290 – BJA Fellowship Review, with Derek Marsh

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Sandie Morgan is joined by Derek Marsh, Associate Director of the Global Center for Women and Justice. They discuss Derek’s BJA Fellowship on human trafficking and how law enforcement and task forces can be more proactive in investigating and assisting labor trafficking.

Derek Marsh, MA, MPA

Derek Marsh retired from the Westminster PD, CA, after more than 26 years of service. In 2004, Marsh helped start the Orange County Human Trafficking Task Force (OCHTTF). He served as the co-chair of the OCHFFT from 2004-12. During that time, he developed and taught courses in human trafficking across the state of California, provided oversight to human trafficking investigations, assisted in creating HT DVDs, wrote multiple grants, and provided Congressional testimony twice as a HT expert witness. He has presented anti-HT trainings across California and the United States, Saipan, Italy, and Argentina. He taught HT as an undergraduate course at Vanguard University, CA, from 2009 to present. He develops and teaches criminal justice and human trafficking courses. He has served with the United Nations to train Rwandan immigration officials, law enforcement, prosecutors, and NGOs over four intensive seminars in 2017. He has an MA in Human Behavior, an MPA in Police Management & Leadership, and graduated from FBINA Class #224. Currently, D.C. Marsh works as the Assistant Director at the Global Center for Women and Justice. He is researching how human trafficking task forces identify, investigate, and prosecute labor trafficking cases throughout the United States through on-site visits and review of historical task force and federal performance documents. He is helping to develop and provide training and technical assistance through the BIA, TTAC, and OVC-TTAC agencies. His expertise in Criminal Justice will contribute to the research, education, and advocacy mission of the Global Center for Women and Justice.

Key Points

  • From 2015-2018, Derek Marsh was a visiting fellow with the Bureau of Justice Assistance to conduct research on human trafficking.
  • Across the board, we are missing labor trafficking cases due to a lack proactive investigations.
  • The history of trafficking investigations in the U.S. shows a striking shift from labor to sex trafficking in 2009.
  • To successfully address labor trafficking, we need to redefine what success means.
  • The goal for law enforcement and prosecution should be to seek justice and closure for victims, whether it be via a criminal or civil case.
  • Building a task force that is equipped to address labor trafficking looks different than a task force to address sex trafficking.


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Dave [00:00:00] You’re listening to the Ending Human Trafficking podcast. This is episode 290, BJA Fellowship Review, with Derek Marsh.

Production Credits [00:00:09] 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. Today we have back a frequent guest of ours, Sandie, our associate director here at the Global Center for Women and Justice, Derek Marsh. Derek, so glad to have you back with us.

Derek [00:00:55] Glad to be back. Thanks for having me.

Sandie [00:00:57] So, Derek, you were adjunct here before you retired from Westminster Police Department, where you started the first iteration of the Orange County Human Trafficking Task Force. Before you came, though, to work here as the associate director at the Global Center you did a BJA fellowship. So I thought it would be really fun for us to talk about what that look like. BJA means Bureau of Justice Assistance. So let’s talk about that. What was your purpose and why did you take on an absolute gargantuan task?

Derek [00:01:43] Well, it was a task of pleasure. I got to tell you, I really enjoyed my time with BJA as a fellow in human trafficking. I had just retired in 2013. They put out a notice, much like a solicitation for a grant and I for a change I wrote a grant for me as opposed to other people. And I was lucky enough to be selected to participate. So I went from 2015 to 2018 as a visiting fellow in human trafficking with the Bureau of Justice Assistance. And my major focus was labor trafficking. Understanding promising practices about how people were pursuing it, how they were investigating it, how they discovered it, even somehow how they prosecuted it. My hope was to reinforce some studies that had gone on before, and that was my initial start in working with the BJA.

Sandie [00:02:29] I’ve talked about this with some of my students and they did not get the idea of what a fellow is and why it isn’t gender specific. Can you explain what that actually entails?

Derek [00:02:42] Sure. The BJA and OVC and other programs as well, they will bring people out from the field, if you will, who are actively practicing the field or have recently practiced in the field on different topics. There was a person there when I was there dealing with prisons and incarceration issues. There was people there dealing with victim service agencies, non-government organizations. It really depends on what their need is. And so what they do is they bring folks in who have expertise in these different fields and they basically have them work on a project related to their expertise, which would then be contributed to the OVC, BJA, or whatever DOJ group is sponsoring them, so that they have a little bit more expertise when putting together solicitations and other issues regarding the particular topic. Again, for me being human trafficking.

Sandie [00:03:29] Okay, thank you for clarifying that. So your primary focus was labor trafficking, but also you were looking at the collaborative process, right?

Derek [00:03:41] Correct. Obviously no one does this as an island. So there was and I wanted to understand how labor trafficking was pursued, but I understood that with labor trafficking there is a distinctive collaborative element. And my curiosity was, is a collaboration focused on labor trafficking equivalent to a generic human trafficking collaboration for a task force. Or does it have a little difference from sex trafficking, the labor trafficking?

Sandie [00:04:09] Okay. So what was your original intention?

Derek [00:04:13] Well, my original intention was to investigate how people were pursuing labor trafficking. And so I was trying to figure out, like better practices, promising practices with regards to investigations, case development, prosecution strategies. But what I found was that still, after the task forces have been around since 2003, as far as solicitations go, most taskforces were not pursuing labor trafficking actively. They would take the case if it fell on their lap, but they wouldn’t proactively pursue it. And so I switched my view from ‘What are you doing and how are you doing it’ to ‘How do we get more people or how do we get more taskforces to be established and developed to focus more on labor trafficking?’

Sandie [00:05:02] So, I love the fact that you use the word proactive investigations, because just yesterday I was having a conversation here in Orange County, and when I mentioned labor trafficking, they interrupted and said, ‘Oh, we have a much bigger problem with sex trafficking.’ And I smiled and said, that’s because that’s what we’re looking for. It is harder to look for labor trafficking. So if you have a really good track record of convictions on sex trafficking, that doesn’t necessarily mean that there’s no labor trafficking.

Derek [00:05:44] Well, we do what we were we’re comfortable doing. It’s kind of low laying fruit. And I’m not minimizing the pursuit of sex trafficking. I think it’s critical to the human trafficking movement. And honestly, without sex trafficking, whether it’s foreign and more emphasized on domestic here in the United States, human trafficking wouldn’t be as relevant and consistently pursued as it is today. However, when you look at NGO, non-government organizations, and their work with victim-survivors of human trafficking, many of them have higher numbers of victim-survivors who are labor trafficking victims than they do sex trafficking. And that tells me that we are missing cases across the board. And it’s not just in California, it’s just not in New York. It’s not just in Florida. It’s everywhere, everywhere across the board. Wherever you go, there are always at least some labor trafficking, a significant sum of labor trafficking victims that are being addressed, at least on the NGO social services side. Even if the law enforcement side of the task force isn’t pursuing those investigations.

Sandie [00:06:47] So this really turned into an action research project. And so you had to figure out how to gather the data to fulfill your fellowship. So how did you connect with task forces? How did you get them to cooperate?

Derek [00:07:07] I was, again, OVC, Office of Victims of Crime, and BJA, where I was stationed at–are actually in the same building by the way in different floors. But they were super supportive. And without their help and their advice and their mentorship, I wouldn’t be able to figure out myself. What it came down to is we were pursuing regional training through eight year old OVC-BJA which allowed me to meet task forces, both that were federally funded and non-federally funded. I also was able to connect with various task force folks telephonically. This is before Zoom was an active issues and then obviously I was also very fortunate to be allowed to actually travel to at least say 20, if not more sites, to actually visually observe and, not necessarily participate, but to kind of walk along, if you will, to see how people were pursuing or not pursuing labor trafficking cases.

Sandie [00:07:59] Okay. So you’ve already identified that most of the labor trafficking cases kind of fell into their hands, but were rarely actively pursued. There wasn’t an intentional outreach, intentional proactive investigation strategies. So what were the challenges that made task forces ill equipped? Is that too much to say, to really understand how to develop a proactive strategy?

Derek [00:08:37] Well, I would say they’re equipped. I would say that the emphasis they were pursuing was more sex trafficking focused. And if we look for a context, I would say around 2009, the enhanced collaborative model solicitation came out where both the NGO and the law enforcement task forces were expected to write a mutual request, a solicitation to show that they were interacting with each other and they were mutually supporting each other. And at that same time, the emphasis shifted from foreign national human trafficking to domestic. And that was a shift that needed to happen. I’m not minimizing that. But because of that, the emphasis before, because a lot of labor trafficking, a majority we’ve run into has been foreign national based. Once that shift went to domestic, and specifically domestic minor sex trafficking, the world shifted because now you were dealing with a topic which law enforcement had an extensive experience with because vice investigations are part and parcel of what you’re doing in law enforcement all the time. At least one group or one person or one detective has that responsible. Just about every PD that has more than 125 personnel. And so they immediately begin to go for, again, the low laying fruit, their experience with these vice type of investigations. And it became an almost immediate shift. If you look at the numbers as reported in the TIP reports, you can see that in 2009, I believe, there was actually more labor trafficking than sex trafficking. It’s the only time in the 22 years of the TVPA that’s been documented is such lists from the federal level. And then immediately you see the graph like separate and sex trafficking investigations skyrocket and labor trafficking dives. And this last TIP Report, Trafficking in Persons Report, shows if you look at the percentages, not the numbers, 97% of the cases federally reported were sex trafficking, whereas 3% were labor trafficking. And I know that they’re trying harder to focus on labor trafficking. I’m not trying to minimize those efforts or the results of those efforts, but it’s a huge disparity and it doesn’t represent the victim survivor pool that we have throughout the U.S.

Sandie [00:10:48] Okay. So what’s the answer to that?

Derek [00:10:52] Well, I don’t know if there’s one answer. I recommended a number of things in my final paper with the BJA, and they were very open. And I’ve seen some changes along the way. And just because I recommended it didn’t mean it had to be done. I mean, there’s realities as far as being able to support and finance things. So I don’t mean to say that only my answers are right. However, I think that really to change how you successfully pursue labor trafficking had to do with understanding what success was. Because, in the past, success and again, BJA and OVC have been changing this dramatically before by and into my initial fellowship, it was a numbers game. It’s like how many arrests can you make? How many contacts can you make? How can you document to show that you’re busy, if that makes sense. But then as you begin to look at more qualitative issues, then you want to start saying, well, how many of these are sex versus labor trafficking? Why is there a disparity that way? Why is your NGO showing half of their victim-survivors are labor trafficking, but your investigations only show one or two labor trafficking investigations per year. So, it’s that disparity that you have to look at. And then a lot of it came as a result of the way we define success. Labor trafficking cases usually take much longer to pursue. They’re frequently, he said-she said. We’re going to have one or two people that can confirm there’s no actual evidence later you could do. They are hugely victim-survivor based, which makes it problematic and really a cornerstone of many cases is on the victim-survivor. If they choose not to cooperate, the prosecution is without help. However, when I’m talking about definition of success, I think it’s also important to think that even if you may not criminally be able to prove something, then instead we could look at things like administrative sanctions, civil remedies to sue the suspects or the suspect groups, if it’s a business or an organization, to provide financial compensation for how these people were treated, exploited or labor trafficked. I think that’s important to pursue. Also, I want to focus on the fact that even getting someone or pursuing a T-visa or any kind of status here in the U.S. would be considered a win, if you will, towards labor trafficking. So, I would say that was one major component. Looking at these, just redefining what success and measuring success entails for labor trafficking.

Sandie [00:13:16] So, when when I’ve had conversations with particularly law enforcement officers, they’re very frustrated by the lack of prosecution quickly and they make an arrest. They think this should go down in their in their stats and then it like almost evaporates. And that’s very disheartening. And so it sounds from your perspective that we actually need to have a new way of looking at this. And it reminded me of a previous episode where we interviewed the civil attorneys Ahn and Rena, and we’ll put the the link in the show notes. But they were able, through a civil case, to establish a labor trafficking case in a way that was much more difficult in a criminal case. And when I try to explain that, I’m not good at that because I’m not the law enforcement person. So I want you to explain why that makes a difference in prosecuting a case.

Derek [00:14:36] Well, again, when you look at a civil case versus a criminal case. In a civil case, you’re looking at preponderance of the evidence. You’re looking at 50.1% is sufficient to find a suspect or organization, if we’re looking at practices within the organization as being held responsible for promoting or allowing labor trafficking to occur under their watch or under their agencies or under the umbrella of that organization. Whereas, if you go to a criminal trial, it’s proof beyond a reasonable doubt, which is like 99.9%. So there’s a significant difference in what you have to prove and how much you have to prove. So civil remedies can be much more successful. I think the Human Trafficking Institute repeatedly during their yearly reports, has shown that a lot of labor trafficking cases have gone the civil route because it is a he said-she said. And it is important for us if we’re to get from a victim centered, trauma informed approach, that we do provide them as much potential for closure as we can. So, yeah, maybe you cannot prosecute because you don’t have that proof beyond a reasonable doubt. And I respect that. I’m definitely not criticizing prosecutors for being responsible and not wasting our time, in a sense, wasting the time of the court with cases that can’t move forward. But I still think there are other remedies that can be had that not only promote our victim’s accusations as being legitimate, but also provide some kind of monetary reimbursement so that they can move forward because they’re here legitimately. Most of them come here legally anyway, according to reports. Over 70% come here legitimately and they all come out of status once they try to get out of those conditions. So, I don’t think that we’re really talking about people who are coming across the border out of status to begin with. As a whole, there may be some, I’m not saying there aren’t, but I think on the whole, these people have tried legitimately to go through and still been taken advantage of, still been trafficked. And just by leaving because of the way our H-2 visas work and things, I know we’re working on changing that, but currently that if you leave the person who sponsors you, you leave the organization that sponsors you, suddenly you’re out of status. And I understand the need for that in the past, but that allows traffickers to have much more control over their victims than they should. So it’s just a horrible, hard way to come to a final conclusion. So forget the prosecution if you have to from a criminal perspective. If you can do it from a civil perspective, sure, it’s going to take more time. But we’re used to labor trafficking taking years more than some sex trafficking cases. But at least the victims receive some kind of closure on the case, some validation for what’s occurred to them and some monetary recompense.

Sandie [00:17:19] And that restitution is part of the restorative justice that we’ve talked about here in the past. And it seems like it’s more realistic to punish the business, the company that’s actually exploiting someone’s labor and controlling their movements and just however they use them, whether it’s in a cleaning company, a hotel, or out in the fields. So that punishment to the business perhaps has more of a deterrent effect than finding one person and prosecuting them and putting them in prison because the company has lots of other people. That’s how I see it.

Derek [00:18:09] And I agree. I think that, again, the idea here is not so much to create an impossible standard for people to try to prosecute cases that really aren’t prosecutable in the normal sense of the term, but to find some kind of closure for our victims if we can. And how do you arrest a corporation, how do you arrest an organization that is trafficking? I mean, you could pick individuals who are the primary, and I think that’s legitimate. However, if it’s a 50-50 chance, if you can prosecute someone versus a 90% chance you could civilly hold the organization accountable, what makes more sense? I think it makes more sense to pursue that organization as long as it can be proved that they had some culpability in it. And I’m not trying to give money away, either. I don’t to make it seem like I’m just a money tree or Santa Claus. I mean, even criminal cases require restitution in these cases that be assessed against the people trafficked folks, whether it’s sex or labor trafficking. So we’re not asking for anything that they wouldn’t get if there was a criminal prosecution as well.

Sandie [00:19:06] Okay. So what else can we do to be more successful in our anti-labor trafficking efforts?

Derek [00:19:15] Well, I think another aspect of this is the task force and coalition members that we choose. When we’re looking at a generic task force, they are great. They’re very focused. They have multiple issues we’re focusing on. We have our NGOs, we have our psychological support, we have shelters, food, all these different people who are contributing. Businesses, faith based community, as well as our state, local, federal law enforcement partners. So all of those are great. However, I think with labor trafficking, you have to focus more on those institutions that have labor in their title or labor in their expertise. Remember, again, that from a local law enforcement perspective, labor isn’t something we pursue. I remember going to cases where you have everything from people being upset about their wage to people being upset of how their car was repaired and all we would say, go to civil court, go to civil court, go to civil court. And that was the answer because we don’t adjudicate civil issues. Whereas with labor trafficking, the initial impression may be, well, that sounds like a civil problem. Whether they got the wage you were promised or whether they got enough breaks. I mean, that’s not on me. And you’re right, exploitation itself isn’t on law enforcement. However, labor trafficking investigations involve criminal activity. Threats against people. Threatening people with keeping their documents of abuse, of substandard housing, of not feeding people, making them exposed to hazardous conditions and things like that. All of those are criminal activities that aren’t just labor thinks. But again, as law enforcement, we don’t often deal with that. So we have to team up with organizations that have that labor expertise and we’re talking about that. If you’re talking about your documents, State Department is a great crew to do it. If you’re looking at the labor itself, the Department of Labor Wage and Hour is critical. They also have an OIG Department that can actually prosecute and pursue things on a criminal level, too, whereas the wage and hour is more administrative; it’s civilly focused. EEOC can be a part of things, as well. You can team up with your local consulates to understand what the different populations at the communities are going through, because they would have insight into that as well. Your faith based communities are huge because a lot of them go to church and the one thing they are allowed to do is go to church and participate in worship. It may be that through those insights and understanding those people, you can get some insights on what’s going on. So you want to compose your task force a little bit differently and a focus on those types of NGOs, non-government organizations, that have expertise with contacting people in whatever field that they may be being exploited or trafficked in. And also you want to make sure that they’re ethnically aware, culturally, you know, balance perspectives and understand the language they’re speaking so they can communicate better, understand exactly what’s happening, and feel a degree of trust.

Sandie [00:22:04] And I love that you mentioned that they often are, the victims are often allowed to attend a church. And we did a training for pastors years ago, and within two weeks they identified three labor trafficking victims because of the trust that they had already built. And I think we have a tendency to expect law enforcement to be able to instantly identify and gain the trust for a victim to actually disclose. So, because we’re running out of time, I do want to go back to the task force model and what can we do from the law enforcement perspective to promote the anti-labor trafficking efforts that the enhanced collaborative model grants require as deliverables?

Derek [00:23:03] Well, I think, number one, when it comes to task forces, your different agencies have agency heads, whoever they may be, male or female, doesn’t matter to me. They need to lead from the front. They need to imbue or enhance or just talk to their folks that are representing these task forces. Let them know that labor trafficking is as much a priority as sex trafficking is. I’m not saying you ignore a sex trafficking case if it comes, but you need to be able to make that happen. You also need to dedicate, if you have the resources, because we’re in a world where resources are scarce. But if you have resources, I mean by resource people this time, to specifically pursue labor trafficking cases. Over and over again, I went to task forces that had split and said, well, they’re half sex trafficking and half labor trafficking. And guess what? It just doesn’t work. Because every time a sex trafficking case comes around, and there are plenty of them, unfortunately the person would be obligated, and rightfully so, to pursue that sex trafficking case. If you can isolate one person, say all you do is labor trafficking, you have a much better chance of getting labor trafficking prosecution, or at least the case generated. And finally, with that dedicated person, you need to go out in to those areas where most law enforcement are not used to going into and interact on community groups, to ethnic communities and make those connections with those agencies that are already built rapport in those areas and try to establish that rapport. Because unfortunately, when it comes to foreign national victims, a lot of them don’t trust law enforcement inherently, and especially we don’t speak the language and you don’t look like them they have a tendency not to believe that you can support them or help them. And so it goes a long way to having that person who’s dedicated actually going out to the community and developing relationships with these different organizations because it’s important and it is kind of a PR job. I know most police are like, Wow, I want to go out there and arrest people and, trust me, I sympathize with that 110%. But with labor trafficking is as much about building bridges and establishing rapport as it is about pursuing cases, because most of your cases aren’t going to be found, in fact, almost all of them are not going to be found by your officer driving down the street. They’re going to be found by these organizations who are out there interacting with field laborers or people in different industries. That’s how you’re going to get your reports and find your potential labor trafficking cases. That’s the way you be proactive in labor trafficking.

Sandie [00:25:30] Wow. So your fellowship gave you an opportunity to get a much broader perspective from all the way from New York to California.

Derek [00:25:40] Right. And I can’t thank them enough for that opportunity. I’ll tell you what, the fellowship was initially going to be 18 months. And they were very generous in extending it to be almost three years. And as law enforcement used to be behind the curtain and understanding who that in the Wizard of Oz, that guy behind the curtain. So it’s always fun to be behind the curtain again even after you retire and feel like you’re in the know. And having that fellowship gave me a perspective I never would have had before. Understanding how the grant administrators and the policy advisors who are all very enlightened, smart, dedicated people, work behind the scenes to try to make these task forces help our victim survivors become independent and not forget, but work through the issues they have as best they can with being victimized. They are truly humanitarian people. And it was a pleasure to be with them. And I just thank God every day that I had that opportunity to be with them at that time.

Sandie [00:26:35] Well, and we here at the Global Center are also very grateful because you brought all of that expertise to our anti-human trafficking certificate program that we launched. And now we have a labor trafficking case. And so if you are listening, you have a law enforcement or victim service credential and you have that kind of knowledge and you want to layer it with the specifics of the expertise around labor trafficking and policies and grants deliverables, please take a look at our anti-human trafficking certificate program. Derek’s been really vital in making sure it’s cutting edge and in developing a dual pathway. Tell us about our professional development process.

Derek [00:27:32] Oh, so after several years of begging and pleading and stomping, and with your support, we were able to establish now two different tracks. We have an academic track where you’re actually getting college credits, if you need them that’s great. It is a more expensive track because it’s per unit. There are three units per course, four courses for the certificate. These are paying for 12 units overall. However, there’s a professional track. For those people who don’t need those units, if you want to learn the issues, that cost is $399 a course, which is significantly less than a normal course. You still do all the coursework minus the big paper, so you’re welcome. But you still need it and you still need to take the four courses. That doesn’t minimize the requirement. But between the academic and the professional, we know there are so many people out there that just can’t afford it. Being a private institution, our prices are what they are. But I think that now you can get a certificate for under $1600 dollars, whereas before that was barely one course or just under one course. So I think we really have an opportunity here, especially if we could get people cohorts to come through, and then we could probably tailor the program more to a group of 7 to 10 people and you could knock it out in a couple semesters and we’d be happy to help provide any kind of assistance in that way.

Sandie [00:28:46] Thank you, Derek.

Derek [00:28:47] Thank you for having me. It’s really exciting to be part of this process and of course, hear the podcast. I mean, good grief, Ending Human Trafficking has been around for over a decade now, so it’s always a pleasure to be a part of it.

Dave [00:28:56] Thank you both for this conversation. We’re inviting you to take the next step to go over to Endinghumantrafficking.org. That’s where you can find a ton of the resources we’ve mentioned in this conversation, including information on the certificate program that Sandie and Derek and some many here at the Global Center for Women and Justice at Vanguard University have worked tirelessly over recent years to put together and with the options that we’ve now mentioned. So we’re inviting you to do that. And if you haven’t visited that site before, that’s also a great first step for you. If you go online there, you’re going to find an opportunity to download a copy of Sandie’s guide, The Five Things You Must Know: A Quick Start Guide to Ending Human Trafficking. It’ll help you identify the five critical things that we have been researching in our work that you should know before you join the fight against human trafficking. You can get access to it just by going over to Endinghumantrafficking.org. And a reminder that our next conference is upcoming very soon, March 3rd and 4th, 2023. Details for the Ensure Justice conference are at GCWJ.org/ensurejustice. You can join us here in Southern California for our annual event and an opportunity to learn so much more. And perhaps just as importantly, if not more so, to build the relationships and connections in person with so many others who have a heart to support the work that we’re doing to end human trafficking. Hope you’ll go over to Endinghumantrafficking.org for all the details there. And of course, we will be back in two weeks for our next conversation.

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