Human trafficking seminar aimed at helping victims

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Hancock County Cheif Deputy Prosecutor Aimee Herring

HANCOCK COUNTY — When Aimee Herring became the Chief Deputy Prosecutor in Hancock County a few years ago, one of her goals was to let victims of sexual assault and sexual abuse know local officials are on their side.

Herring helped start a local Hancock County Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) in 2021 and is the local chair. The multidisciplinary partnership is designed to bring a coordinated response to sexual assault. The group has been working to make victim needs a priority, promote public safety and hold offenders accountable.

Recently Herring and three members of the local SART who are continuing to work on fulfilling SART’s promises, completed training with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in a effort to combat Human Trafficking.

United States Attorney Zachary A. Myers held the first Human Trafficking Seminar in the Southern District of Indiana earlier this month. The two-day, educational event was hosted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Southern District of Indiana, and the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice’s Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit (HTPU).

“The training was excellent and I was grateful for the opportunity to learn from my federal counterparts,” Herring said. “I was so glad that we had multiple people there from Hancock County who are committed to learning more about this topic and improving our response to these cases.”

After the training, Herring noted, learning new collaborative investigative tactics and prosecution strategies to combat traffickers is essential to public safety.

“With the convenience of the internet, human trafficking cases are on the rise,” Herring said. “As law enforcement, we must be proactive to take down these operations and provide safety, security and freedom to those who have been victimized.”

Human trafficking is an issue everywhere, Herring said, even in Hancock County, but law enforcement often overlooks these cases because they are not always what they appear to be and take considerable time, effort, and resources to successfully investigate and prosecute.

“Traffickers work to build relationships that manipulate, coerce and persuade their victims to comply, oftentimes with threats of violence and actual physical assault,” Herring said. “In order to successfully take down human traffickers, we must focus on proactive investigations, community partnerships and collaboration amongst agencies.”

The training was a great reminder that while these types of cases often seem insurmountable, there are many resources available at the state and federal level to help law enforcement overcome the obstacles and succeed with targeting traffickers and dismantling their operations, Herring said.

She noted the Department of Justice’s Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit provides resources and training to law enforcement across the country and ongoing investigative support to ensure that our victims receive an investigation that is compliant with best practices.

The seminar was organized by Assistant U.S. Attorney Lawrence D. Hilton, the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s Human Trafficking Coordinator, and the agenda included presentations from the HTPU’s Deputy Director, Matt Grady, National Program Manager Sean Tepfer and Trial Attorney Julie Pfluger. Topics covered included proving coercion, documenting a human trafficking crime scene, anticipating and overcoming common defenses, trauma informed interviewing, trial preparation, evidence collection, and prosecuting human trafficking crimes at a federal level.

“Human trafficking is a horrific crime that inflicts lasting trauma on survivors who are often already vulnerable,” said U.S. Attorney Myers in a release. “These complex crimes require prosecutors to work closely with investigators to get traffickers off the streets while collaborating with agencies and organizations who provide vital resources to support survivors.”

Myers went on to say human traffickers, especially those who employ force, fraud or coercion, and who sell minors for sex, should take notice.

“These crimes are one of our top priorities, and convictions will result in lengthy terms in federal prison with no possibility of parole,” he said. “Survivors, especially those who are still in the grips of traffickers, should know that there are specially trained police, prosecutors and service providers who support you, believe in you, and will work tirelessly to get you the help you need.”

During the sessions, Myers encouraged officials to share information with the community so they too can be aware of indicators of trafficking and report suspicious activity. Recognizing key indicators is the first step in identifying victims and can help save them from further exploitation, Herring and other officials say.

Some indicators of human trafficking can include things like an individual with an inability to produce identification or other documents because they are in a third party’s possession and control, an individual who is unable to freely contact friends or family, an individual who is coached on what to say to law enforcement or other authority figures, and an individual who lacks knowledge or awareness as to what happens to the money they earn/are supposed to earn.

Anyone who has information about a potential human trafficking situation or thinks they or someone they know may be a victim of human trafficking should contact the National Human Trafficking Hotline toll-free at 1-888-373-7888, which is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Individuals can also text 233733 or email [email protected].