New task force to focus on human trafficking in Clay County

The Clay County Sheriff’s Office has launched a task force to investigate child sexual exploitation and human trafficking.

Operation Blue Ghost in early June was the kick-off for the new task force, which will work in partnership with Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Kansas City. During that operation from May 31 to June 2, the Sheriff’s Office’s Investigations Division arrested six men who believed they were meeting a 14-year-old girl for sex in Clay County.

The task force will include three detectives whose primary focus is to address the sexual exploitation of both children and adults in Clay County.

From its inception, this task force has worked closely with HSI and non-profit organizations like Relentless Pursuit. Relentless Pursuit, led by Director Lee Gibson, is a community-centered, faith-based organization dedicated to eradicating human trafficking. They strive to heal and restore survivors, bring justice to offenders, educate others on prevention and awareness, and are leaders in the community to end the exploitation of human beings.

“The goal is to make Clay County the place pedophiles don’t want to come,” Gibson said.

The task force will investigate predators seeking children for sex online, focus on adult victims of human sex trafficking, aid in prosecution, and continue to work with our partners that offer services to victims of human trafficking. Balancing enforcement with social services is the best way to make an impact.

While not openly visible, sex trafficking occurs in Clay County. Mr. Gibson cautioned against online rumors stating children or adults are being targeted for kidnapping and sex trafficking. Victims typically get involved as vulnerable youths after having run away, getting addicted to drugs or other unfortunate circumstances. The new Sheriff’s Office task force seeks to help these victims become sober and self-sufficient while holding traffickers accountable.


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HSI Operation Nets 82 Arrests, 31 Rescued from Human Trafficking

 A recent operation resulted in the rescue of 31 victims of human trafficking for sexual exploitation. Of the total, 14 were missing children with the youngest child being four years old and 17 were adults.

The results of the operation were announced by Homeland Security Investigations Deputy Special Agent in Charge, Kansas City, James Wright. He was joined by Heartland Anti-Trafficking Rescue Taskforce partners from across the region in making the announcement.

The operation took place June 17 -26, 2021 in Wichita, Kansas, Independence, Missouri and Kansas City, Missouri.

The enforcement operation resulted in the arrest of 82 individuals who will be charged with crimes related to soliciting prostitution, commercial sex trafficking, sodomy, narcotics violations, felony assault on a police officer, sex offender registry violations and outstanding warrants.

HSI Kansas City along with, HSI Wichita, Wichita Police Department, the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, Kansas Highway Patrol, Health and Human Services, United States Marshal’s Service, Platte County Sheriff’s Office, Independence Police Department, Jackson County Sheriff’s Department, Missouri State Highway Patrol, the Bourbon County Sheriff’s Office, and the Hutchinson Police Department conducted the operation.

The defendants in this case are presumed innocent and entitled to a fair trial where the government has the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

HSI is the principal investigative arm of DHS and a vital U.S. asset in combatting transnational crime and threats. One of HSI’s top priorities is to protect the public from crimes of victimization, and HSI’s child exploitation investigations program is a central component of this mission set. HSI is recognized as a global leader in this investigative discipline, and is committed to utilizing its vast authorities, international footprint and strong government and non-government partnerships to identify and rescue child victims, identify and apprehend offenders, prevent transnational child sexual abuse, and help make the internet a safer place for children.

To report a crime, call 866-347-2423 (TTY for hearing impaired: 802-872-6196) or visit the ICE Tip Line.

Justice Department Recognizes the 10th Annual Human Trafficking Prevention Month

The Department of Justice  commemorates the 10th annual National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month and declares a continued commitment to combatting human trafficking in all its forms.  The fight against human trafficking remains one of the department’s highest priorities, and the department will remain relentless in its efforts to bring traffickers to justice and seek justice for survivors.

Human trafficking is a crime that preys on some of the most vulnerable members of our society.  It is a crime of exploitation that deprives victims of their rights, freedom, and dignity.  Traffickers exploit the vulnerable through forced labor or commercial sex involving children or involving adults subjected to force, fraud, or coercion.

“The Department of Justice is unflagging in its resolve to eradicate human trafficking and pursue justice for those affected by these heinous crimes,” said Acting Attorney General Monty Wilkinson.

The Department of Justice is committed to continuing its victim-centered, trauma-informed approach to detecting hidden human trafficking crimes, holding perpetrators accountable, and restoring the lives of survivors, while strengthening strategic anti-trafficking partnerships.  In fiscal year 2020, the department brought 210 federal human trafficking cases against 337 defendants, and secured 309 convictions.

Already in 2021, the department secured a sentence of life imprisonment for an individual in Florida who directed, primarily through online communications and transactions, the sex trafficking of impoverished young children in the Philippines.  As a result, Filipino authorities were able to rescue six child victims from the defendant’s co-conspirator in the Philippines.  Also in 2021, the department successfully convicted a labor trafficker who used debts, threats, abuse, and assaults to compel the victim’s unpaid labor for 10 hours a day, six to seven days a week, in the defendant’s North Carolina nail salon.  The department also secured a life sentence and over $900,000 in restitution against a Texas sex trafficker who compelled women and girls to engage in commercial sex through violence, isolation, intimidation, and threats.

The department-wide approach to combating human trafficking extends beyond the prosecutions brought by U.S. Attorneys’ Offices, the Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit, and the Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section, to include interagency enforcement initiatives and strategic partnerships with global anti-trafficking allies.  These efforts increasingly utilize specialized expertise in money laundering, financial crimes, and transnational organized crime to enhance investigations and prosecutions.

The FBI’s Crimes Against Children and Human Trafficking Unit develops innovative strategies on an ongoing basis to enhance detection and investigation of hidden human trafficking crimes.  The Justice Department’s Office for Victims of Crime, as the largest federal funding source for trafficking victim services, issued over 400 grants totaling over $270 million, enabling its grantees to serve 9,854 clients.  In addition, the Office for Victims of Crime launched its Human Trafficking Capacity Building Center to assist local and tribal organizations in starting, sustaining, and expanding their anti-trafficking efforts.  The Bureau of Justice Assistance continued to fund and guide Enhanced Collaborative Model Anti-Trafficking Task Forces to strengthen victim assistance and law enforcement responses to human trafficking.  The department continues to to elevate the voices of courageous survivors, ensuring that their expertise and insights inform anti-trafficking efforts.

During this, the 10th annual National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, the Department of Justice reaffirms its commitment to combatting the heinous crime of human trafficking, holding perpetrators accountable, and seeking justice for survivors.

FBI photo of handcuffs, rope, and chain seized as evidence in a human trafficking case

Why Human Trafficking Has Increased during COVID-19

The coronavirus pandemic has impacted nearly everyone on the planet. It consumes our national news cycle and has changed our daily lives around the world. COVID-19 has resulted in massive lockdowns around the world and caused a global recession that has not been seen since World War II.

According to World Bank forecasts, the global economy will contract by 5.2% this year. Massive shutdowns and extremely restrictive coronavirus responses has caused people in different parts of the world to lose their incomes and homes. As a result, people in various countries are unable to work and put food on the table, leading to deep poverty.

An Inability to Work Increases Vulnerability to Human Trafficking

This inability to work is a problem for several reasons. One reason is that poverty, a lack of social or economic opportunities, and limited labor protections are the primary root causes that make people more vulnerable to human trafficking. In the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic, experts hoped that increased border restrictions and massive lockdowns would decrease human trafficking, but these control strategies are likely to exacerbate instances of human trafficking.

A second reason is that the coronavirus pandemic disrupted victim assistance programs. These programs are offered by non-government organizations that provide anti-trafficking responses, such as victim rescue missions, in-person counseling, and legal assistance services.

In addition, COVID-19 caused human trafficking networks to go further underground with their illicit activities using technology. For example, hotels and red-light districts around the world closed during the coronavirus pandemic, resulting in human traffickers exploiting sex trafficking victims through the dark web and other Internet-based methods. There has also been an increase in online child sexual exploitations and increased rates of child labor and child marriage.

Law Enforcement Agencies Experiencing Problems in Investigating Human Trafficking Cases

At the same time, international law enforcement capabilities have been limited or exhausted during the pandemic, which created delays or reductions in the investigations of human trafficking cases. The pandemic is also responsible for disruptions in the criminal court system, so current cases that are being prosecuted have been put on hold.

COVID-19 Pandemic Has Made Detecting Victims More Difficult

According to the United Nations, the coronavirus pandemic has made it more difficult to identify human trafficking victims, which is challenging enough during normal times. For instance, victims are at a substantial risk of being exposed to the coronavirus and have less access to healthcare to support their recovery.

In some countries, the pandemic has forced children into the streets to search for food and income. As a result, those children are at a higher risk of becoming a victim of human trafficking.

Florida Anti-Trafficking Organization Reports that Sex Trafficking Demand Has Escalated During the Pandemic

In the United States, organizations that support human trafficking victims in Tampa, Florida, says that sex trafficking demand has increased during the coronavirus pandemic. The Polaris Project is an organization that combats human trafficking and operates the National Human Trafficking Hotline, which offers a variety of services to victims. According to the Polaris Project, the number of nationwide cases handled by the Trafficking Hotline increased by more than 40% in the month following the shelter-in-place orders compared to the prior month.

First Responders Have an Important Role in Identifying Human Trafficking Victims

First responders continue to have an important role in identifying potential victims of human trafficking. Juveniles traveling with adults who are not their parents, individuals that appear coached on what to say or have their passport held by someone else, and people who act timid and have bruises in various stages of healing are all indicators that someone is a possible victim human trafficking. Hospital workers also have an important role in identifying human trafficking victims.

Human trafficking victims are typically afraid to speak out about their situation, so it is important for first responders to speak with potential victims about any danger in a safe location, away from the people who accompany them. When first responders are alert to the signs and behavior of human trafficking, even more victims can be rescued during this pandemic.

Neighbors, teachers, and first responders can report suspicious activity that may be related to human trafficking to federal law enforcement at 1-866-347-2423. First responders can learn more about their role in combating human trafficking by reviewing the Department of Homeland Security’s Blue Campaign.

By Dr. Jarrod Sadulski | In Public Safety

About the Author: Dr. Jarrod Sadulski is an associate professor at American Military University and has over two decades in the field of homeland security. He has engaged in speaking engagements in the United States, Central America, and Europe on the topics of human trafficking, narcotics trafficking, police responses to domestic terrorism, and various topics in policing. Most recently, he presented at the 2019 International Human Trafficking Conference. His expertise includes infrastructure security, maritime security, homeland security contraband interdiction, and intelligence gathering.