A violent transnational sex trafficking ring operated for more than twelve years, recruiting women and underage girls in Mexico to staff several bordellos in Houston, Texas. Victims were locked inside rooms, forced to work long hours, sold to men for money, and beaten if customers were not satisfied.
Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) Special Agent Kate Langston recounted details of these crimes for attendees at the second annual Sexual Exploitation Training and Awareness Conference (SETA) in Calgary, Canada, on September 24, 2019. Langston explained how a human trafficking task force of local, state and federal law enforcement agencies worked with area social service organizations to investigate the crimes, rescue the juvenile victims, and bring the sex traffickers to justice.
DSS engagement at the 2019 SETA conference was part of a sustained two-year effort to increase coordination with the Canadian government and non-governmental agencies to raise awareness and address trafficking in persons (TIP) in the Canadian provinces of British Columbia and Alberta as well as across the border with the United States. Supervisory Special Agent Nick Fanelli, the DSS Assistant Regional Security Officer-Investigator (ARSO-I) in Vancouver, initiated U.S. government participation at SETA in 2018 and helped bring together a much larger contingent this year. Officials included subject matter experts from Immigration and Customs Enforcement/Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), DSS, and twelve other Department of State employees from the U.S. Mission in Canada, including ARSO-Is, criminal fraud investigators and consular fraud prevention team members from Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver and Calgary.
U.S.-Canada cooperation on combatting human trafficking did not stop in Calgary.
Following the SETA conference, eleven Canadian law enforcement officials and policymakers traveled to Washington, D.C., New York and Houston from October 21-30 to participate in the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP), sponsored by the U.S. Department of State. The group visited DSS headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, and various offices within the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security to exchange best practices and investigative resources.
Canadian investigators on the IVLP tour learned about successful interagency TIP task forces operating across the United States, as well as criminal investigations that leveraged relationships between host nation partners and DSS special agents serving at more than 270 U.S. embassies and consulates abroad. During meetings with several city police departments, district attorneys’ offices, and non-governmental organizations, participants discussed the importance of establishing formal human trafficking task forces that incorporate interagency law enforcement partners, and the proactive involvement of prosecutors and non-governmental victims’ support groups.
DSS is currently working with U.S. and Canadian counterparts to develop a working group in British Columbia to counter human trafficking. Through this partnership, the working group will raise local awareness about human trafficking, increase training to law enforcement and vulnerable private sector industries, expand information sharing, and increase enforcement actions. Canada is one of many countries collaborating closely with DSS to bolster investigative capacity and increase interagency collaboration to combat human trafficking around the world.
“While January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, DSS agents across the world are working tirelessly with partner agencies to rescue victims and detect, investigate, and prosecute human traffickers,” said Ricardo Colón, Deputy Assistant Secretary and Assistant Director for Domestic Operations.