“What can we all do better? What can we do to be part of the change needed to fight human trafficking?” asked Alma Tucker, founder of International Network of Hearts – a group that works with survivors of human trafficking. The answer lies in collaboration and training. And the stakes couldn’t be higher.

By Jon Lieberman, Associate Journalist with AATTAP

“Human trafficking is a violation of human rights that threatens against human dignity.” Mary Salas, Mayor of Chula Vista, California, did not mince words as she opened the August 4, 2022, Southern Border training event on World Day Against Trafficking in Persons.  Against the backdrop of San Diego’s second largest city, the mayor was joined by law enforcement,  community safety, and victim advocates from both sides of the US-Mexican border. The event demonstrated the critically-important unity and collaboration necessary to strengthen focus and action around identification of, effective response to, and ultimately better prevention of human trafficking.  “It is important we identify at risk children and women so we can stand for these individuals through education, prevention and training,” Salas said.

The problem

“All of us are joined together, because we are committed to ending human trafficking.  We simply cannot have children sold like a slice of pizza over the Internet for the selfish needs and greed of traffickers and criminal buyers.” San Diego District Attorney Summer Stephan laid out the problem in stark terms. Despite the best efforts of the San Diego Regional Trafficking Task Force, human trafficking – the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of people through force, fraud or deception, with the aim of exploiting them for profit – persists.

Stephan explained the task force is recovering more children than in years past; many as young as twelve and thirteen, who are found in seedy motels and hotels in strip malls and along the highway. And he noted this increase tracks with statistics shared by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, with reports of missing and exploited children quadrupling during COVID.

“This stems from the fact traffickers and predators have taken advantage of the fact kids are on their computers more, “District Attorney Stephan said. “COVID forced kids to be home without the protective eyes of teachers and counselors.”

The solution

And while the problem is clear, so too is the resolve of these groups to band together against the common enemy, by enhancing cooperation and increasing training.

“One of the most important parts of success comes through true collaboration and partnership, because no one can do this alone,” said Alma Tucker who works with survivors of human trafficking.  She says collaboration is a key to combatting this plague. “What can we all do better?  What can we do to be part of the change needed to fight human trafficking?

One thing everyone on the podium – from the Mexican Consulate to local, state and federal law enforcement agreed on was that training is a large part of the solution.


Enter Janell Rasmussen, Program Administrator for the AMBER Alert Training and Technical Assistance Program (AATTAP).

“Vice President Harris recently met with the Mexican President to initiate a partnership to resolve the disappearance cases in Mexico. And we plan to continue our training, with an emphasis on bringing Mexican officials, law enforcement and other professionals together to collaborate through our Southern Border Initiative work.”

Rasmussen kicked off the day’s training session by detailing how AATTAP is vital because it enables investigators to respond effectively to the full spectrum of missing child cases.  She stressed that these cases range from abductions to children who are runaways and/or victims of exploitation and sex trafficking. She emphasized that all cases involving children must be treated equally.

“It is so important for all of us in most law enforcement and community roles to understand and advocate for the full acceptance that all runaway children are missing children -- and that all missing children are in danger. Regardless of age, what country a child resides in or goes missing from, or why a child may have come to be missing, we must acknowledge they are children and unable to survive on the streets, without having to pay a price.  We will collectively learn how missing child exploitation intersects with the work of child protection professionals, as well as law enforcement. We will consider similarities between both countries and how to implement a collaborative, victim-centered identification recovery and interviewing model.”

Everyone in attendance was on board, including Laura Marisol González Colón, the Consulate General of Mexico.  “This training is so valuable to us…. we are here to serve our community.” she said.

Recognizing the work of AATTAP’s Southern Border Initiative

At the press conference concluded, each agency and organization was recognized for its efforts and contributions to the larger mission of more effective prevention of and response to the problem of human trafficking along the U.S.-Mexico border. Program Administrator Rasmussen accepted the AMBER Alert Award presented to the AMBER Alert Training & Technical Assistance Program.

What’s next?

Officials stressed training, media campaigns, prevention work, and prosecution of traffickers and those who buy minors for sex; these represent the multi-faceted approach needed going forward.

Press events such as this, which bring together key partners, stakeholders and are powerful in generating awareness; yet training calibrated to build lasting partnerships and produce real, front-lines action is where the change happens. Today, it was clear everyone agreed that action begins with training, and knowing what to do in order to save these victims and help them rebuild their lives.

“It is a reset in order to put eyes and ears on our kids that may have been exploited so we can bring counseling services and extract them from their abusers and from the web they have been caught in…. this we can only do together,” emphasized San Diego District Attorney Stephan.