The Chamber’s Women’s Leadership Alliance welcomed Lt. Darren Beams, Commander of the West Alabama Human Trafficking Task Force, as guest speaker for the group’s November 5 Lunch and Learn, presented by the Radiology Clinic.
Lt. Beams has been working with the task force for three years, taking a proactive, victim-centered approach with the team, which includes five full-time and 25 part-time officers.
“The task force has been successful,” Beams says. “It is made up of Tuscaloosa Police Department, Tuscaloosa County Sheriff’s Office, Northport Police Department, and the University of Alabama Police Department.”
The task force works in cooperation with a number of law enforcement agencies and organizations, including the Attorney General’s Office, the District Attorney’s Office, ALEA, Homeland Security, and the FBI.
Beams says that while labor trafficking does exist, the task force concentrates on what they see primarily – sex trafficking. Induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or if the victim is not yet 19 years of age, Beams says compelling someone to engage in a commercial sex act is an enterprise that is surrounded by misconception and myths. While trafficking can originate from foreign sources, most trafficking is what he calls “home grown.” Stemming the flow of sex trafficking, which Beams says is growing, is important, because the life span of a sex trafficking victim is just seven years.
Rescuing trafficking victims is challenging because they do not always see themselves as victims. Beams cautions that the majority of victims his team sees are already in some type of physical or psychological distress, and traffickers use grooming techniques such as targeting, tricks, and traumatizing victims to gain and retain control over their victims. Once traffickers have control, the cycle is difficult to break.
“In the three years we’ve been in operation, we’ve rescued 31 victims,” Beams says. “None of the 31 have come back to testify against their trafficker.” Beams did note that in seven operations conducted during the same period, the task force arrested 250 males attempting to solicit commercial sex.
In response to a question about Facebook posts being shared, Beams said its unlikely sex traffickers are trolling WalMart or similar locations and following victims in a “snatch-and-grab” effort. After interviewing traffickers, he’s determined that not only do they know major retailers have extremely good camera systems, they also rarely target victims with families interested in raising an alarm.
“Traffickers want victims who will not be missed,” he said. “They do not want attention raised, so they often target runaways and those already in distress. They are not looking for victims whose families will cause trouble.”
Traffickers want victims that will not be missed; they do not want unnecessary attention raised. They are not looking for victims whose families will cause trouble.
Beams suggested the best way for parents to protect their children is to monitor their devices, particularly social media platforms, online gaming chat rooms and texting apps.
If you suspect human trafficking, contact one of these resources:
National Human Trafficking Hotline: (888) 373-7888
National Center for Missing and Exploited Children: (800) 843-5678
West Alabama Human Trafficking Task Force: (205) 248-4750
If you would like the task force to present to your group, contact the West Alabama Human Trafficking Task Force.