feeling that you know, some people really aren’t in support of them. And so, when you’re in front of them, training them, they’re looking to see is this person judging me or are they just assuming I’m doing the wrong thing do they understand that I’m really just here to learn. I may even know a little bit about it, but I’m here to learn a little bit more. And I think that by myself coming from law enforcement, making the same mistakes that they have as a result of not knowing becomes the key to them actually listening. And I know they’re listening because they’re asking me a lot of questions. So, I think those are the key.


Sandie [00:04:51] So I love how you focus in on mistakes, because I learned well from mistakes. So, 30 years you didn’t just automatically know and understand what to do when you began to identify human trafficking. So, what was your process in coming to the human trafficking table?


Stephany [00:05:16] So I left not because it’s funny, but I laugh because I look back at what the stuff I didn’t know and the mistakes that I made law enforcement come a long way. I retired in 2013 and since 2013 I see a more victim-centered approach across the nation because I worked twice from 08 to about 13. We kind of knew there was this thing called human trafficking. But honestly, we were thinking, you know, cargo ships are coming across. We weren’t thinking domestic. We were thinking international. What we didn’t realize is that we were really working with it every day for everyone. We arrested for prostitution and they talked about a pimp. We were dealing with a victim of human trafficking. And at that time, also remember, we were arresting children. So, the youngest I arrested for the crime of prostitution, was a 12-year-old. When I look back on that, I kind of cringe. But I got to tell you, this story Sandie, because this just kind of wraps it up. Well, you know, Vice works undercover. So, we’re working undercover, and we see that the fire department is putting out a fire in one of those little shopping centers. Right. And it looked like it was above like a nondescript type of store. So, we being nosy, we stop, and we go like, hey, what’s going on? Well, there’s a small fire up in that attic where there are some people where a mattress was set on fire. So, while we’re standing there, we’re watching these people come out of the building. Some have mattresses, some have, you know, stuff in bags and they’re not speaking English. And keep in mind, it’s like 2:00 in the morning and we just watch them walk down the street and we wave by. And in the back of my head, I’m thinking I’m like, this is a human trafficking thing. Like it’s not connecting. Had I known then what I know now, we would have been able to find support for those people because clearly, you had 15 people stuffed in an attic. And I did not connect the dots. And I think because of that, you know, gives me kind of a cringe factor that I find that it is so important for law enforcement to be trained. Because if we miss the signs, if they miss the red flags, my goodness, imagine their cringe factor of people that they could have helped. And now since there’s this connection with nonprofits and law enforcement, the tools. Resources are there, so they weren’t there for me then, so that’s why I didn’t know, and even if I had known, I wouldn’t have known who to call. So, I think that was part of it, not knowing who to call, but being in such a much better situation. And even when I do trainings and I start talking about sex trafficking victims and labor trafficking victims, you could tell the light bulb will go on going like, oh my God, I had a case like that so that the training is important.


Sandie [00:08:34] And you’ve already brought in how important community partners are. And you went straight from retirement. Well, you didn’t retire to Journey Out, and Journey Out is positioned to work alongside law enforcement. Tell us how that works and what are the success factors that we need for it to work well?


Stephany [00:09:00] Well, it’s all about relationships, you know, and we build relationships. I have a relationship with you which has given me this opportunity to speak to you today or if I have an issue, I know I can call Sandie. That same relationship must be built between the nonprofits and law enforcement, and they’re easy to be built as long as you build it on a foundation of trust. Because nonprofits have one agenda. It’s advocacy is to protect their client right, the victim that they’re serving. Law enforcement, they’re out to catch the bad guys. So sometimes it may look like two separate agendas, but they really are the same. And so, when you build that trust and have that lead as your foundation, the rest will come to fruition. An example of this would be if you have a victim of human trafficking and that victim wants to make a police report, you have the ability now because you’ve built that foundation to speak to someone either in the Vice unit or someone that is working with victims in some capacity and call and say, hey, Frank or Jane, this is what I have. And so, because Frank or Jane has built a relationship with you, they’re going to really go overboard to help you. But when they call you and say, hey, I need to interview Jane because we have a suspect in custody and then you start to hide that person or you start to badmouth the police to them, you’ve broken that trust. The trust must go both ways. When you do that, I can’t begin to tell you what a perfect cocktail that, so to speak, that you’ve made it. I’ll just give you an example really quick. When I first read Journey Out, I saw that that was a gap. But coming from law enforcement and interesting enough working with Journey Out as a sergeant and sending people that I was not taking to jail, sending them to Journey Out, which was the Mary Magdalene Project for services. I just saw the value in it. And so, I got a phone call from L.A. sheriffs and they said, hey, we have a girl who needs to be placed. She was thrown out of a car and she was an adult and she’s made a police report. But nobody wants to place her in the residential facilities because gang members are looking for her. So, I’m thinking to myself, bring her on. I don’t care about the gang members, bring her on. So, we brought her in. And it was such an interesting dynamic to watch her relationship with law enforcement because she felt that they cared enough to put her in a place that she was going to be safe and that our organization cared enough to make sure that when she went to court, there was an advocate that was going to be there, that rolled right alongside that sheriff to take her to court. And she often would say, you know what? She says, I didn’t have faith in law enforcement until this happened to me. And she calls that sheriff who is now retired. She calls him to this day, and he will call her just to see how she’s doing. So, I just hope I’m not taking too much of your time with these examples, but I just think that they’re so important for people to see that it really does work. It works well for law enforcement because that person sees that they care. It works great for the nonprofit because. Now, law enforcement starts to send you people to help make this person whole. So, it goes back to it takes a village.


Sandie [00:13:13] Wow, I love that story, too, because it illustrates people over programs, and we have to be victim-centered. We must think that this is an individual, a real person. Wow. We could talk just about that part for the rest of our half-hour, but I’ve got a few more questions. I’m particularly interested in how you’ve translated your expertise experience into helping organizations with policy change by educating them. And so, I’d like to understand how you did that, particularly with the L.A. Fire Department and the National Massage School industry. It’s like what I. I just need more information. Stephany.


Stephany [00:14:07] Oh, great. So, I’ll start with the fire department. I started to realize that we’ve done a great job in terms of educating law enforcement and even emergency room doctors. The entity that I don’t think has gotten enough training on is the fire department, we forget about them because we think they only put out fires. But remember, the ambulance is connected to them as well. And I read a study through Arizona, I think it was Arizona State, ASU, and they did a study on fire departments and human trafficking. And what it said was that out of all the first responders, that the fire department would be the one that would be the first point of contact of someone that was in captivity, whether it be labor or sex. And so, I was like, Bingo, they need to be trained. So, I contacted the Los Angeles City Fire, and they allow me to train their entire fire department. And it was an eye-opener to them. The bells and whistles were going off how many times that they release someone that was out on a prostitution track that had been hurt, and then this person comes up and say that they were their uncle, or they were their daddy, and they released that person to the person claiming to be a relative. And they thought, how many times did I just release that person to their pimp? And again, they were thinking, my God, this could have been my daughter. It was such a light bulb experience. And then I started getting calls where they were actually running into this, nights after the training and said, I saw the signs and I did something different. So, I encourage everyone who is out there to make sure that their fire department is in the loop as it pertains to human trafficking. When it comes to the massage industry, especially the massage schools. What I was realizing as a vice sergeant was that when we would go to these illicit massage establishments because there’s a difference between them and your real ones, I call them because the illicit ones are brothels. What I will notice is on the wall, they would have a certification from a massage therapy school. What I later found out was that there was a point where these illicit massage owners were able to go to some of these massage schools and buy a certificate of completion. I am now on the board of the California Massage Therapy Council. And so, they monitor to ensure that these schools are giving the training and people are passing the state requirements as opposed to somebody just walking in and buying a certificate. Again, when you match law enforcement to organizations such as these, they have it set up where law enforcement can call and in anywhere in the state and say, hey, I’ve got this certificate number and, I got this person’s name. Are they really certified? Because if they’re not law enforcement, can shut them down based on not having the proper credentials and license.


Sandie [00:17:33] I love learning about that. I’m going to be checking into my local area and find out what our policies are. And policy is a powerful tool in addressing human trafficking. Let’s move into a prevention conversation. Stephany, you have done it all the law enforcement, prosecution, the protection for victims, and the policy and even prevention. So, I want my listeners to understand more about especially working with young people. You wrote a workbook, My Choice, My Body, My Rules. So, talk to us about the principles in that workbook.


Stephany [00:18:25] Yes. Thank you so much. You know, I think prevention is so important in education. Right. And so, before I was a police officer, see, when you’re one hundred and fifty years old, you can navigate through all these different careers. But I was a schoolteacher for L.A. Unified before I became a police officer. Really?


Sandie [00:18:44] Oh, my goodness. That’s so cool.


Stephany [00:18:46] So because of that training and I’m an adjunct assistant professor also, so because of my education background, I knew that AB twelve twenty-seven had just come out a few years ago. And what that is, is a state law that says that the schools must train on human trafficking prevention once and middle school once in high school. So, I was thinking, well, what if I come up with a workbook to be able to help facilitate and help schools be in compliance? Of AB twelve twenty-seven. So, the way I configured this particular workbook is a workbook and a facilitator guide. The facilitator guide kind of acts as a train, the trainer, so that you don’t have to be an expert in human trafficking to help young people work through the workbook itself. And the workbook is one that is not solely, it’s for human trafficking prevention, but the basis of it is setting boundaries, having high self-esteem, high self-worth, because if you don’t have that, it makes you vulnerable for a trafficker. So, it’s built upon that type of foundation. Also in it is an advocacy tool that is age-appropriate, because once kids learn about this, I want them to be able to get out there and know how to write letters to their legislation. What can they do in order to raise money for their local nonprofit? So, it’s all age appropriate. So, there’s an advocacy tool kit for kids there, space in there for kids to write in your journal entries about self-worth. And it’s geared toward both labor and sex trafficking for both boys and girls.


Sandie [00:20:43] Wow. How do we find that?


Stephany [00:20:46] So it is on Amazon. And you can also contact me on LinkedIn and Stephany Powell, and you can reach out to me because you can either get it through me personally, especially if you’re buying in bulk, they’ll be cheap, or you get it right through Amazon.


Sandie [00:21:03] Wow. I can hardly wait to get that in my hands. OK, so the question as we were prepping for this show that is really on your heart is about demand. And I would like to understand how training and education, particularly from the perspective of law enforcement, impacts your work on the issue of demand reduction.


Stephany [00:21:34] It kind of goes back to, you know, in law enforcement. The one thing I’ll say me in particular, but it is happening everywhere. We focus so much on the prostituted individuals as opposed to the person that’s buying them. And because the bottom line is the whole issue of prostitution really is a human rights issue. And so, when a person is allowed to buy another or a person is allowed to think of someone as a commodity or as an object, it can lead to violence of that individual. And so, I think more emphasis needs to be placed on demand. More people need to be arrested for buying others. And as a result of that, one of the things that we have in L.A. County, we have an actual Johns school because on the street, customers of prostitution are called johns. And so, when Johns are arrested, they have to go to, It’s a diversion program. They’re offered the ability to go to John school. They must pay. It’s a one-day, all-day school and part of their payment will go to a nonprofit in their area. Some of the classes deal with sex addiction. They have someone that comes they have a survivor of human trafficking. Come in and talk to them. They have a psychologist that comes in and talks about sexual addiction and pornography addiction. And so, I just think that that is so important. The other aspect of this and the position that I now hold at the National Center on Sexual Exploitation and NCOSE, we’re really focusing on demand and educating not only the public but law enforcement of the importance of going after the demand and how going after demand is a key component of ending human trafficking.


Sandie [00:23:43] So I just read an article from New York, I think Manhattan, and they are now not arresting people for prostitution. And, you know, on the surface, I’m like, yeah, that’s great, because I don’t want a victim to be criminalized. As I read further into the article, though, I discovered that eventually, the steps towards this would also decriminalize the purchaser and seller. So how does that impact your work on the issue of demand if there’s no law enforcement role and in addressing that?


Stephany [00:24:33] So there’s partially crim, which means that it would just they would not arrest the prostituted person, but they would arrest the buyers and sellers, meaning the traffickers and the johns. And then there’s Phonogram, which would make that prostitution would be legal and nobody would be arrested. It’s to my understanding because there’s some talk about that particular article that Manhattan is saying, no, we were it’s misquoted that they just are not going to arrest the prostituted, but they are going to continue to arrest the buyers and the seller. So hopefully that part is true because you’re absolutely right. If it becomes completely legal, law enforcement has no reason to make an arrest. So, if they have no reason to make arrests, that could possibly mean that they’re not paying attention to the issue at all, which puts minors now in danger because human trafficking would still be against the law. Right. And all that human trafficking is against the law. And so how many times have we seen an illegal system operate under a legal system because no one is paying attention. And so that becomes the danger. It gets driven further underground. And these are minors or minor victims of human trafficking, vulnerable as well as our adults. They are adult victims of human trafficking will not be seen and identified because nobody’s paying attention. And let me just make this caveat. I interviewed women that were in the brothel system in a couple of counties in Nevada. And when I listened to them being victims of torture, sexual assault, emotional abuse, if I were to close my eyes and listen to their trauma and them living traumatic events, it was no different than when I was at Journey Out. And what I do now, listening to survivors in an illegal system. So regardless of whether it’s a legal or illegal system, the trauma is still there. It’s a human rights issue. And I think that’s what people really need to understand, the trauma that this puts someone through, even if they don’t realize it. You hear so many survivors that say, I didn’t realize how impacted I was by trauma until I got out of the life. And it was then that I saw it.


Sandie [00:27:21] Dr. Stephanie Powell. You are a powerhouse. I follow you. I learned from you there are more conversations that we need to have. Last question and then we’re going to sign off. Where do you see the antihuman trafficking movement needing to go next?


Stephany [00:27:46] I think we need to put a lot of emphasis on the victims that are underreporting, meaning the boys in our men that are victims, the LGBTQ community. I think we need to, we meaning nonprofit organizations, need to pay close attention to that and believe them and their stories. I also believe that we really need to pay attention to this whole issue of fully crim and really examine the Nordic and equality model, because, with that, it provides services for people that want to get out of life, regardless of whether they’re there by force or because it just became a life that they led for whatever reason. So I really think that that is where we need to go and continue to educate the public for prevention. All of that together will help us to in this thing.


Sandie [00:28:52] Thank you so much for being on our show today, Stephanie. I just can’t wait until we can be back in person.


Stephany [00:29:00] Yes, I look forward to it. Thank you so much for doing this and the contribution that you’ve made to this issue.


Dave [00:29:08] Stephanie and Sandie, thank you so much for this conversation. So much I learned that’s been helpful and thinking about what’s next. And we are inviting you to take the first step. If you haven’t already, please take a moment to hop online and download a copy of Sandie’s Guide, The Five Things You Must Know: A Quick Start Guide to Ending Human Trafficking. It’ll teach you the five critical things that Sandie’s identified that you should note before you join the fight against trafficking. You can get access to it by going over to Endinghumantrafficking.org. That is also where we’ll have details of links and all of the good work that Stephany is doing, including the Amazon link and LinkedIn and all of the resources mentioned today. In addition, when you go over to Endinghumantrafficking.org, that’s the place to find out more about the antihuman trafficking certificate program here at Vanguard University. For more details, Endinghumantrafficking.org. And we will be back with you in two weeks. Thanks, Sandie.


Sandie [00:30:10] Thank you, Dave.


Dave [00:30:11] Take care, everyone.


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