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Operational Phase

Smart Tip: Victim-Centered Enforcement Action Planning Check List

  • Plan for all potential types of victims based on investigation (males, females, minors, adults, U.S. citizens, foreign nationals)
  • Coordinate with NGOs
  • Start with assessing victims' needs and concerns
    • Assess medical conditions and medications
    • Arrange for shelter/housing and other immediate needs
    • Provide information and answer questions
  • Assess language capacity
  • Explore immigration relief for foreign nationals
  • Know your legal authorities (foreign nationals, U.S. citizens, minors)
  • Locate non-detention setting for interviews
  • Determine who is best suited to conduct the investigative interview (agent, prosecutor, or forensic interviewer)

Who does what? Establish points of contact, define responsibilities for each agency, and identify a mechanism for coordination and communication strategies.

After concluding the initial phase of the human trafficking case, proactive investigations move to the operational phase of covert operations. If they are not already involved, the prosecution and victim service members of the task force begin to become more involved. Note: Anyone in imminent danger requires an immediate response by law enforcement, even if that may hinder the investigation.

  • Use informants and undercover agents to gather evidence.
  • Covert operations against the targets of the investigation require the comprehensive use of informants and undercover agents, physical and electronic surveillance, and consensual overhears, as well as a variety of specific tools, such as cell phone and Internet data, polecams, and tracking devices.
  • Obtain audio and video recordings. Audio and video recordings (even still camera shots) capture many important aspects of criminal conduct that a human observer misses, forgets, or cannot recreate in court through live testimony. In many cases, key portions of evidence lie in the silence or body language of an offender or the unique quality of their words or actions, and technology allows the fact-finder to see and hear this evidence. By allowing the offenders to show their own words and actions on tape, technology alleviates reliance on the suspect credibility of informants and eliminates defense arguments of police mistakes or misconduct. Given the increasing power of television’s CSI effect, many jurors expect this type of evidence at trial, and there is little reason to fail to provide it in a proactive case.
  • Ascertain the state of mind of both the victim and the trafficker. This is an important consideration that is not always relevant in other crime types. Ascertaining state of mind refers to determining what elements are coercing the victims: are they in love with the trafficker; do they feel inferior or  indebted  to the trafficker due to ethnic or cultural practices; does the trafficker believe they are offering a better life to the victim than they could have in their native country? (See Section 5.3 on Building Rapport with the Victim as your Witness.)
  • Identify and establish the relationships of the offenders and the patterns of their criminal conduct. As evidence develops, the investigative team must constantly reevaluate the initial summary of the criminal predicate and work “pressure points” to move the case forward.
  • Use “pressure points. Under a proactive model, the identified persons, items (e.g., cars, phones, computers), or locations in a case constitute “pressure points” or opportunities where focused action can open new avenues of inquiry for reenergizing stalled investigations.
  • Smart Tip: Corroboration Through Physical Evidence

    • A picture is worth a thousand words – photograph all locations that are part of the victims’ statements
    • Tools and paraphernalia of the labor or services (trash runs, condoms, lubricant, lingerie, medications, tickets, business cards, client lists)
    • Journals and personal photos
    • Travel documents
    • Financial documents (bank accounts, credit card accounts, receipts, wire transfers, leases, registrations linking subjects, financial logs, debt ledgers)
    • Medical records
    • Letters to family
    • Text and phone records
    Plan and coordinate a multi-staged takedown of the case. The investigative team updates surveillance and obtains legal process that allows them to execute search warrants, arrest multiple offenders simultaneously, and secure the seizure of criminal proceeds (including bank accounts, vehicles, and real estate) before offenders become alerted to the investigation.
  • Partner with victim service provider task force members before and during law enforcement operations where potential victims are anticipated.
  • Coordinate with the victim service providers on the task force to agree on what information will be shared among different members in advance of any raid/rescue. Victim service providers should not be present at the location of the enforcement action, but should be available immediately afterward to meet with a victim, develop a safety plan, assess her/his needs, and begin providing services. This requires pre-planning and notification in advance. Providing private space and time for victim service providers to speak with a victim and begin assisting immediately following an enforcement action, or promptly after a reactive arrest, establishes that law enforcement and victim service providers are working on the victim’s behalf. Clear boundaries should be defined in order to protect the integrity of the criminal investigation and preserve the victim service provider’s client consent and confidentiality rules. These goals can be accomplished with an open discussion or a written Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). See Section 3.1 on considerations in developing a task force operational protocol.
  • Conduct individual interviews but assess group interactions. After an enforcement action, interview each person alone, but observe reactions when victims and unidentified suspects are in a group in order to carefully sort out the victims, the key traffickers, and the enforcers. Make efforts to keep victims separated so those who may talk to law enforcement can do so without the knowledge of other victims who may still be aligned with the offenders. Take precautions to ensure that traffickers are separated from the victims and are not posing among the victims. It is critical to understand the dynamics of trafficking, that some victims may have bonded with the traffickers or refuse to reveal the extent of their victimization, in order to determine accurately who is a victim. See Section 4.1 on Utilizing a Trauma-Informed Approach and Section 5.2 on Victim Interview and Preparation.

For additional information and tools, visit the Resource page for Section 5.2 Taking a Proactive Approach.