71 – A Dozen Myths About Human Trafficking (Part 1)

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Dr. Sandie Morgan, Dave Stachowiak, and Westminster Police Department’s Deputy Chief Derek Marsh discuss the myths and misconceptions of human trafficking. Deputy Chief Marsh has worked on Orange County’s local anti-trafficking efforts since 2003, including co-chairing the Orange County Human Trafficking Task Force for nine years. In Part 1, they discuss 6 out of 12 myths about human trafficking as outlined by the Polaris Project.

Key Points

  • Myth 1: Under the federal definition, trafficked persons can only be foreign nationals or only immigrants from other countries.
  • Myth 2: Human trafficking involves moving, traveling, or transporting a person across state or national borders.
  • Myth 3: Human trafficking is another term for human smuggling,
  • Myth 4: There must be elements of physical restraint, physical force, or physical bondage when identifying a human trafficking situation.
  • Myth 5: Victims of human trafficking will immediately ask for help or assistance and will self-identify as a victim of a crime.
  • Myth 6: Human trafficking victims always come from situations of poverty or from small rural villages.


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Dave [00:00:00] You’re listening to the Ending Human Trafficking podcast. This is episode number 71 on today’s show, A Dozen Myths about Human Trafficking (Part 1). Welcome to the Ending Human Trafficking podcast. My name is Dave Stachowiak.

Sandie [00:00:31] And my name is Sandie Morgan.

Dave [00:00:33] And this is the show where we empower you to study the issues, be a voice, and make a difference in ending human trafficking. And Sandie, we do spend a lot of time talking about studying the issues. We’re going to spend most of the episode today looking at, what are some common myths on human trafficking. We have a great guest with us again today, Deputy Chief Derek Marsh from the Westminster Police Department, who is back again from his previous appearance on the show. Before we get on with Deputy Chief Marsh, though, I know you would like to say something about 2014. And one of the big events we have coming up here at the Global Center for Women and Justice at Vanguard University.

Sandie [00:01:14] Well, Ensure Justice 2014, our theme is, Why is She a Slave? And we’re looking at prevention and early intervention for human trafficking. And our speakers are absolutely top-notch. Stephen Bauman, president and CEO of a World Relief is coming out for this. Dr. Joanne Butren, who’s director of Ministries for the Assemblies of God. And she’s going to give us a public health perspective. The White House faith-based senior adviser to Homeland Security, Reverend David Myers, will be here. He is absolutely an inspiring speaker, especially when it comes to talking about marginalized youth right here in our own country. And then one of the most exciting guests that we have coming is Shyima Hall, the first victim that was really identified in Orange County when she was 12 years old, is ready to tell her story. Her book is coming out in January, go to our Web site and we’ve got a link so that you can pre-order it now. I already have. And she’s going to be there to tell her story. We’re going to have her come and do an interview on the podcast as well. We’re also focusing on how we can support our community. So, community educators and juvenile justice. We’re going to have some special workshops for them as well. And if they’re interested in finding out how to participate in some of those sessions, please e-mail us at gcwj@vanguard.edu.

Dave [00:02:59] Perfect. And the conference is going to be when, Sandie? For folks who want to get in on their calendars.

Sandie [00:03:05] Oh that’s important! It is on March 7th and 8th. That’s a Friday, Saturday at Vanguard University in Costa Mesa, California, where we will not have snow on the ground in March.

Dave [00:03:16] We will not have snow, no. It did rain one year I remember that. But usually, it’s pretty sunny and fairly warm. So, if you’re in another part of the world, that’s a little colder in March. It’s a great place to come visit. And we’re really close to Disneyland, too.

Sandie [00:03:30] Well, yes, there you go. And the other thing about our conference, we’ve been tracking more and more feedback after the conference and what people say is, they come here first to get the latest trends in figuring out how we are working towards ending human trafficking. And they network, they find other people who have the same value for knowledge and research, who have the same value for best practices, and they connect and that strengthens our entire network. And it’s like having a safety net that has more strands, so not as many things fall through the holes in that. So, we’re very excited about Ensure Justice 2014. And here’s a secret just for listeners listening on the day this podcast is released. On our Web site, if you go to our newsletter, there is a Christmas gift and there is a special code. If you go to gcwj.vanguard.edu and look at our newsletter for December. There is a $10 off code if you register by December thirty-first for Ensure Justice 2014.

Dave [00:04:44] Oh, great. And don’t let that stop you, though, if you’re listening after December thirty-first because it’s going to be a great conference regardless. Be sure to go to gcwj.vanguard.edu for even more information.

Sandie [00:04:56] And the early bird rate is still good until February.

Dave [00:05:00] Oh, okay. Great. Perfect. So, lots of opportunities to get on and get registered for the conference. And you mentioned something a moment ago, Sandie, about the trends and learning about what’s new and what’s going on. One of the great things that has happened in the last couple of years is that more and more people are becoming aware of this issue and are becoming advocates for working against human trafficking. And helping us to end it, and that has brought some wonderful visibility to this issue. Unfortunately, it is also brought some myths. It has become very popular in the media and there’s been a lot of very sensational stories about human trafficking. And out of that has come some myths about human trafficking, some of which are based in truth, but unfortunately tend to only focus on a very small perspective of really the complexity of this issue. And so today’s conversation with Deputy Chief Marsh is really designed to uncover some of those common myths that have come out of this conversation over the last couple of years and really talk about what’s the bigger picture and why are they myths and how can we be better informed so that we’re able to really serve people in the best possible way. So, Sandie has prerecorded this interview with Deputy Chief Marsh. And so, let’s go ahead and turn it over to her right now.

Sandie [00:06:22] I’m really excited to have Deputy Chief Derek Marsh from Westminster Police Department with us today to discuss myths and misconceptions about human trafficking. So, welcome to the Ending Human Trafficking podcast, Deputy Chief.

Derek [00:06:36] Thank you for having me, Professor Morgan.

Sandie [00:06:40] Well, it’s been a lot of years that we’ve actually worked together here in Orange County with the Human Trafficking Task Force. And what I’d like to find out first is how many years have you been working on this?

Derek [00:06:54] I’ve been involved with the task force and with human trafficking since the end of 2003, beginning of 2004. And then became the taskforce administrator/co-chair almost like halfway through 2004 and held that position through 2012.

Sandie [00:07:16] And you’ve also led an initiative here in Orange County that was funded through Cal EMA to do law enforcement training. And can you kind of give us an update on the status of that, how long you’ve done it, how many LEOs you’ve trained, etc.?

Derek [00:07:32] We’ve been super fortunate, Sandie, as far as the training offered through the California Emergency Management Agency. Victim advocate, victim advocacy groups. Specifically, we got the grant back, I believe in 2009 and we are in our fifth year this year. We have trained a couple of thousand law enforcement specific folks as well as training a lot of nongovernment agency people. This includes anyone from federal to state to local law enforcement and includes a lot of our NGO partners who get involved from the ground level with human trafficking. I believe we’re in closer overall, around 3000 people been trained using this grant, which is an eight-hour course certified by the police officers’ standards and training as well as being certified through our probationary folks as well, which is another few thousand people that we’ve been able to reach out to and train as well.

Sandie [00:08:32] Well, I think that’s really outstanding, and it really places you in a place academically and knowledge base wise to really engage some of these myths. And just for our listeners, I want them to also know that I’m very proud that your adjunct faculty in the Women’s Studies Minor at Vanguard University. So, he co-teaches with me for the human trafficking class at Vanguard. So, our students are very privileged to be able to get firsthand experience in the classroom from Active Deputy Chief Derek Marsh. So, let’s dive right into the first myth. We’re going to address the myths the way that they are outlined on the Polaris Project Web page because Polaris Project is funded through our Health and Human Services and has the National Human Trafficking Resource Center. So, they gather a lot of data through that, and that’s funded through your tax dollars if you’re listening here in the United States. So, we’ll start with myth number one, under the federal definition, trafficked persons can only be foreign nationals or only immigrants from other countries.

Derek [00:09:50] Well, I can tell you exactly where that myth came from. When we first started searching out for grant opportunities and when the TVPA, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, was enacted in 2000, the initial focus of that legislation was for nationals and focused on people being brought in to America, brought into the US, or in any country associated with the U.S., or a protectorate of the US. And that was where the funding was at, that was where your focus was supposed to be. And in fact, when we got our federal funding to the task force initially in 2008 and in 2006, it was this type of trafficking we were supposed to focus on. However, as you know, things have changed, and they’ve evolved over time. And now we’re looking at domestic minor sex trafficking and our domestic children being victimized as well as adults. While the focus is still on sex trafficking sometimes, just because we’re familiar with it, the reality is that it deals with labor as well, but it also deals with our internal as well. So, I think the initial myth started with the fact that the funding was focused on foreign national trafficking and people being brought into our country, brought into other countries against their will, or at least being misled and brought there through force, fraud, or coercion. However, that’s since evolved, and we recognize now that our domestic minors, adults as well, can be trafficked within their respective countries, whether it’s the United States or any other country out there.

Sandie [00:11:25] Well, and the Trafficking Victims Protection Act federally, because a lot of people feel like we don’t have federal laws to protect children, but we actually do because if they’re being sold for commercial sex and they’re under the age of 18, that falls into the federal law parameters, right?

Derek [00:11:43] Yeah. So, in fact, it always has I think just the emphasis on, I remember setting up the task force or at least, you know, here, Westminster Police Department when we had our task force working here, I was more focused here than what we would focus on was for national. We have, in one sense, we have an immigrant population of Asians, predominantly Vietnamese. And so, we had expertise with dealing in that community and enforcing laws in that community. And so, we did focus on the foreign national almost exclusively. And whether we had a child or adult, it wouldn’t have mattered. Anything that came across our desk, obviously, we would have handled. But again, that Grant was very focused on foreign nationals initially. Though, federal law, ironically, dealt with any kind of child being forced into any kind of sexual or labor trafficking situation.

Sandie [00:12:31] So, if you’re listening to this and you want a little more background on what Deputy Chief Marshall just mentioned, you can look up the 2009 congressional testimony from Derek Marsh and read through the history of those early investigations in Orange County.  Let’s move on to myth number two. I love this because a lot of NGOs set up their efforts right at the border. And the myths say human trafficking is essentially a crime that must involve some form of travel, transportation, or movement across state or national borders. What’s the reality?

Derek [00:13:12] Again, I think it came from the same source. The idea that we were looking at foreign nationals. A lot of the initially funded task forces had either presence on the border or that a presence with an international airport or they had a presence with water borders you some kind of, you know, shipping and things like that. And because those cities, which are larger and they had more of a chance for an immigrant population, I think the idea of transporting them across that border became a critical focus because that was what they’re emphasizing as being capable of getting that funding that focused on the foreign national trafficking. However, in reality, and the federal law is very clear about it, that transportation is an element, but it’s not an essential element to the crime. You can have someone just next door, you can have them in the same county, the same city, in the same house. People are exploited in the same homes and never leave their front door. So, transportation, while obviously a part of any kind of immigrant or for national trafficking into our country or into any other country doesn’t deal with any kind of domestic trafficking issues or something that may evolve suddenly once someone’s already on our soil. And it doesn’t require that crossing over the border.

Sandie [00:14:29] So, clarify for us, then, what is an essential element of human trafficking?

Derek [00:14:36] Basically, you need to have force, fraud, or coercion. It’s a crime against an individual through force, fraud, or coercion, to offer somebody, to provide somebody to provide for other people, somebody. And you can transport somebody to that, that’s part of it, but not the central part of it for either forced labor or for sex trafficking. And that’s it. I mean, it’s not a complicated law, but I think, unfortunately, we lock on certain aspects of it because it’s easier to communicate it in some ways. And, you know, there is frequently an element of travel, even in domestic minor sex trafficking or foreign national travel, there’s always an element of travel. The additional part that gets confusing is smuggling, especially immigrant wives, which gets confused with trafficking too. And smuggling does cross-national border, it’s more of an administrative type of crime. It ends at the border, though. It’s a victimless crime in the sense of the crimes against the entity of the nation. It’s against our borders, it’s against America. The people are cooperative in this when they come across, whether you’re the coyote or you’re the person being coyoted. And smuggling is a completely different deal from the moment that person, however, is taken advantage of individually who’s misled or forced to do things against their will, who’s held to do things against their will. Paid or not paid didn’t matter, transport or not transported it doesn’t matter. That’s where it becomes human trafficking. I can tell I’m already I’m moving into Myth 3 inadvertently, I apologize.

Sandie [00:16:12] No, that’s perfect. Myth 3, human trafficking is another term for human smuggling. You just blew that one out of the water.

Derek [00:16:19] Yeah, I didn’t mean to jump the gun on that one. Yeah, basically that’s one of the first things I train my folks to understand the difference between being immigration officers or being sold on the border and taking care of that issue, which is a totally separate issue versus human trafficking. And unfortunately, or fortunately, when we catch people coming across the border in all kinds of different levels of desperation, whether they’re swimming across a river, or they’re being forced into the trunk of a car, or some other inhumane way of making someone travel to get into our country. That in and of itself is not human trafficking.

Sandie [00:16:59] What if the person who is coming in with a coyote, who is a smuggler, is paying that smuggler then? Then it is smuggling, right? Even though they may be working off their debt once they get here.

Derek [00:17:15] Well, it’s one of those things where you have to do an investigation to find out. If someone’s initially just coming across the border and you know nothing else, you’re probably looking at smuggling. If, however, you get the backstory because your victims are your best source of intel on these things, many times. If you talk to that person, they say, “well, yes. They said if I were to cross the border if I paid them $10000” or $2000, whatever going rate is depending on where they’re coming from, “and as part of that, I was going to come to America and they said I would have to work a little while to work off my debt, but then I’d be free.” Well then, you’re looking more to trafficking situations because it extends beyond just getting them across the border and letting them go. If you’re looking at something where I paid this guy, $2000 to coyote me across the border and then I’m done with him once I land in San Diego, or any other city. I said San Diego city because we’re in California, but it doesn’t matter where it is. But if the people go their separate ways, it’s more of a smuggling type of operation. You won’t know until you investigate it, though.

Sandie [00:18:14] Okay. So, that’s why we need trained law enforcement to do those investigations. Okay. Let’s move into myth number four, there must be elements of physical restraint, physical force, or physical bondage when identifying a human trafficking situation. I just have to make a comment here before you answer that. A lot of the media images that are out there contribute to the strength of this myth, because they show people in handcuffs or wrapped in ropes or with chains all around them. So, tell us the reality of this.

Derek [00:18:53] Well, I agree, Sandie, you hit the nail on the head, if you will, that the images that have been used historically have been very egregious. And they show people in horrible situations where they are chained, or they’re locked down or they’re in rooms with almost like jail cells where they’re not free to leave at their own free will. Obviously, there is a component of that that doesn’t involve trafficking. So, that’s easier to sell trafficking to make people understand what it is. However, I would also go back again to the TVPA 2000. This was a bill that was generated through a lot of nonprofit and grassroots organizations that were trying to get this law passed. And as a result, a lot of the examples that they used were again egregious situations in Texas, California, Florida, Atlanta, Chicago. I mean, name a city they could come up with a deal where people were literally handcuffed to beds and forced into multiple sexual acts against their will over months or years. And so, I think at that point, when people see that, they begin to think well it has to be a crime of force, it has to be something that involves bondage, it has to involve just sex sometimes. And the reality is different that, in fact, we find more often than not that these people are not always physically restrained, they’re more restrained through threats. They’re more restrained through believing that they don’t have any opportunities. Sometimes they’re restrained by being made to believe they’re actually complicit in the crime, maybe even by getting some money to make them feel that they’re partners in the crimes, so they don’t feel that they’re victims, that they’re actually perpetrators. And so, all those techniques that people use, by “people” I’m referring to traffickers, are using to get people to do what they wanted to do, but without having to monitor them 24/7 or give the appearance of having them tied down. Those psychological issues are in some ways even more powerful than forcing people through physical bondage or through physical force to perform labor or sex services.

Sandie [00:20:58] Well, that kind of leads into the fifth myth, because there is kind of this psychological profile of a victim. Myth Five says victims of human trafficking will immediately ask for help or assistance and will self-identify as a victim of a crime. What’s the reality?

Derek [00:21:16] Right. And I think that we learned a little bit about this kind of way back with Patty Hearst, where she was kidnapped, and all of a sudden, she was in the middle committing crimes for that terrorist group. And I was like, well, how can she be doing that? What’s going on with that? And she was kind of brainwashed into believing that, that was the right thing to do. And she kind of identified with her attackers and her kidnapers and, in a sense, her mental torturers and became a part of their organization. Almost like a survival thing, she’s got to make it through. I would say currently that’s very similar to what’s happening. Also, domestic violence where you have women or men, depending on the situation, usually it turns out to be women for the most part who begin to learn to live with abuse. And while they don’t necessarily condone it, they also don’t fight against it. They go with the flow because it’s the devil you know versus the devil you don’t know. It’s this idea that they have nowhere else to go, that they have no other opportunities. They’re going to protect their children or other family members because of threats being made. So, if we move now into human trafficking, those same psychological hooks still apply and sometimes more so, especially with the age of the victim not having language skills, cultural skills, not having an education, not having opportunities to interact with other people from their culture, to speak their language to other people, except those people who are holding them hostage. I think they begin to self-identify. In fact, a word we frequently use in training is called hypervigilance, where you’re so worried about what they’re doing and what your victimizer is doing, what your trafficker is doing and keeping them pleased, so it keeps you surviving for yet another day. I think that’s probably the newest buzzword, if you will, that kind of identifies that psychological co-dependence on the trafficker, even though that they could pick up a phone and call 9-1-1, or they could run out the front door and wave down a cop, or they could go to somebody for help, or use the phone, or whatever the case may be. They don’t do it because they’re in survival mode, whatever it takes to survive the next day with minimum injury to me, that’s what I’m going to do. And so if a cop drives by and especially if they’re with their trafficker, they’re not going to jump up and down, say, hey, save me, that’s not going to play for them because they’re too worried about survival because if it doesn’t work, they’re going to pay the price later on or someone that they love is going to pay the price later on. They’re not willing to make that sacrifice.

Sandie [00:23:40] Well, and you mentioned this gray line earlier when we’re talking about myth 4 about the trafficker gives them money, a little bit of money and that would really confuse things for me. If I’m getting some money, then I must not be a slave. I must be somehow complicit in this. That makes it very confusing. And I can imagine somebody protecting their trafficker because they’re afraid that they would get arrested as well in this situation.

Derek [00:24:16] Right. I would say that they almost become that sense of compliance, or complicity, that they’re actually part of the criminal organization, even though they’re the victims of that criminal organization. Ironically, in the situations where we found money is being given, it’s not like it’s in their bank account, for the most part, it’s maybe in a suitcase or a purse. But they’re still under the control of the trafficker. And so, my argument has always been, it’s kind of a weak argument in the sense of physical ownership, but who owns that money? Sure, it’s in that girl’s, or that person’s, purse or in their wallet or in their suitcase, but the trafficker controls all of those items, controls that person. So, is it really just a tool to make someone’s psychological believe or psychologically identify more with the trafficker, make them feel more complicit as opposed to being actual funds? Also, there are a lot of false contracts that are brought in from other countries or within the USA well, you’ve got to pay me off by 10 or 20 or 30 thousand dollars. There are also a bunch of fees that people assess. You know, just ongoing fees if you’re sitting in this room we are going to charge you a hundred bucks a day or something crazy like that, or we’re going to charge you for food or charge you for management, even though he might be making a little bit of money through the process. When you’re paying back these debts, these debt services, then really the money you end up taking in is almost none or you end up getting greater debt as part of it. And so, it almost works against you. Yeah, you’re part of the system, you’re complicit in this ongoing, quasi-legal relationship whether it’s through an actual contract or a verbal contract. But in the end, you are still being consistently more victimized, consistently deeper into debt, and you can never really get out.

Sandie [00:26:00] I think that really speaks to how important having well-trained victim services who can build trust and create a safe environment so that a client and a newly recovered victim will be able to tell us more so that we can fully investigate. Let’s look at Myth 6, we’re going to cover 12 myths in this two-part section. So, let’s look at Myth 6, and then we’ll have to have you come back to do the last six myths. Myth 6 says Human trafficking victims always come from situations of poverty or from small rural villages.

Derek [00:26:42] Again, I have to harking back to the beginning of the human trafficking enforcement, the TVPA. Where we were number one, we’re focusing on illegal immigrants, we’re focusing on people who are coming here being trafficked in here. And as a result of that, a lot of those people were painted as being people who lived in rural villages, who did have no education, who had no training, no expertise in anything, and that were these poor folks who “had no other choice” but to come to America or come into a country that had more opportunities and then they were taken advantage of. I would say now that a lot of the people that we’re finding who are victims, don’t meet that stereotype. They just want out. They can have bachelor’s degrees or equivalent, or master’s degrees, or have been teachers, or are professional folks in their countries that are brought over here just because they were hoping for a way to get into the country. And then they were subsequently victimized. And, you know, it doesn’t matter how much education you have or what kind of skill set you have, if someone is forcing you to do something or has psychological holds on you, that doesn’t stop you from being victimized by a trafficker to be forced into labor or sex. I think the same thing goes for our country as well. We have higher education standards, I think, than many other countries in the world. I think it’s safe to say that, you know, our high school students are relatively well educated. We can read, we can write, and speak the language coherently. And yet these people are also being victimized just as easily through troubles at home, maladjustment, or through whatever the issues of the day may be for those particular individuals. If they separate and they need support, then suddenly all that education, all that experience, any skills that they may or may not have are pushed to the side because they have to survive. And that’s where your trafficker becomes someone who recognizes those people who require that type of help and the sense of kind of dependency, and they work that dependency. They work with young people who have a tendency to trust more than not, and they take that trust and twist it. And then all of a sudden, these people find themselves doing things they never would’ve dreamed of doing independently, but feel it for survival sake or for the sake of their partner or their “romantic partner” that they’re going to do this just to help out and be part of a team or part of a couple where they find more significant emotional or spiritual meaning, even though it may be misguided from our view from the outside.

Sandie [00:29:23] Thank you. That’s 6 of 12 myths that we’re going to cover in this two-part series. And we will be back with Deputy Chief Marsh in part two in the next podcast. Thank you.

Dave [00:29:37] Well, that is going to wrap it up for our part one conversation here. We’re going to come back in the next episode, episode 72, and have Deputy Chief Marsh back. And we will talk about myths 7 through 12. But in the meantime, if you have comments or questions about this show, the best way to get to us is our e-mail address. GCWJ@Vanguard.edu. And a reminder again from Sandie, the conference coming up in March.

Sandie [00:30:12] March 7 and 8 at Vanguard University.

Dave [00:30:16] So, be sure to check that out as well on our Web site, gcwj.vanguard.edu Merry Christmas, everyone, and have a wonderful New Year.

Sandie [00:30:25] Thanks, Dave.

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