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  • Writer's pictureKevin Graham

What does a human trafficker look like?

I once saw a young girl at a hotel who looked out of place because her clothes made her appear much older than she was. But it didn’t seem to be a typical case of a girl dressing like a woman in an attempt to grow up quickly. Her outfit appeared to be put together by someone else, someone who wanted the girl to look older than she was. She kept her head down, didn’t make eye contact with anyone in the lobby and sat there until eventually an older man came over, said some things to her, handed her a room key and motioned for her to go up the stairs of the lobby.

I happened to be overseas at the time in what most would consider a “seedy” hotel in what everyone considered a bad part of town. I worked for the US Government (both as active duty military and as a civilian intelligence and operations specialist) for over twenty years and spent a large chunk of that time living in similar hotels and apartments in whatever country I was deployed to. During this time, while I had the deepest of job satisfaction from the good work I was doing and the efforts I supported, I also regularly witnessed situations like that of the young girl, but was helpless to do much about it given my status in country at the time. Without question human trafficking is a global epidemic and continues to grow each year. Human traffickers pick victims of all races, gender, age and economic background.

When you hear about human trafficking, what image do you conjure up thinking about the horrible people who carry out these despicable atrocities against men, women, girls and boys? Most likely it’s someone lurking in the shadows… some criminal element whether gang or mafia affiliated, deep in the underworld where horrible things happen to good people. Basically, all the guys that Liam Neeson kills in Taken.

In early July of this year, an enormous anti-trafficking operation in Turkey arrested 55 human traffickers in Izmir alone. Others were arrested in Ankara, Aydin, Istanbul and other provinces. The operation targeted three separate criminal organizations across the country and many of the individuals arrested look much like the stereotypical image of a trafficker.

But let’s look at some other examples of individuals arrested for human trafficking, that may not be stereotypical. One can’t turn on the news right now without hearing the latest about the arrest of Jeffrey Epstein. It seems the more that comes out on this story, the more horrific the details. But think about the profile of this trafficker… and make no mistake, if these allegations prove to be true, Epstein most assuredly meets all of the qualifications necessary to graduate from pervert and pedophile to full-fledged trafficker.

Epstein was a math teacher and investment banker before he opened his own firm and began to manage funds for very wealthy clients, turning him into a billionaire financier. He owns properties in Palm Beach, Paris and even a private island in the U.S. Virgin Islands. The New York Times reports his $77 million mansion in New York City is the largest townhouse in Manhattan. This is by all accounts, professionally, the track of a successful businessman.

Let’s look at another human trafficker profile. Unless you’re a fan of the WB/CW series Smallville or the FX series Wilfred, you probably haven’t heard of Allison Mack. She’s a German-born actress who was arrested in New York in April 2018 on charges of sex trafficking, sex trafficking conspiracy and forced labor conspiracy. She allegedly recruited women to join NXIVM ( and then proceeded to brand the women with a symbol reflective of NXIVM, blackmail them in to engaging in sexual activity and force them in to manual labor.

So, what does the human trafficker look like? As much as we’d like to think they are menacing-looking, foreign, criminal and completely out of most of our lines of sight… the unfortunate truth is that traffickers take on all shapes and sizes, some of which are right in our own backyards. As a fairly new parent myself, one of the many (and I do mean many) things that keep me up at night is the danger of traffickers someday coming into contact with my child.

The sad truth is that traffickers can be anyone and are everywhere. In mid-July 2019 an Indianapolis man was arrested for bringing 12 Indiana children to Kentucky to sell candy for him. He forced the children to sleep in one hotel room along with three adults. This labor trafficker had been under investigation for reports of labor trafficking for two years. While it hasn’t been reported how this man came to be in possession of these minors, I would not be surprised if he knew them prior to taking them. Almost every trafficker has some sort of contact with an individual prior to them becoming victims, whether in-person or virtually.

Human trafficking is estimated to be a $32 billion-a-year industry in the United States alone (and increasing every year). We are all responsible for stopping trafficking! Here are three things you can do to help:

· Know the signs of human trafficking. Become educated on indicators of human trafficking activities as well as common behaviors demonstrated by victims.

· Understand the role you and your employees play in preventing human trafficking. By having a close relationship with local law enforcement, you empower your business to confidently contact the appropriate authorities who will quickly and discretely look into any suspected actions without reprimand or potential immigration action.

· Understand vulnerabilities of your place of business. The responsibility ultimately falls on you to avoid unwittingly allowing your place of business to be used to harbor traffickers or to conduct human trafficking activities.

The Village Project provides industry specific training programs that include risk assessment, methods of liaising with local law enforcement and overall programs to help stop trafficking before it starts. Interested in learning more? Please call or email at or (571) 508-7079.

Prevent. Protect. Prevail.

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