Trakul Winitnaiyapak, the attorney general of Thailand, stood in front of the crowd at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law on Friday and relayed “the five P’s” of stopping human trafficking.
Policy, prosecution, prevention, protection and partnership.
In Illinois and Chicago, partnership — which Winitnaiyapak called the most important step — is key.
To that end, also attending the conference were Amy Alvarado of the Cook County state’s attorney’s office, Brian Dugan of the FBI and Illinois Assistant Attorney General Jane R. Flanagan.
Over the past decade, efforts to curb human trafficking — both for labor and sex — have increased in Illinois and Thailand.
In 2010, the Cook County state’s attorney’s office opened a specialized unit for prosecuting human trafficking crimes. The unit is comprised of three full-time attorneys, one investigator and Alvarado, a social worker who works as the group’s human trafficking specialist.
Since 2010, the office has charged close to 100 cases, Alvarado said, with about 60 resulting in convictions.
Meanwhile, in 2008, Thailand passed the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act to help curb trafficking there. Three years later, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed a suit against farming contractor Global Horizons Manpower Inc. for the exploitation of about 500 Thai farm workers in Hawaii, a total that the U.S. Justice Department called the largest trafficking case in U.S. history.
In September, a federal district judge in Hawaii approved a $2.4 million settlement between Global Horizons and the Thai laborers. In 2014, Thailand took legal action against 156 illegal recruitment workers and agencies, Winitnaiyapak said.
Still, Winitnaiyapak’s goal remains stopping trafficking before it starts, not after.
“Prevention is better than cure,” he said.
Determining prevention strategies is crucial in Illinois. According to data collected from 2007 to 2012 by the National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC), Illinois reported the fifth most potential trafficking cases of any state and the most in the Midwest.
The state had 348 potential trafficking cases, comprised of 162 matters with “high” indicators of trafficking and another 186 with “moderate” indicators.
California was first with 1,458 total, followed by Texas (950), Florida (637), New York (510), Illinois and Washington, D.C. (300).
And despite increased legal action, trafficking remains a problem in Thailand, where the U.S. State Department’s 2014 Trafficking in Persons Report conservatively estimated “tens of thousands” of Thai trafficking victims.
Among the “partnership” efforts that Winitnaiyapak alluded to occur between five FBI offices and foreign countries. San Francisco, for instance, is partnered with Thailand, while Chicago partners with the Philippines, another nation struggling with trafficking.
The NHTRC report showed the Philippines with 65 labor trafficking cases, the most of any nation, followed by the United States with 36.
Because of the sensitive nature of the crimes, Alvarado, Dugan and Flanagan all spoke about their respective offices taking “victim-centric” approaches. That means limiting the number of interviews taken with victims and, whenever possible, keeping the victim out of the courtroom.
“The victims have gone through a horrendous amount of trauma,” Dugan said. “When we ask them to come proffer interviews, to grand jury, to testify, trial prep, we’re making them relive those incidents over and over and over again. It has to be kid gloves. We have to have a human touch.”
Should prosecutors or judges not appreciate the necessity for sensitivity, Dugan said, there is a risk of both further damaging the victim and damaging the case.
“If we bring it up two years from now for a trial, we just set (the victim) back two years,” Dugan said.
Dugan has worked closely with Alvarado, who recalls one of the first cases that the state’s attorney’s office charged, the 2010 raid of a brothel in Little Village disguised as a massage parlor.
A Mexican woman who had been forced into prostitution through threats of deportation eventually phoned the National Human Trafficking Hotline, which led to a sting.
Alvarado said people dealing with trafficking victims should remember that the interview process may be an elongated one.
“They have these bonds with their traffickers, so the first interview may not be a full disclosure,” Alvarado said.
“It may be snippets. It may not be anything. So these interviews can go on for a long time before you build that rapport with that person.”
The key to building rapport, she said, “is to know about language and sensitivity, and to be patient.”
As Winitnaiyapak closed his speech, he reminded the audience of trafficking’s stakes.
“I would like to reiterate that human trafficking is a heinous crime that erodes human dignity,” he told the roughly 75 attendees.
“I think you’ll all agree with me that one single nation cannot effectively combat international human trafficking alone.”
After the forum, IIT Chicago-Kent Dean Harold J. Krent said the event addressed “important issues affecting prosecutors, affecting defense attorneys, affecting social workers.
“And we’re glad to be a part of it.”