By: Sgt. Daniel Steele, Denver Police Dept. vice section
This article originally appeared in the Huffington Post.
What does the war against the trafficking of women, men and children look like on the front lines? Imagine, gangs, money, sex and violence; it has the makings of a great Hollywood thriller — edge of your seat suspense. A hard-boiled, square-jawed detective enters the seedy underbelly of society and rescues a beautiful young woman from the clutches of a maniacal terror; played by Anthony Hopkins nonetheless. If this were reality, wouldn’t it be so much simpler? A 90-minute ride through the horrors of modern day slavery, where the bad guy is always caught and the hero saves the day and gets the girl to boot.
Unfortunately, the front lines in the war on trafficking are not glamorous. The everyday battle being waged by the men and women in blue is always uphill, and the victories are few and far between. The true story is plagued by stops and starts; roadblocks at every turn. The vast majority of detectives investigating sex trafficking spend hours behind their desks, compiling thousands of pages of case file documentation. There are no high speed chases, no shootouts and there are definitely no suspenseful, last minute rescues. In fact, I would be hard pressed to say we as cops are ‘rescuing’ anyone at all. To rescue, is to free from confinement, violence, danger or evil. It’s true; cops rescue trafficking survivors in the immediate short-term sense, especially as it relates to confinement. But can a police officer truly deliver someone from violence, from danger and evil?
Trafficking survivors experience the penultimate horror, being bought and sold like meat. As a police officer, I can’t even begin to comprehend the emotional and psychological trauma invoked from sexual slavery. In fact, I have yet to speak with a survivor who, even years later, truly felt they had been rescued from the evil they experienced at the hands of their exploiter. So, no, cops are not rescuing people from trafficking. Rather, we are aiding people in becoming survivors, assisting them at the initial stages of what will be a lifetime of recovery.
So, wait, if I’m not saving the day, then what good am I? That’s the question that plagues every investigator working this heinous offense. The age old deliberation that eventually haunts every cop, “Am I even making a difference?” To that I say, “Of course you are.” After all, as cops, we are supposed to seek justice, we are supposed to stand and fight where others would not dare. While I may never swing in on a bull whip to save the day, I still count every person recovered from trafficking as a victory and every trafficker put in jail a triumph. Understanding that police are at the very forefront of a growing epidemic, understanding as cops we may be the first person to recognize trafficking and, thereby, understanding as cops we need to respond appropriately, is how we can truly make a difference. The better cops understand human trafficking, trauma bonds, coercion, manipulation and deception, the better we can respond to the needs of the exploited. After all, we don’t want to exacerbate the situation, becoming exploiters ourselves.
It is important to realize that the police cannot solve human trafficking alone. As a community, we must recognize that trafficking is the end result of much deeper societal woes — poverty, homelessness, gender inequality and more. If we want to abolish the sale of humans, we must look deeper and work to fix the root causes that lead to trafficking in the first place. The fight against human trafficking will not be won by cops or caped crusaders. Human trafficking will only be destroyed when we come together as a society and agree it is a problem, agree it needs to be stopped and agree to work together to stop it. Not really very glamorous is it? Honestly, it doesn’t even sound like “movie-of-the-week” material. Well folks, this is reality. The reality is we need everyone to wake up, step up and get involved in the fight. I’ll do my part and still go out and catch the bad guys.