Special agents and victim assistance specialists with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) recently led two week-long human trafficking and child exploitation trainings for law enforcement counterparts from several Latin American and Caribbean countries at the International Law Enforcement Academy (ILEA) in San Salvador, El Salvador. Some of the participating countries included the Bahamas, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cayman Islands, Jamaica, Dominican Republic and El Salvador.
The trainings, which took place between June 17-21 and June 24-28, 2019, were designed to help participating law enforcement officers, agents, prosecutors, and judges understand the crimes of sex trafficking/forced labor and child exploitation/sexual child abuse and how to work these types of cases. The ICE HSI delegations not only provided insight into each crime, but also discussed the challenges they face when investigating and prosecuting human trafficking and child exploitation cases in the United States.
“Victims of trafficking and exploitation have specific needs that must be addressed for them to feel safe and comfortable to interact with law enforcement and the judicial system,” explained Marc Tetzlaff, Victim Assistance Specialist with ICE HSI Phoenix.
The main objectives of the trainings were for attendees to learn new methods to investigate these crimes, in addition to gaining a better understanding of the trauma that victims encounter when they are victimized and how the trauma can impact victims’ interactions with law enforcement. These needs were discussed and explored with other country-specific examples and challenges provided by attendees. Likewise, the concept of forensic interviews was explored via case studies, detailing techniques that assist victims in providing more intact and complete statements.
“Our main goal was not to tell students to work cases the same way we do in the United States, but rather, to give them tools to take to their home countries and adapt them to their needs,” said Victim Assistance Specialist Tetzlaff.
During the sex trafficking and forced labor sessions, ICE HSI personnel provided information on how to investigate these cases, how to properly collect evidence, and stressed the importance of identifying victims in a proactive manner instead of a reactive manner. They used cases they had personally investigated and led in-depth discussions with participating officials about effective techniques and the challenges they encountered during the investigations and prosecutions. Conversely, attendees discussed the different laws and unique challenges they faced when working human trafficking cases in their respective countries.
During the child exploitation sessions, the ICE HSI special agents provided real-world case examples and technical training on how to use certain investigative techniques to identify criminals who target children and then transmit the images to other predators. Similarly, ICE victim assistance specialists provided insight and personal experiences as examples of how to work with victims of these heinous crimes and the challenges the attendees will face when dealing with these victims.
An ICE HSI victim assistance specialist who participated in the training explained that one of the most enjoyable parts of the sessions was the “Way Forward” exercise, in which each country representative was asked to provide a proactive case example of how they would use the information, skills, and techniques they learned when they returned to their home country.
According to the ICE HSI facilitators, participants had a good knowledge base regarding the cycle of violence and its impact on victimization. Some participants even expressed the need to restore a victim’s dignity, which Victim Assistance Specialist Tetzlaff described as “spot on.”
A victim assistance specialist from ICE HSI Chicago concurred, providing participants additional tools to further hone their empathy skills: “I was able to elicit and engender the foundational victim empathy needed when serving victims. I also provided tools that participants could use to empathize with trauma in general, trauma victims, and those experiencing polyvictimization (multiple forms of abuse and victimization), which are often associated with human trafficking and child exploitation, in their respective countries.”
This is not the first time ICE HSI special agents and victim assistance specialists have hosted this type of trainings. They have also supported other similar courses at ILEA San Salvador and other regional law enforcement academies, including ILEA Bangkok, ILEA Budapest, ILEA Botswana, and ILEA Ghana.