HCSO takes on scourge of human trafficking

The Hendry County Sheriff’s Office Criminal Interdiction Unit (CIU) is placing its emphasis on human trafficking. The office’s CIU is a four-member team made up of Sgt. Wanda Hainley plus Deputies Nicolas Todd, Richard Krasinskas and Troy Urbanowski.

In 2017, Hendry County Sheriff Steve Whidden applied for a grant from the Department of Justice, Community Oriented Policing Services, and received $771,724 to employ four officers. One of the purposes of this unit is to educate, monitor and investigate human/sex trafficking.

On Monday evening, Jan. 7, Sgt. Hainley met with a group of individuals at the First Christian Church in LaBelle. Sgt. Hainley explained that “the CIU targets human trafficking, sex trafficking, drug trafficking, firearms and gang violence.”

She went on to say, “According to the International Human Trafficking Investigators Association, human trafficking is described as ‘the exploitation by force, fraud or coercion of vulnerable people for forced labor, domestic servitude or commercial sex operations.’

“Human trafficking is a violent and disturbing crime,” explained Sgt. Hainley. “Human trafficking is a growing worldwide problem; Florida ranks third in the country with calls made to the National Human Trafficking Hotline.”

Victims of human trafficking can range over all ages, some as young as 4 years old, and all ethnicities. They are induced to perform labor or services through force, fraud or coercion. However, runaways and homeless youth, as well as victims of domestic violence, sexual assault or social discrimination are frequently targeted by traffickers.

Traffickers use a variety of control tactics, including physical and emotional abuse, sexual assault, confiscation of identification and money, isolation from friends and family, and even renaming victims. Often, traffickers identify and use their victims’ vulnerabilities in order to create dependency. They make promises aimed at addressing the needs of their victim in order to impose control. As a result, victims become trapped and fear leaving for a number of reasons, including psychological trauma, shame, emotional attachment or physical threats to themselves or their children’s safety. The common thread of the traffickers is a willingness to exploit other human beings for profit.

While victims range in age and ethnicity, in rural areas the leading victims are migrant workers. They are promised a better life, but many instead find themselves earning less than minimum wage, living in cramped conditions, facing physical threats from their employers and working under conditions of force, fraud or coercion; “they are forced to pay off their smuggling fees,” Sgt. Hainley said.

To help identify human traffickers, Sgt. Hainley and members of the CIU offered some indicators and behaviors that MAY be a red flag.

• Being aware of individuals that live with their employer or live in small quarters with a large number of unrelated people.

• Individuals may not be able to produce identification, money or tell you their passport is being held by someone else.

• They do not have the freedom to come and go or you notice someone else seems to be in control; for example where they go or who they talk to?

• There are signs of violence, such as bruising, scarring, branding or physical injuries.

• Or they react with fear at the mention of law enforcement or immigration officials.

• If you become aware of an unusual number of males gathered together in a yard and notice them entering a structure one at a time, that MAY be an indicator of sex trafficking.

• School-aged females who don’t attend school may be victims of sex trafficking.

• Most times drugs and trafficking go hand in hand.

“We need your help. The best thing you can do is notify the sheriff’s office if you suspect this type of illegal activity is occurring,” Sgt. Hainley went on. “We aren’t here to deport victims, we’re here to help them; we want to help them escape the horrific conditions or situations they have found themselves in. We’re here to help,” she concluded.

If you suspect someone is a victim of human trafficking or sex trafficking or want to request training on how better to recognize these victims, or training for your business, please contact the Hendry County Sheriff’s Office at 863-674-5600 or the Criminal Interdiction Unit at 863-673-6045.

You can report suspected human trafficking to the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 888-373-7888.

You are encouraged to leave relevant comments but engaging in personal attacks, threats, online bullying or commercial spam will not be allowed. All comments should remain within the bounds of fair play and civility. (You can disagree with others courteously, without being disagreeable.) Feel free to express yourself but keep an open mind toward finding value in what others say. To report abuse or spam, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box.

Facebook Comment