From Tom Jackman of the Washington Post Jan. 30, 2018:
“Though the scourge of child sex trafficking may seem like an intractable problem, a program designed by a state trooper in Texas has shown real results: hundreds of children rescued, and hundreds of pimps and kidnappers arrested, by patrol officers on mostly routine traffic stops, both in Texas and other states where it has been taught.
Now Congress wants to spread that program nationwide. A bipartisan group of senators and Congress members introduced a bill Tuesday to fund the Interdiction for the Protection of Children program as a pilot project, training federal, state, local and tribal officers in how to spot possible trafficking victims and collecting data that will measure the program’s effectiveness.
The program was created in 2009 by an officer in the Texas Department of Public Safety, Derek Prestridge, who realized there was no real training for officers to identify missing, exploited or at-risk children when they’re encountered on the street. Prestridge also realized that, while police agencies keep track of drunken-driving stops and drug seizures, no one was tracking the number of child rescues made by police, he told The Washington Post last yaer.
Prestridge and others in the Texas DPS then built a training course that taught troopers behavioral and physical indicators that a child, or adult, might be involved in trafficking. Does the child look to others before answering questions? Do they know where they’re going or where they’ve been? Do they have large amounts of cash or prepaid phone cards, hotel keys, sex paraphernalia or slips of paper with phone numbers and dollar amounts? All are potential signs that a child is being exploited.
Prestridge began the training in 2009, and Texas soon began logging child rescue; there were more than 140 in the first five years. Word of the program spread through law enforcement, and Prestridge began training officers in other states. Arizona has begun racking up dozens of child rescues annually, officials there said. As the training slowly spread, officers related stories of how they had stopped cars or encountered traffickers previously, but missed the signs and released the captor and their captive. The U.S. Marshals Service took an interest, forming a Missing Child Unit in 2015, and helped push Prestridge’s training.
But funding for the training beyond that done by Prestridge was lacking. Then last year, an article in The Washington Post Magazine detailed the success of the program and the need for more funding and training. That caught the eye of legislators, particularly Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), John Cornyn (R-Tex.) and Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), and they began doing the legwork to put together the bill that was introduced Tuesday in the Senate. A companion bill in the Housealso was introduced by Reps. Michael McCaul (R-Tex.) and Henry Cuellar (D-Tex.).
“I’m afraid there’s human trafficking going on out there,” said Cornyn, a former state attorney general, “that most people are not trained to identify. And many times the victim, often a runaway, doesn’t realize they’re a victim until it’s too late.” He said Prestridge was crucial in “helping us identify suspicious behaviors and devising protocols for interactions with potential child victims.”
“If this training becomes routine, we could be saving thousands of children.” Prestridge told The Post last year. The Texas Department of Public Safety declined to discuss the program Wednesday.
Cortez Masto, also a former state attorney general, said that “the first time some of the kids have interaction with somebody is going to be with a police officer on the street. That is key. How that police officer interacts with the kid is so important.” The Nevada senator also worked as an assistant prosecutor in Washington, D.C., and said when she worked prostitution cases, she found that “some of them are victims of sex trafficking at a young age, and they had just graduated” to adult street work. “The key is that first identification” to remove them from the streets, Cortez Masto said.
The bill, titled the Interdiction for the Protection of Child Victims of Exploitation and Human Trafficking Act, assigns responsibility for funding and managing the national training to the Justice Department’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services. Cornyn said funds already allocated to the department through court-ordered restitution in criminal cases can be used for the training, and Cortez Masto noted there should also be funding for the treatment of victims after a trafficker is arrested.