How adults and children can be easy pawns in a secret criminal world


Many have heard of human trafficking, labor trafficking and sex trafficking, but few can explain how it works, how people fall victim and how it all can lead to human slavery.

It’s a crime that does not discriminate. Neither race nor sex nor age matters.

“[Predators] are going to look for people who are vulnerable,” said FBI Assistant Special Agent in Charge Todd Bobe. “Not only do victims go across all demographics but also do our bad guys as well.”

The bad guys are no longer seedy predators hiding in a dark alley or lurking on the internet. They’re smart, affluent, active, clean-cut criminals.

These criminals make you and your children think they’re your friends. They may befriend an adult to get to their child. They may prey upon a fractured family or an adult in need and start what’s called the “grooming” process.

“Somebody takes them (adults or children or both) in, gives them a bunch of things, whether it’s clothes or jewelry or whatnot and gets them in the business,” said Bobe, who works out of the FBI Birmingham Field Office.

Those gifts come back to haunt the people they target. Those people become victims who are essentially owned by the trafficker, leading to the human slavery aspect.

“We’re talking about debt bondage,” said Bobe. “And you can’t get out, and there’s a vicious cycle.”

The cycle is real, the damage is real, and the stories are shocking.

Each year the FBI conducts “Operation Cross Country” in an effort to rescue adults and children from human trafficking situations. Some years are more memorable than others.

“The youngest child we’ve rescued is 7-months old,” said Bobe. Realistically, they were property to the pimp.”

Bobe explained the situation arose when a woman who was caught in the vicious cycle had a baby. The trafficker held the baby as property until the woman paid off her debt.

Bobe says each of the FBI’s 56 United States field offices have open human trafficking cases and most victims are United States citizens.

The cases are present in cities across Alabama as well. No city or town is immune. Whether it’s the park or grocery store or a gathering, the slick and smart traffickers are waiting to strike.

But, there are signs people can look for to break someone free.

“There are cases where the victims aren’t allowed to keep their own identification or cell phones. You have a 20-year old at the convenience store, yet their identification is with the person next to them.

As for parents, Bobe says talk to your children, be honest with them, be nosey, and educate them so they are aware.

“Parents need to be involved in their children’s lives and the education needs to go down to the children as well. This is a family and a parental and a personal issue,” Bobe said. “It can be stopped, but it takes all of us.”

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