By Ly Nguyen
Office, to lead a discussion on campus on Jan. 25 as part of Sex Trafficking Awareness Week.
Victim specialist Cori Brooks works with trafficking victims and their families for as long as it takes to prosecute the offenders. She works to ensure the victim’s safety during that time.
Special Agent David Fallon has 25 years of experience in dealing with child abduction and sex exploitation.
Their operations focus on juvenile sex trafficking victims. They track offenders who conduct the recruiting process and hold victims against their will.
The greatest sex exploitation operations occur during major sport events, such as the FIFA World Cup and the Super Bowl, both of which draw hundreds of spectators and provide an increasing demand for prostitution services.
“Johns,” a term for people who purchase prostitution services, sign up on websites to have sex with a child during a sports event. “The pimps operate in trucks and they (federal agents) are very effective in shutting down their rings,” commented Fallon.
The most vulnerable victims are runaways and girls with mental health issues. The pimps exploit social networking sites to reach out to the victims. Minors can also be solicited through their friends and family members.
Although the majority of sex trafficking cases involve girls, Brooks stressed that as many as 15 percent of sex trafficking victims are male.
Brooks wanted to break the stereotypical perception of these recruiters, saying that pimps do not snatch people walking alone or on the streets.
Instead, they take control of their victims by building a rapport with them and using drugs to attract them.
Pimps foster loyalty and trust to the point that there was one girl with “her jaw hanging, a dislocated shoulder and a hip out of the socket, who would still keep coming back to the same pimp,” Brooks explained.
The victims’ behavior can be explained by their fear of being caught, beaten and sexually assaulted by their pimps.
Their families’ safety is also threatened and, before they realize it, their drug addictions prevent them from escaping from their drug providers.
These victims are isolated for long periods of time, which causes them to become disoriented and convinced by their pimps that they are damaged, unwanted and have no financial support.
Fallon stressed that the FBI will stay with a victim if he or she is a juvenile. Yet, if a minor is uncooperative, she goes through a series of interviews, which last for hours until she gives some information about her identity.
The interviews are usually faster when the interviewer is a female because the victims are trained only to talk to their pimps and to avoid eye contact with other men.
It is often difficult for police departments to recognize girls as juveniles because sex trafficking pimps give the victims fake IDs with changed names and birthdates.
When the audience asked about international victims, Brooks stated that those victims are referred to a temporary agency with safe transportation back to the victim’s home country.
Fallon and Brooks gave examples of two tough cases that involved girls named Kelsey and Charlene to prove the challenges present in their operations.
The agents talked about Kelsey’s scenario, where she was rescued in Albany and returned to her home, but a short time after her rescue, a lawyer contacted the FBI and told them that Kelsey’s case was now outside of their jurisdiction.
“The lawyer seemed to be supervised by the pimp behind the scenes. The pimp got away with only an assault charge and, later, we found out that Kelsey was pregnant with the pimp’s child,” said Fallon.
The second case involved Charlene, who was found in Saratoga. The rescue team contacted Charlene’s family in the Bronx but, “Her parents didn’t want to have anything to do with her,” said Brooks.
In such cases, the agents would refer victims to proper agencies, such as Child Protection Services. The FBI works with local police departments and investigation teams to prevent sex trafficking.
The bureau also raises awareness about sex trafficking in places like hospitals and tattoo parlors, which frequently encounter sex trafficking victims.
In tattoo parlors, many young female victims are forced to get tattoos.
The tattoos serve to brand the girls as the pimp’s property. The worst examples include tattooed barcodes on a trafficked girl’s body or eyelid.
The FBI encourages hospital staff to pay attention to the way patients are dressed and the guardians who come in with patients as key signs of sex trafficking.
The FBI also has given presentations at many colleges, including Siena College, Hudson Valley Community College, Skidmore College, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and SUNY Albany.
When asked about the most rewarding part of the job, the two FBI agents said they appreciate “just the fact that you can give them a method of assistance to get out of the situation. It rejuvenates you when you know you made a difference,” said Fallon.
Brooks added that it was important to see sex trafficking victims make decisions and adjustments on their own.
“The victims change their lives with the means and tools we give them in the weeks and years from the rescue,” she noted.
Fallon shared that he remains motivated for the job because of his “dedication to the cause. It is the hope to rescue a victim maybe not today, but a week or a month down the road.”
“FBI agents solve cases where they see the worst in a human that needs to be recovered,” he continued.
Elena Pettiford ’18 attended the seminar and commented, “People need to be more aware and have a deeper look into things that they don’t go through, but others do. Anyone can be a victim.”