Violent drug organizations use human trafficking to expand profits
By Jarod Forget Special Agent in Charge, Washington D.C. Division
“See something, say something” is a popular catchphrase used by law enforcement in our area, usually in the context of terrorism or other suspicious activity. Additionally, we all know to step forward and notify the appropriate authorities when we become aware of issues such as child endangerment, domestic violence, or even animal cruelty.
But what about human sex trafficking?
Is that something to worry about? I mean, is it REALLY even a problem in our area??
The answer is: yes.
Human trafficking, something we often see inextricably linked with drug trafficking, is so much more prevalent in this area than most people think. In 2018, Virginia was ranked 6th in the nation for active human trafficking cases, according to the federal human trafficking report produced by the Human Trafficking Institute. Maryland ranked 15th. In 2019, those numbers went down, and there were still almost 500 human trafficking cases reported to the National Human Trafficking Hotline from across the DMV. The statistic was reported by the National Human Trafficking Hotline.
That’s an incredible number of victims in our area and an issue we are working diligently with all of our federal, state, and local partners to combat.
How can we protect our families from this? Do you know the signs? Do you know what to do?
Learn more about the problem, the signs, and the ways you can keep your family and community safe.
Let’s talk about it:
Sex & Drugs
We see trafficking of illegal drugs and human trafficking often happen together. Transnational drug traffickers and criminal organizations often look to increase profits and market control through diversification. This means using trafficking routes for drugs, labor, sex, and violence. Transporting people (usually women and children) for sex is just another egregious source of profits for these violent criminals.
For traffickers, it doesn’t matter which product is being sold -- both drugs and sex are lucrative industries – as long as money is made. Drug cartels often use trafficked women and children to smuggle drugs across the border, doubling up on the money they can make from them.
Violent criminals like this see no difference between abusing a woman’s body by forcing her to swallow bags of drugs or by forcing her to have sex with hundreds of men.
Human Trafficking & The Opioid Crisis
The link we see between human trafficking and opioids in this area, sadly goes both ways.
Human traffickers often use drugs as “bait” to recruit people who have a substance use disorder. Or, conversely, traffickers use drugs as a means of control over their victims – to force compliance, harder work, longer hours, or to keep them “drugged out” so they do not attempt escape.
Either way, we see these horrific criminals forcing women and even children into addiction by providing them strong and potent drugs as a means of exerting control.
About 25 percent of human trafficking survivors have an opioid problem. So it’s important for us as we’re battling the opioid crisis to keep an eye out for the human trafficking side of this.
A Local Problem
So – what does this have to do with you?
We work hard, every day, in our local communities to find, investigate, and take down violent traffickers. The good part is, you can keep your family safe, and help, as well.
Take this month to learn more about the signs and preventions for human trafficking. We have partners across the area offering webinars, resources, and information to help you keep your family safe (follow us on Twitter @DEAWashingtonDC for more).
Why? Because both domestic and transnational gangs in the United States are increasingly turning to selling women and children for sex.
It’s a multi-billion-dollar criminal enterprise that affects tens of millions of people across the country and across the world. But we are seeing it across our area and even in our own neighborhoods. We have violent gangs and criminal organizations specific to our area who are known, horrific traffickers. Traffickers who target our vulnerable populations, our neighbors, and even our family members.
We have been working diligently with our law enforcement and community partners across the area to find, investigate, and prosecute these violent criminals who are trading human lives for profits. In the last year, alone Maryland had second-most defendants charged in federal human trafficking cases and Virginia having the twelfth-most number of defendants convicted. But with innocent human lives on the line, we can’t slow down, now.
This is why, during National Human Trafficking Awareness month, and every month, we aim to educate the public about the risks and signs of drug and human trafficking to both prevent and deter such an egregious and violent crime.
Protecting the DMV
DEA Washington works around the clock, along with our Federal, State, and Local partners, in and around your neighborhood, to weed out violent criminals like this -- criminals who prey on women, children, and vulnerable populations around the area.
When it comes to combating addiction and sex trafficking it doesn’t take a village, it takes a united force, We look out for the indicators of human trafficking in every case we work. But you can do the same.
Next time you come across or are in contact with an addict or meet someone who exhibits the possible signs of human trafficking, consider just a simple, ‘How are you? Are you safe?’
Connect with local community service providers and resources that can be readily available to learn more.
And make sure you have an option and offer that option if you see someone in need, every time.
Together we can work to vastly reduce the instances and violence associated with trafficking across our area.
This is a priority of DEA Washington, and our partners across the area.
We’re here, working to protect you.
24-Hour Hotline: 1-888-373-7888
SMS Text Line: 233733 (BEFREE)
National Human Trafficking Resource Center: https://humantraffickinghotline.org/
Human Trafficking Overview & News: https://www.justice.gov/humantrafficking
Indicators of Human Trafficking: https://www.dhs.gov/blue-campaign/indicators-human-trafficking
Maryland Human Trafficking Resources: http://www.mdhumantrafficking.org/
Virginia Human Trafficking Resources: https://www.dcjs.virginia.gov/victims-services/human-trafficking
DC Human Trafficking Resources: https://dcvictim.org/types-of-crime/human-trafficking/