The Eighth Annual Human Trafficking Summit was held on Friday at the Renaissance Hotel and Convention Center in Montgomery. Human trafficking is prevalent across Alabama with the Task Force estimating that there are 6,000 victims per day in Alabama, both labor and sex trafficking.

“It’s devastating and frightening to think that thousands of people are being trafficked in our communities every day,” said Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey. “The first step to combatting this tragedy is education, which is our goal at today’s 'END IT,' Alabama’s summit.”

Jeff Davis, co-owner of Fowler Davis LLC, a firm tapped by the Alabama Council on Developmental Disabilities to produce an educational campaign for such persons, outlined the problems with trafficking in persons with disabilities.

Davis said that in many cases the intellectually disabled don’t know who to talk to or whom to trust and in many cases don’t understand that they are victims of labor or sex trafficking.

Doug Gilmer is the Resident Agent in Charge for Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

“The United States government recognized that human trafficking was a problem for 140 years,” Gilmer said.

Gilmer said that police TV shows in the 70s and 80s had a lot of influence on how the police of that generation worked trafficking cases.

He cited ‘The Street of San Francisco,’ ‘Kojak’, ‘Hill Street Blues,’ ‘Starsky and Hutch’ as examples.

“The way that sex workers and pimps were portrayed on television in shows like ‘Starsky and Hutch’ I am convinced ... influenced a generation of law enforcement,” Gilmer said. “If you watched those shows they were not victim-centered. ‘Law & Order Special Victims Unit’ changed that. It is not perfect, but they work with mental health professionals in a victim-centric approach.

“Human trafficking is multijurisdictional. Human trafficking involves crime victims in need of care for the trauma that they have experienced. Law enforcement can arrest and prosecute offenders but is not equipped to meet the long-term needs of victims.

“The role of victim service providers, working alongside law enforcement, is essential to not only helping meet the immediate needs of trafficking victims but also in providing them with long-term healing,” Gilmer said. “Victim advocates cannot go and make arrests, though there are many times you would like to.

“A Multidisciplinary Case Review Team (MDT), by definition must involve a varied but complementary team of members from various organizations and disciplines such as victim advocates mental healthcare child protective services and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) or faith-based organizations.

“Most of our victims grew up in dysfunctional homes. Being in the life is very dysfunctional. If law enforcement and victim service providers are working together, that is often the first functional relationship a victim has ever seen in their lives.”

Gilmer said that all the participants must have a “unified goal or mission that all participants are motivated to achieve. All research participants agreed that without a shared purpose, the best efforts are without great effect.

“At the end of the day, the goal has to be that justice is executed on the perpetrator, the exploiter of the victim and that the victim sees justice served on the people that exploited them,” Gilmer said. “The research shows that the MDT model is effective and necessary to combat human trafficking.”

Dr. Jonathon Thompson works with the Health Education-Physical Education section at the Alabama State Department of Education (ASDE). He explained that he is part of a team that has been tasked by Alabama State Superintendent of Education Eric Mackey with developing trafficking education for the Alabama public schools.

“Why teach trafficking education in schools?” Thompson said. “The global slavery index estimates that there are over 6,000 victims of human trafficking each day in Alabama. [This] includes labor and sex trafficking.

“We have got a lot of feedback from middle and high school teachers,” Thompson said. “We have heard a lot of students who say that 'I have a friend of mine down the street who shows some of those warning signs that you are talking about.'

“Our why is – look at the numbers, the 6,000 victims a day in Alabama. COVID has made it a little slower taking off. We are really pushing this as many times as we can because we know how important it is.”

Carrie Hill is the co-chair of the Children’s Trafficking Solutions Project.

“We want to saturate the community with training,” Hill explained. “We started with law enforcement because we wanted them to understand what they are seeing with the kids they see every day on the streets. We have trained over 3,000 law enforcement officers.”

Next Hill explained that they have expanded that training to employees of municipal government.

One of their recommended human resources (HR) policies is that “If you are caught purchasing sex on the job you are terminated from your job, pretty simple right? We got some pushback on that. Some wanted to send them to a class.”

Hill said that zero-tolerance HR policies are needed because studies show that the peak hour for trafficking is at 3 p.m. People are buying sex while on the job.

Hill said that her group recommends:

“Most grooming behavior occurs online,” Hill said. “Make sure that you monitor what your children are doing on social media. Children do not have privacy. I am saying that as a mother; and I am saying that as a probation officer.

“Talking to kids in an assembly style format is not good. We don’t just talk to them about sex trafficking, we talk to them about bullying, we talk to them about online safety, we talk to them about relationships.”

Pat McCay is the Chair of the Alabama Human Trafficking Task Force. She said that her group is working with local governments to create a trafficking-free zone and human trafficking awareness month proclamations. Some 17 cities in Alabama including Birmingham, Irondale, Mountain Brook and Vestavia Hills have already agreed to work with them on this.

Mark Bolden is the director of the Alabama Trucking Association.

“There are 1.2 million professional truck drivers that have received the truckers against trafficking training,” Bolden said. “Truckers represent 112,000 jobs in Alabama. One out of 15 jobs in Alabama are in trucking. Some 10,000 trucking companies are located or have a presence in Alabama. Some 37 million trucks are in America and 1.8 million are the big trucks - 18 wheelers.”

Truckers Against Trafficking trains truckers to recognize the red flags, how to ask questions once engaged, and what is helpful to law enforcement.

“When we first started this, many of the tips were not actionable,” Bolden said. Law enforcement needs specific times and dates, the height and weight of the perpetrators, etc. It was important to learn how to talk to law enforcement and what facts they needed.

“Do not approach the traffickers. This is human trafficking, not prostitution.”

Bolden said that truckers who are involved have three different kinds of motivations. They do it because it is just the right thing to do, to combat the negative public perception of truckers, or because they have experience with abuse.

Amy Lamb-Eng is the program director for the Alabama Head Injury Foundation. While most TBIs occur from accidental falls or during military service, many also occur with survivors of intimate partner violence.

“A traumatic brain injury (TBI) occurs when an external mechanical force causes brain dysfunction,” Lamb-Eng said. “There were 4,378 TBIs reported in 2019. We are well aware that there are so many other TBIs that were not reported.”

Caroline Bundy is the Director of Development for AIDS Alabama.

“Human trafficking is a reality in Alabama,” Bundy said. “It is the third-largest criminal industry in the world today but it is the fastest-growing.”

Bundy said that youth homelessness plays a huge role in human trafficking.

Causes of youth homelessness

  • Abuse or neglect in the home

  • Drugs or addiction in the home

  • Aging out of foster care - 25% of foster children are homeless within six months of leaving the system

  • Foster families ill-equipped to deal with trauma

  • A change of family dynamics, relationships, or income. Many times the parent will choose the relationship with the new spouse, boyfriend, or girlfriend

  • Being asked to leave home after coming out as LGBTQ (40% of homeless youth).

Bundy said that 56% of homeless transgender youth had been involved in the sex trade in some way. Some 95% of homeless youth have engaged in sex. The average age of 13 is the age of first intercourse for homeless youth. Homeless youth often trade sex for money, food, or drugs – survival sex.

Bundy said that homeless youth are forced into prostitution due to lack of shelter beds specifically for youth, rigid shelter admission policies, a lack of trust of adults, and difficulty earning enough money to meet basic needs due to: lack of ID, no address, only a history of brief minimum wage jobs, and no transportation.

Audrey Jordan is an Assistant Attorney General (AG) for the State of Alabama. She said that there is a bill ready to file with the legislature that changes the legal definition of coercion and another that allows trafficking victims to testify over closed-circuit television. Those are both priorities of the task force and the AG’s office.

Chris Lim is the Coordinator for the Alabama Anti-Human Trafficking Alliance. Lim said that the Alliance is working on a response to human trafficking that is trauma-informed, victim-centered, justice-focused, survivor healing, and offender prosecuting.

Cameron Perry is a special agent with Alabama Human Trafficking investigations.

“I urge my law enforcement partners to work collaboratively,” Perry said. “I am in the Attorney General’s office every day talking with prosecutors.”

This was the Eighth Annual Human Trafficking Summit which brings law enforcement, prosecutors, victim advocates, educators, social workers, and others together to share information about the best practices to combat human trafficking in the state.

To connect with the author of this story, or to comment, email [email protected].