FBI: Watch for signs of sex and labor trafficking

Although statistics and studies of Alaska’s sex and labor trafficking cases are often centralized around Anchorage, officials caution that it’s not just a city problem.

“Even though this may be something that you say you don’t have in your community, you do have it in your community,” Special Agent Jolene Goeden of the Federal Beureau of Investigation said to a crowded room of hospital staff, local police officers and emergency medical services personnel on Wednesday at the Central Peninsula Hospital.

“Traffickers know that they can make a lot of money in Alaska. … Many of the traffickers that we’re working cases on, that we know about, they move around Alaska,” Goeden said. “They don’t just work in Anchorage. They’re going to send girls down here to the Kenai area.”

And it’s not just traffickers from Alaska. Goeden said that during busier seasons, traffickers from the Lower 48 move to Alaska.

“We have a number of traffickers that bring girls up for the weekends or weeks in order to work during periods of times that they know it’s more lucrative … during PFD times or the summer months when they know there are more tourists here,” Goeden said. “Big supply and demand.”

Trafficking, Goeden said, is divided into two camps — forced labor and sexual trafficking — but both have three parties involved. There is the customer, the victim and the benefactor, who is receiving money or compensation from the exploitation of the victim. This differentiation sets sexual trafficking apart from prostitution.

“Sadly, a lot of the women we do interact with are scared into saying that they are doing it on their own,” F.B.I. Victim Specialist Erin Patterson said.

Although it is possible for men to be victims of sexual trafficking, Goeden said that she hasn’t worked on a case yet and gears her talks more toward signs and evidence of a woman forced into sexual trafficking.

Some of these signs include a sudden increase of money and valuables, not attending school or work, signs of physical abuse, signs of branding or tattooing of their trafficker’s name, recurrent sexually transitted infections or pregnancies or heavy influence by a possessive, typically older, male.

“Over the year we’ve seen an increase in traffickers putting tattoos on girls that work for him. …The traffickers have these controlling mechanisms that they’ll put into place,” Goeden said. “He holds your life in his hands.”

Traffickers will also use drugs to control their victims through addiction.

“Ninety percent of our trafficking cases involve drugs,” Goeden said. “If you have a drug problem in your community, which I’m pretty sure you do, you have trafficking. They go hand in hand.”

Goeden pointed to a 2013 case from Homer, where a Homer sport fishing charter captain, Randall Scott Hines, was indicted on drug charges involving teenage girls he allegedly used to sell methamphetamines, Oxycitin and Xanax.

“It may be different,” Goeden said. “They may not be posting online, selling sex, but it’s going to be drug dealers trading girls for other drugs. It’s all combined.”

Goeden and Patterson also said that Asian massage parlors are often a front for sexual trafficking, but language barriers often prevent the FBI from prosecuting anyone involved since there is no cooperating victim.

“I can’t say every single Asian massage parlor is a front for trafficking,” Goeden said. “But I can say that many Asian massage parlors are a front for trafficking.”

Patterson said that what they see at the FBI is just the tip of the iceberg to the amount of sexual trafficking taking place, but it’s important to help victims in any way, even just with toiletries.

“We know that the women that we’re interacting with are women who are very limited with what they have hygeine-wise,” Patterson said. “If we can sneak them toilet paper, a tooth brush or something, just to build that trust and let them know that we care about them.”

Outside of the sexual trafficking realm, there are also victims of labor trafficking found in Alaska. Labor trafficking, Goeden said, is forcing someone to work, without the involvement of sex, through threats to them or their family.

“The fishing industry is huge,” Goeden said. “You have so many people from outside of the United States working in the cannery or wherever it might be and there may be a trafficking situation going on, but it’s difficult because the season is so short that we don’t get reports in time.”

In any case, Patterson recommends reaching out to local law enforcement if there is any suspicion or signs of trafficking.

Reach Kat Sorensen at kat.sorensen@peninsulaclarion.com.

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