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Photo by Hannah Warren, Staff Reporter

Birmingham Police Against Trafficking

One detective shares how she tries to combat sex trafficking

 

Hannah Warren
Staff Reporter
hbwarren@uab.edu 
Hannah Warren

 

Last year, the Birmingham Police Department was called to UAB Hospital. The staff at the hospital had identified a minor as a potential trafficking victim. Once the police got to the scene and interviewed the victim, they were able to provide help.

“She opened up a lot; this girl had been trafficked probably by three different people,” said Detective Erin Valentine Fitzgerald.

The Department was able to get her to a safe place and get her case through the court system. Then she was able to be placed in a recovery program and was transported to the program by the department.

Detective Erin Valentine Fitzgerald is a detective for the Birmingham Police Department. She works as a part of the Special Victims Unit, which handles sex trafficking. The department also works missing persons, domestic, animal cruelty, child abuse, runaways and sexual assaults.

“Sometimes you can get a victim that’s used forty times a day,” said Detective Fitzgerald, “Because unlike a drug or substance that you have to make more of, you can use that person over and over again.”

“The Birmingham Police Department works to combat trafficking by doing follow-ups, interviews and helping victims get to a safe place,” said Detective Fitzgerald. “Follow-ups are done with runaways when trafficking is suspected; in follow-ups the runaway is asked questions to help determine if trafficking may be taking place.”

Interviews are used to gather information needed for the department to help a victim. In one case that Detective Fitzgerald had, an interview led to a victim's placement in a safe location and her case going through the court system. For this case, getting the victim to a safe place was used as a preventative measure.

“The department will also transport victims to the safe place they need to go,” added Detective Fitzgerald. Two programs for victims in the state are the WellHouse and Safe Harbor Youth.

“There are many signs of trafficking that citizens can look out for. Signs of trafficking include physical injuries, lack of credentials, running away and lack of school attendance,” said Detective Fitzgerald. Traffickers will use physical violence and hold a victim's identification as ways to maintain their control. Running away frequently is a sign of trafficking seen in juveniles.

“They’re either running from something or they’re running to something,” said Detective Fitzgerald.

She added that in these cases, the trafficker will provide the victim with necessities. Detective Fitzgerald notes that familial trafficking can be identified by lack of school attendance, but in some cases the child may be sent to school to make things appear to be normal.

“Locations of trafficking can vary, but some hotspots are hotels, massage parlors, truck stops, strip clubs, schools and sororities,” Detective Fitzgerald specified. She added that traffickers have been known to send children into schools to recruit other children.

They will get the “child to befriend particular children and draw them into it,” said Detective Fitzgerald.

Aside from physical locations, like strips clubs or hotels, certain roadways can be areas where trafficking takes place.

“The I-20 Corridor, it runs between Birmingham and Atlanta, is a major thoroughfare for human trafficking,” Detective Fitzgerald said.

The public can report suspected accounts of trafficking to the police or to federal resources.

“There’s no penalty for calling something in, in good faith,” said Detective Fitzgerald. “It is better to be safe than sorry,” she said.

Within the Department of Homeland Security there is the Blue Campaign. The program intends to educate the public, law enforcement, and other industry partners about the signs of trafficking and how to respond appropriately, according to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). This program has training and materials for law enforcement. Its aim is to “increase detection of human trafficking, and to identify victims” (DHS).

Ways that the public can keep themselves safe includes being aware of their surroundings, being careful on social media, meeting people in public places and letting someone know where they are going. Detective Fitzgerald stressed that research should be done before answering ads for jobs or replying to things on social media.

“When meeting someone take someone with you and/or meet in a public place,” she said. Additionally, “58% of trafficking victims are minors,” said Detective Fitzgerald, and “a female can make a trafficker as much as the estimated amount of $250,000 a year.”

 

National Human Trafficking Hotline: 1 (888)-373-7888

 

 

 

 

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