FBI Agent Responds to Questions on Human Trafficking in Louisiana

(This story is the first in a series about human trafficking in Louisiana.)

A Federal Bureau of Investigation agent explains human trafficking and advises ways to prevent against it.

Supervising Agent Jennifer Terry, over Child Exploitation and Human Trafficking, who began focusing on Human Trafficking cases 11 years ago, responded to questions regarding Facebook posts circulating about human trafficking.

“I think it’s not a bad thing to share information if you see something that is out of the ordinary and concerning to you,” said Terry. “I think what we need to avoid is this kind of hysteria situation where people are jumping to conclusions.”

“It’s good to share those concerns, but maybe not label it,” she said.

Posts she had seen described people in cars who claimed they were being followed by human traffickers. She said if someone suspected they were being followed they should go to the nearest police station, a crowded area, or a well lit area. Vigilance of surroundings is good, because there are people in the world who seek to harm others, Terry explained. However, human trafficking is not the predominant danger for those living in a suburban environement.

“Your average person living in suburbia is probably more likely to be a victim of a theft or robbery or violent crime or sexual assault than a trafficking,” Terry said. “But human trafficking is a real thing, it does exist. We work many, many cases a year. It tends to affect a more vulnerable population of people – not your average housewife living in suburbia.”

Trafficking tends to affect people with traumatic history in their background, a more vulnerable population, or they’re in need of financial and mental health resources. These factors make a person more likely to be a victim.

There are a variety of ways victims are targeted, which Terry explained. Young runaways are a prime target. Their lack of resources make them vulnerable to recruitment. Adults tend to be targeted differently – often recruited from adult businesses.

“With juveniles it’s often, they think this person is going to take care of them, provide them housing, maybe think that he’s their boyfriend,” Terry said. “And then it turns into a manipulative type of situation, where the trafficker says ‘Well.. you need to go out and make the money; you need to do this for us; you need to do this because I love you…’”

She said old terms like “Guerilla pimp” and “Romeo pimp” refer to real archetypes, but the “bottom line is, human trafficking is any time that someone forces somebody into either a labor type situation or a commercial sex type situation, through the use of force, fraud or coercion.”

The grooming process can occur in different ways depending on the predator, but the most obvious sign of it is if someone requests the victim to perform a commercial sex act. That request can be slowly built up to. Similarities within stories Terry heard were that women were asked to work in a club, then asked to see club goers on the side, then posting online.

Commercial sex-trafficking and labor-trafficking, two forms of human trafficking, are difficult to lump under one umbrella, said Terry. While labor-trafficking requires force, fraud, or coercion as well, it is often executed differently than sex-trafficking.

For instance: Someone can be brought from another country, offered a certain wage, then once the person is here, their important documents are withheld from them, or that payment is reduced. This restricts that person’s freedoms.

“There has to be some type of restriction of their movements and/or a means of preventing them from leaving,” Terry explained.

Women and children are not the only targets of human trafficking, said Terry. Men can be targets as well, and according to Terry, the targetting of the transgender population is on the rise. This is because they are less likely to come forward and less likely to identify themselves as victims.

While Terry focuses on these crimes for her job, she said as a mother she is more concerned about child exploitation online, “I think your number one concern as a parent should be the exploitation of your children online.”

“We see more cases of that and it’s growing every day, and it has a lot to do with as parents we tend to allow our children free access to phones and online access without monitoring it.”

She said children can be contacted by someone they don’t know, told that the person has information on them or intends to hurt the victim or their family, and this is called “sextorcion.” Awareness of a child’s online activities is important for the child’s safety.

Terry recommended that parents ask their children to place their password in a sealed envelope – so that their privacy is still respected – but in an emergency can be retrieved to help the child be located, “they can realize you are trying to respect their privacy, but you’re also trying to make sure they are in a safe environment.”