This training on the law enforcement response to child sex trafficking was not for the faint of heart. More than 180 people listened to case study summaries and evidence-based information on how child sex trafficking victims may be reluctant to cooperate with law enforcement officers, or to assist with the investigation because of shame, or from fear that they or their families will be harmed by the traffickers. This is largely due to bonds forged through trauma and fear. These child victims, whose average age is 14–15, are repeatedly forced into commercial sexual exploitation through coercion or physical violence.
The two-day training in Springfield, Missouri, on January 28-29, 2020, is one example of the individualized instruction the AMBER Alert Training and Technical Assistance Program (AATTAP) can offer a community through its broad array of course offerings.
A CUSTOMIZED TRAINING EXPERIENCE
The overarching goal of targeted training such as that developed for Springfield is to provide customized information and resources which support local/area law enforcement and the community it serves in developing an effective approach to understanding, rescuing, and appropriately serving the recovery needs of victims of sex trafficking. Representatives from law enforcement, child protection, medical, juvenile services, and non-profit groups united over the two-day training to develop a response protocol specific to the dynamics of sex trafficking occurring in the community.
Developed by Byron Fassett, AATTAP Program Manager, and Cathy Delapaz, Dallas Police Detective and AATTAP Child Sex Trafficking Course Coordinator, this training and its customized application for these Missouri participants was developed from a follow up request for additional training following a “Child Sex Trafficking Training for First Responders” course provided by Delapaz in 2019.
Fassett, who has more than 25 years’ experience in investigating child sex abuse cases, shared studies that found 80% of victims ran away four or five times in a one-year period. He urged law enforcement officers and social workers to probe deeper into the elements at play when a child runs away. Fassett said traffickers seek out vulnerable teens living on the streets, luring them with offers of food, shelter, clothing, and other basic needs.
“It’s a process. They are first going to overwhelm them with love, affection, and attention,” said Fassett. “After they’ve pulled them in that way, then they will introduce the need for money.”
He said the victim is unscrupulously led to believe the perpetrator is owed something and paints a romantic picture of how they are working together as a team.
“Pimps call it selling the dream,” said Fassett. “And if that doesn’t work, the trafficker will use force.”
The group was provided evidence-based and results-oriented methods for identifying victims of sex trafficking, as well as those at high risk of luring and exploitation. The training included instruction and group discussion around discipline-specific victim interview techniques, and important elements in the documentation and reporting processes to support effective prosecution of perpetrators.
Delapaz shared what she has learned through years of helping sex trafficking victims. She noted that crimes commonly associated with child sex trafficking include sexual assault, child abduction, drug trafficking, robberies, and other violent crimes.
“Traffickers are a public safety danger,” said Delapaz. “Any child who is a runaway is at high risk of falling prey to traffickers. These traffickers must be met with the same response with which we meet any other exploiter of children.”
“Time is of the essence, these children must be rescued and saved from endless acts of exploitation. These are not cases where we can afford to take weeks to work; they are as pressing as an abduction or other situation in which an exploiter has access to a child.”
Delapaz explained it is crucial for communities to have an established team approach for these victims which is seamless, efficient, and quick.
In Springfield and across the nation, AATTAP works with state, regional, and local partners to develop an event and curriculum resources which best meets their child protection and community safety needs. Whether spearheaded by law enforcement agencies or the public safety and child protection organizations with whom they partner in local, grassroots endeavors, AATTAP audiences receive carefully constructed training like that provided to the dedicated professionals and community members of Springfield.
“Communities which develop a robust, impactful response to child sex trafficking victims will see a dramatic increase in recoveries of victims, disclosures of exploitation during interviews, prosecution of traffickers, and development of relevant long-term services for victims,” said Delapaz. These AATTAP trainers began with two goals for this course, as they do for all such trainings and presentations: 1) Share impactful information which resonates with participants; and 2) connect with the experience and situations in the participating community, to support their ability to practically and effectively apply the information.
“We were able to accomplish both goals,” added Delapaz in reflecting on the two days spent with the participants in Springfield.
LESSONS FOR OTHER COMMUNITIES
AATTAP is an initiative of the U.S. Department of Justice and is administered through Fox Valley Technical College (FVTC) and its National Criminal Justice Training Center (NCJTC). AATTAP provides a variety of in-person and online (both live webinars and self-directed) training opportunities to help law enforcement, other child protection professionals, and the community better understand and ready themselves to effectively respond to endangered missing and abducted children.
Trainings like what was offered in Springfield, developed out of the Child Sex Trafficking topical area, focus on understanding and identifying high risk victims, children in crisis, and the commercial exploitation of youth; and the critical importance of rescue and recovery work as victims and their families endure prosecutorial/judicial aspects of the case and forge a plan for long-term recovery.
These training events have outcomes geared toward powerful collaboration, development of effective policies and procedures, and the identification and application of best practices to safely recover endangered missing and abducted children.
AMBER Alert training courses can be hosted by local, regional, state, and tribal law enforcement training academies, agencies, or organizations. AATTAP encourages collaboration between law enforcement, public safety, and non-profit partners to identify training needs for each community.
AATTAP’s courses address numerous subjects, including effective first response to and investigation of endangered missing and abducted child incidents; child sex trafficking investigations and interdisciplinary community readiness to respond; AMBER Alert in Indian Country, Child Abduction Response Teams (CART), and many other important topics. Learn more, request training, and register for scheduled training events (both classroom and online) at the AMBER Advocate website’s Training and Resources area: https://www. amberadvocate.org/training-resources/.