Human trafficking is a crime against humanity.
By Joshua Slane/Contributor
OKMULGEE, Oklahoma–Lighthorse Police Chief Hawkins sat down to talk about human trafficking and the trainings and efforts that the Lighthorse have taken on to help combat the ever-growing issue.
Human trafficking is defined as “The action or practice of illegally transporting people from one country or area to another, typically for forced labor or sexual exploitation,” according to webstersdictionary.com
According to Hawkins, all people are vulnerable to it, but teenagers, especially in the 14 – 16 age range were thought to be the most vulnerable.
Teenagers who are getting more freedom and getting to discover themselves are often the easiest targets, but no age is safe.
“In my 22 years in law enforcement the youngest I’ve seen is 9, to predators out there it doesn’t matter,” Hawkins said.
Hawkins explained that they have preparations in place to deal with human trafficking. Lighthorse officers are trained in human trafficking prevention and recovery.
One investigator oversees that unit and attends various training. Other officers, including the investigator in charge of human trafficking, also receive training locally at a yearly training on human trafficking put on by the Demand Project. Demand Project partners with Homeland Security, who does the Blue Campaign, ‘which offers training to law enforcement and others to increase detection and investigation of human trafficking, and to protect victims and bring suspected traffickers to justice.’
When encountering victims of human trafficking, Hawkins said the goal isn’t to arrest them.
“We try to get them somewhere safe and to where they can get helped,” Hawkins said.
Once the victim is safe, Lighthorse will use any available resources. The department keeps up to date on state resources or tribal resources that may benefit the victim. Their biggest concern is to help them move forward to a better place, so they do not fall back into abuse.
Lighthorse also works with non-Natives. “Just because they’re non-native doesn’t mean we won’t help them, we’re going to take care of them,” Hawkins said. “As police officers, we’re sworn to help.”
One other step to combatting human trafficking is protecting children before they ever become victims of it.
Hawkins shared some prevention advice.
“It all ties back to how involved are the parents or guardians with protecting their young ones, their kids,” Hawkins said. ” My advice is you have to stay on top of your children, you have to know the crowds they’re running with, you have to know the things they’re doing on their phone, on their computer.”
“People they’re talking to on chat sites, or messenger, Facebook, video games, even e-mails are skilled at deceiving kids.”
“You have to stay on top of it,” Hawkins said. “Because the first time you’re not, you don’t know who your kids are running with and what kind of crowds they’re running with, they can make friends with someone and not have a clue they’re being lured into something.”
He also urges parents to learn and make use of safety features. Parental controls or even independent parental apps on electronic devices can help. Those apps should not be exclusively relied upon.
“Stay involved and talk with them,” Hawkins said.