Undercover: An Investigator Profile
This is part 1 of a 2 part interview with one of our Identify team members. The goal of our Identify team is to support law enforcement in conducting investigations that identify victims and perpetrators of human trafficking.
What originally got you involved in anti-trafficking work?
I originally got into anti-trafficking work sort of by luck. I was an organised crime and narcotics squad detective in my home country, and a friend and ex-colleague of mine had just helped get one of the LIFT investigation teams off the ground. He said they were looking for applicants, and I put my name in. I had travelled to Thailand on a number of occasions and loved the people, culture and country, so the opportunity to live over here was too good to pass up. I always thought I'd be a career long cop until I retired, but the chance to make a tangible difference in the lives of so many people in Thailand meant it was a no-brainer. There were a lot of good quality applicants, but I was lucky enough to land the role.
What have you learned or what has not been the same as you thought when you started in this role?
This role has been a real eye opener for me. I've been fortunate enough to be able to carry this role out at the same time as carrying out my masters study (also in relation to human trafficking), so I've been able to learn both practical and theoretical aspects of human trafficking, which has been hugely beneficial to both my role and my studies. Like most people, when I first started this role, I thought human trafficking looked like what was seen in the movies. Things that I have since learned include:
Human trafficking can permeate all areas of life. By this, I mean it's not just sex work, as most people think, but can be beggars, restaurant workers, beauty salon workers, construction workers and manual labour workers.
Human trafficking doesn't just look like women locked up in brothels, as many people think it is. It is more often debt bondage, deception and silent force or threats.
Like all organised crime investigations, investigating human trafficking is no different. It can be long and frustrating, but the rewards are immense when we get a result.
A prominent idea in Western pop culture of a human trafficking investigator is somewhere between Liam Neeson in Taken and Rambo. Is that close to what you do?
Anything but. I wish I could do monologues like Liam Neeson...
My role can look very very different from day to day, but it looks nothing like Rambo or Taken. Without giving our work techniques away, I'm much more likely to be the unassuming guy in the background than a guy kicking in a door, fighting or crash tackling someone. While the work can be dynamic, generally everything we do involves close and careful planning and co-operation with Thai law enforcement. The pop culture figure of a renegade investigator acting violently and outside the bounds of the law is a long way from the reality of our work.
What have you learned from your Thai colleagues about what's needed in the response to anti-trafficking?
In the last two and a half years I have learned a lot from my Thai colleagues about the anti-trafficking fight. Specifically, I've learned about the need for greater collaboration between agencies and organisations - that is both law enforcement and NGOs to ensure efficient and effective investigations. The anti-trafficking fight isn't one that can be done by NGOs alone, and they should work hand in hand with Thai law enforcement. Law enforcement agencies are full of very good and capable officers who are often (but not always) overworked and under-resourced. This is where NGOs have the ability to make a difference.
The anti-trafficking fight shouldn't be seen as something that westerners can solve on behalf of Thailand either, the fight needs to and is coming from Thais themselves. The majority of staff at LIFT International are Thai, and I would like to see this continue to increase, to a point where my role becomes obsolete. Finally, I have learned about the generosity of the Thai people as a whole, and their commitment to this very worthy cause. Every day I see my Thai colleagues go over and above what is expected of them to keep LIFT International ticking along. I can't speak highly enough of my Thai colleagues.