Undercover: An Investigator Profile Part II
This is part 2 of a 2 part interview with one of our Identify team members. You can read the first part here. The goal of our Identify team is to support law enforcement in conducting investigations that identify victims and perpetrators of human trafficking.
Why are investigations an important part of the response to trafficking?
In an ideal world, there would be no need for human trafficking investigations because human trafficking wouldn't exist. But the reality is, that human trafficking does exist, and investigations are essential to bring the perpetrators to justice as well as to assist in identifying and helping victims. Coming from a law enforcement background - I'm a big believer in the concept of prevention through prosecution. That is, high profile prosecutions and fair penalties can be an effective way to deter current and would-be offenders. Particularly with high profit organised crime, if a potential offender sees a strong sentence handed out to another offender, suddenly human trafficking doesn't seem such a lucrative money making method any more. Organised crime is persistent and insidious and can affect all levels of society. It also goes hand in hand with human trafficking. It will exist where large profits can be made through illicit activities when there is an apparent low chance of getting caught, and this is where investigations are important - to try to alter the risk/reward balance.
That said, investigations are only one piece of the puzzle, and need to be carried out in conjunction with prevention, aftercare and prosecution work as well.
Why is partnership with law enforcement and supporting their efforts important in the anti-trafficking response?
Partnership is absolutely vital with law enforcement agencies to do the work that we do. It is important that everything we do is covered by Thai law enforcement, so that people know we are acting both legally and ethically. I am under no illusions about our role here. By that I mean, we do not pretend of attempt to give the impression that we have the same powers as Thai law enforcement, or that we are Police officers. This is why it is important that we partner with law enforcement agencies.
We have, this year, started a capacity building programme with Thai Police and law enforcement agencies. The aim is to utilise our knowledge and experience to equip them with a greater ability to fight human trafficking. It is not us saying that we know more than them, or that we are better than them, it is just offering a fresh perspective towards investigation work based on my experience brought from the western world. The benefit of these has been huge - it has not only upskilled me and my team in relation to investigative practices, it has also allowed us to form greater trust and tight bonds with many law enforcement agencies. Law enforcement are understandably cautious of new NGOs, and partnership building takes time. LIFT International is now in a great position, with a number of strong ties to law enforcement agencies which allows us to continue to carry out anti-trafficking work that we all desire.
How do you determine if someone has been trafficked?
Generally, talking to a potential victim is the best way to work it out. Drawing on my professional background, I try to spot signs of trafficking, which can manifest themselves in many different ways. It is not as cut and dry as underage girls in a brothel, or women being kept under lock and key and forced to have sex with whoever their boss dictates. More commonly we are seeing women who are being promised jobs in Thailand and then when they arrive they are imposed with a huge debt which is almost impossible to service. I once spoke to a woman who was trafficked here from a war-torn country in another continent who worked for 8 years to clear her debt, and upon clearing it, her traffickers tipped off the authorities and she was locked up for breaching immigration laws. During her time under her trafficker, she was beaten and raped by thugs working for her trafficker if she did not want to work. She had disfiguring scars on her face from a beating she received, and had become pregnant by a client. The wonderful work of the aftercare team from a partner NGO ultimately allowed her to be repatriated and receive vocational training to assist her with moving on and rebuilding her life.
Do you only investigate cases of human trafficking?
In addition to sex trafficking we also have a capacity to take on other special related cases, when our assistance is requested by Thai law enforcement. In the past these have included young children trafficked for the purpose of begging in tourist areas, labour trafficking and child sexual exploitation. The reason we take on these cases as well is due to the fact that they are all interlinked. The same networks, syndicates, recruiters and routes that are used for labour trafficking are also used for sex trafficking. Stopping one can help stop the other. Further, anecdotal evidence suggests that children who are trafficked here for begging rings, may well fall victim to sexual abuse and may end up sexually exploited as well, so we are only to willing to go into bat for these kids and get them the help they need. In terms of child sexual exploitation, it can often go hand in hand with sex tourism, where foreign males come to visit or live in Thailand in an attempt to abuse children in the country. We are grateful that law enforcement agencies here are doing a great job of investigating and prosecuting child sex offenders to the full extent of the law. We have recently had cases where offenders have been sentenced to decades in prison for this sort of offending. Further, with technology now, sex abuse of children often falls under human trafficking laws by people producing child pornography to sell online. LIFT gladly offers services to combat this.