Tope Folarin joins Kojo to talk about his debut novel, which follows a Nigerian American from boyhood to his young adult years as he navigates family, faith and identity. Plus, Folarin's path as a writer and D.C.'s literary scene.
To mark World Day Against Trafficking In Persons last week, Uber offered trainings for drivers across the country — including here in D.C. — on how to identify and report riders who may be victims of trafficking.
Other local companies in the hospitality industry have started to disseminate similar information to their employees.
What are local rideshare drivers and hotel staff learning about the signs of trafficking here in the D.C. region? And what more could be done to confront this complex problem? We’ll discuss.
Produced by Margaret Barthel
- Eliza Reock Strategic Advisor on Child Sex Trafficking, National Center for Missing and Exploited Children; @MissingKids
KOJO NNAMDIYou're tuned into The Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU 88.5, welcome. Later in the broadcast the District is ending its contract for disability services with Georgetown University and a lot of advocates are concerned. We'll talk about that. But first, can you spot the signs that someone sex trafficked? People who work driving rideshare or taxis or who work in hotels and restaurants might be well placed to see human trafficking and report it to law enforcement.
KOJO NNAMDILast week Uber offered a training for some of its D.C. area drivers and couriers to do just that, and other local and national companies have started to do the same. The problem is real and it's often right in front of us. Last week District police arrested and charged five people for trafficking two teenage girls. Joining me in studio is Eliza Reock, Strategic Advisor on Child Sex Trafficking at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Eliza Reock, thank you for joining us.
ELIZA REOCKThanks so much for having me, Kojo.
NNAMDIEliza, you've led trainings for Uber drivers and various other groups from rotary clubs to professional meeting planners in the past. What are some of the indicators of potential trafficking that you tell them to look for?
REOCKWell, at the National Center we're specifically looking at child sex trafficking, and there are multiple signs to look for. Not everything that I talk about is going to necessarily mean the child is being trafficked, but it's enough to raise flags and to make a potential report. So for instance, if a child has large amounts of cash or items of value especially if the child appears to be homeless, if they're with an older or controlling adult or person whose answering questions for them, speaking for them or if the child looks to that person before they answer questions.
REOCKOne thing that we're paying attention to more and more at the National Center are tattoos. Clearly lots of children in the District have tattoos. That doesn't mean they're a victim of trafficking. But if there's a tattoo or a burn mark that's expressing something like money or MOB, which means money over B-word or loyalty to a certain person. Branding is a big way that we know traffickers continue to exert control over their victims. Or if you have multiple children with the same tattoo that they're unwilling to explain, that's often a sign that one trafficker is branding multiple victims with his street name or her street name.
REOCKAlso if the child is in a community or involved in an area that is known for commercial sex, so if they're recovered at a strip club, if they're recovered in a prostitution related sting operation, and if the child is using terminology related to that. You know, we would never perpetuate language that connects children with commercial sex, but I certainly know that urban dictionary has become my best friend. If I hear a kid saying something like, "ten toes down," or calling somebody that's not their parent, "my daddy." or saying, you know, "I'm in the life," those are things that are really important for us to pay attention to.
REOCKAnd finally if a child going missing especially going missing multiple times or for long periods of time, you know, at that point we know this isn't just a fight with mom or dad. That child is likely either running from something or to something. We know at the National Center one in seven of all endangered runaways that are reported missing to the National Center are likely victims of trafficking.
NNAMDIEliza, most of those signs are suspicious, but none of them is really a sure sign that someone is being trafficked. What would you say to a rideshare driver, for example, who sees something that seems kind of off, but isn't sure if it rises to the level of reporting it to law enforcement?
REOCKI think I would first say that's why we exist. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children is not law enforcement. We are a clearing house for these types of reports. So while everything that's coming in to us through either 1-800-THE-LOST, our 24 hotline or one of the 18.5 million cyber tips we received last year through our cybertipline.org, we're taking that information. It's all going to be sent back to law enforcement, but we also can add intelligence from the wealth of information we already have from our database from public reporting, etcetera. And also prioritize to law enforcement what we are seeing as an emergency a child endangered right now or something that might build upon a case they already have.
NNAMDIEliza, do you have any examples of a tip from someone working in one of these areas rideshare, hotel, ultimately helping law enforcement uncover a trafficking situation?
REOCKYeah, there have been several and including one recently right here in the D.C. Georgetown area where we had an Uber driver help us locate where the child was dropped off and where the two missing children might be. At this most recent training, in fact, I was on cloud nine after leaving, because not only during the training do we talk about the signs and how to report and also explain what child sex trafficking is, but then spend some time saying, if you're still not sure, you know, if you're unclear whether or not this is worth reporting, what if you're right? You know, there's a million reasons I don't want to get involved. You know, maybe this isn't that I want to be polite, but what if this report could help find a child.
REOCKSo I took the drivers also through our website where you can go to our missing child posters. Right now there's 11 missing children posters just for the D.C. area, if you look at the surrounding cities that multiplies to hundreds. And I say so you can go to get help, find a missing child. Look through the posters. One of the driver's said, I had a situation recently. It was so upsetting. I went to the police. The police couldn't take the report, because it wasn't enough information. I said, absolutely make a cyber tip. That's the kind of thing we're talking about that we might be able to help with. He said, yeah, not only this, but -- and he held up his phone and said, I'm pretty sure this is her. It was incredible to know that just that conversation might have made a difference.
NNAMDIWow. And if somebody decides to report and law enforcement as in some cases can't or won't investigate a tip, what should a person trying to report something do at that point?
REOCKWell, again if it's an emergency situation always start with law enforcement. But then we're available to take those reports. It's again, I said cybertipline.org or 1-800-THE-LOST. We even have satellite call center locations to make sure that we are available 24 hours a day seven days a week. We just want to make sure you are getting as much information as you can, license plate numbers, aliases, pay attention. You might -- use discretion, I think if you suspect child sex trafficking intervening specifically might put you or the child in danger. But reporting that information to us may help intervene and hopefully get that child the restorative services they need.
NNAMDIThe training you did for Uber, what kind of demand is there for these kinds of trainings? Is there more interest from businesses, companies?
REOCKMore and more, I can tell you that this year I was out of town more than I was in town and that's thrilling I think. Especially, like you said, one of the most recent I also did was out in Reston for the Association of Meeting Planners thinking if you have a lot of people coming into town for an event that might be a reason that there's a lot of demand for sex coming into town and that's putting our children at risk. So, you know, there are certainly industries and individuals that are more likely to encounter or be equipped to intervene for these kids.
REOCKBut at the end of the day they are at bus stops. They're in convenience stores. They're going to malls. They're on buses. You know, we have had reports of kids that just seem like they shouldn't be on the Metro that late by themselves. And that's led us to recovering children that we knew were being trafficked.
NNAMDIYou said that rideshare is a mode of transportation known to be used by traffickers. Is there something about the sharing economy and perhaps the internet more broadly that enables traffickers?
REOCKWell, I think that there are -- there's always ways that predators or bad actors are using or manipulating technology. With the ridesharing, I know Uber and I believe the other ridesharing platforms do say that children cannot have their own account, but that doesn't mean that a trafficker isn't going to use an account to transport a child. You know, that's really an easy way to monitor where the kid is, where they're going to be, and when they're coming back. You know, you have this ability to monitor the child's behavior.
REOCKSo, again, paying attention to certain information is going to be really really important. We know one Uber driver talked about how the entire time he was listening to these two individuals in the backseat talking. He just kept repeating the hotel room number in his head so that he could report it as soon he dropped the child off.
NNAMDIJoining us now by phone is Jennifer Decker. Jennifer Decker is a Hotel Manager at a Hampton Inn property in Manassas, Virginia. Jennifer, thank you so much for joining us.
JENNIFER DECKERThank you for having me.
NNAMDIYou recently brought a group of hotel employees together in Prince William County to learn about the signs of trafficking. What prompted you to host that meeting and what are some of the important things you learned?
DECKERSo I attended a networking event that the Virginia Restaurant Lodging and Travel Association put on here locally. They brought in a human trafficking speaker. You know, she talked more broadly about trafficking over the world, and just some generic statistics about it. And it just got me thinking throughout the event why can't we bring this back into a hotel setting. Why can't we have these kind of speakers to talk to hotel employees? So I left that event and put some of my resources together and said, you know, I think I can make this happen. I contacted the local police department. I have a contact there, and he said, no, this is definitely not a crazy idea. We love this idea and we think you should do it, and we will participate with you. We'll come in and be a speaker.
DECKERAnd I have a contact at a local non-profit organization, Action and Community through Service. So I contacted him. Told him about the idea and asked if he had anyone that deals with trafficking. And he actually had someone who he works with that is on the Greater Prince William Human Trafficking Task Force. And she, again, absolutely was 100 percent in. And I had a training video that Hilton sent around to all of its branded hotels for training. So I just put my resources together and thought that it was a good thing to try to pull off.
NNAMDIAs you pulled it off, what signs of trafficking are you therefore now on the lookout for in your role as a hotel manager?
DECKERSo there are definitely signs in each department. Front desk, if you see an older gentleman with a younger female, if they are paying in cash day to day that has since changed recently. Now they start using prepaid cards. If they extend -- only pay for one day, but extend every single day. And then in housekeeping, the housekeeping department might notice multiple cell phones in one room, multiple prepaid cards laying around, obviously condoms or sex toys. You're security or maintenance department might notice multiple guys going in and out of one room. Those are just some of the signs that each department might see.
NNAMDIEliza Reock, there's sex trafficking and then there's prostitution carried out by adult sex workers. How would you distinguish between the two and do you find often people confusing them?
REOCKWell, there's by law a hard line of any child under the age of 18 who is coerced or involved they don't have to prove force, fraud or coercion, because just being a child implies that that child is being sexually abused. I think the bigger issue -- so to answer your question it's really helpful that we don't have to prove a child has a trafficker. We don't have to provide any conversation about whether or not the child is a prostitute, because that simply doesn't apply when we're talking about a child. We're talking about child sexual abuse, and D.C. has changed their law to reflect that. We are no longer charging children with the crime of prostitution in D.C. That isn't to say that adults are not trafficked as well or that a child stops being victimized once they turn 18.
REOCKJust by our mandate where almost the majority all the youth we're seeing are children, because we are a clearing house for missing and exploited children. I make that connection, though, around prostitution and child sex trafficking and is the idea that if there is demand for commercial sex predators know that a child, who's missing especially a child who runs away or who is homeless that somebody might not be looking for to start with are targeting those children. That they are in danger. So something that we are always trying to pay attention to is if there is a demand for prostitution these kids are at particular risk.
NNAMDIFinally are there characteristics of D.C. as a place that either contribute to or heighten sex trafficking here?
REOCKYou know, I think that one thing that has been very helpful, I'm sure you're familiar with the Missing Girls of Color campaign.
NNAMDIIn D.C., yep.
REOCKAnd while the officer, who was involved in promoting that who is an incredible leader in the community did point out not all those kids went missing at once. They've been on our missing case load for some time. Like I said, there are 11 children and missing child posters on our website right now for D.C. I think that brought a lot of awareness. That idea of any time a child is missing any time a child has run away, we need to take that serious. So that is an endangerment in itself.
REOCKAnd second D.C. is a place where there are conferences, where there are people coming in from out of town, which again, can drive demand for commercial sex. And unfortunately would then drive demand for people, who would either be looking to buy sex from children or are recklessly buying sex from children.
NNAMDIOnly got a few seconds left, but Luis tweets, are there any federal national level organizations that deal with human trafficking? The U.S. has several terrorism centers. What about a center of human trafficking?
REOCKCertainly, I serve on the Department of Transportation's Human Trafficking Advisory Council. There's federal level and then there are national hotlines. Like I said, our 1-800-THE-LOST and cyber tip line are going to be specific to child sexual exploitation. But there is also the National Human Trafficking Hotline. There is a Department of Homeland Security has a hotline specifically dedicated to human trafficking. FBI has their Innocence Lost initiative. So there are several that I think are important to pay attention to, but again, if it's an emergency situation always 9-1-1.
NNAMDIAnd, of course, Eliza Reock is a Strategic Advisor on Child Sex Trafficking at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Thank you so much for joining us.
REOCKThank you so much for having me. It's an honor.
NNAMDIJennifer Decker is a Hampton Inn Manager in Manassas. She organized a training on trafficking for Prince William County hotel employees. Jennifer Decker, thank you for joining us.
DECKERThank you so much.
NNAMDIGoing to take a short break, when we come back, the District is ending its contract for disability services with Georgetown Universities, but a lot of advocates are concerned and upset. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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