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Prosecutions of human trafficking cases are up, say experts, what victims are up against

Posted at 11:37 AM, Jan 23, 2024
and last updated 2024-01-23 13:27:08-05
  • Our previous ABC 27 coverage into human trafficking shows cases have increased in Leon County; now we're looking into the prosecution process for this issue
  • Clandestine and complex nature of human trafficking creates additional barriers, say experts
  • Watch the video to find out what these obstacles look like for victims, and the ways prosecutors in Leon County and Florida have found success

Another step in our series looking into human trafficking in Leon County,

"Being difficult to define and having many different forms," that's how one lawyer describes the crime.

So, this time we're focusing on the prosecution of these cases.

Experts share why the complex and clandestine nature of human trafficking and the people who it targets can make preparing these cases a challenge.

Lorena Vollrath-Bueno, Vice President of Education and Engagement at the National District Attorney's Association, said many victims often don't want to come forward.

"A lot of victims love their trafficker," said Vollrath-Bueno, "Some of them don't want people to know especially people in their community what's happened, sometime the trafficker is a family member,"

She's running down a few obstacles that could prevent a victim from speaking up. She said inherent biases also play a role in the victim's decision.

"Think about the worst thing that's ever happened, or the worst thing you could have done, and imagine having someone put that out for the whole world to hear," said Vollrath-Bueno.

She said it's important the case is as strong as possible. I hopped on a call with Barbara Martinez, partner at Holland and Knight, down in Miami. Martinez said she does think the prosecution rate is higher now. She recommends a strategy.

"A strategy for bringing out what's the most important evidence demonstrating pattern and corroboration a survivor's story," said Martinez.

Martinez said you need to question the impact of any trauma.

"What trauma does to a survivor and how that actually comes out in various ways when they're testifying," said Martinez.

She said that's why she'll assign a team to a case with a strategy that's victim-centered.

Nicole Whitaker, former prosecutor and founder of non-profit Christians Against Trafficking, said that makes a big difference.

"If you think about being questioned on a stand, in public, about the worst thing that's ever happened in your entire life, that's hard," said Whitaker. "And most survivors are not in a place where they can do that."

Vollrath-Bueno said that's why it's crucial that every case stems from a strong foundation of trust.

"The very first person who makes contact with the victim, is the one that sets the scene for their entire experience," said Vollrath-Bueno.

Building on the work that I've previously reported on regarding how County and City leaders and law enforcement are responding to human trafficking cases and resources for victims. I did some digging and found lawmakers in the Florida House and Senate have filed multiple bills this session seeking to help human trafficking victims. The Office of Attorney General Ashley Moody also sent me through a list of resources about how to remain vigilant of human trafficking. You can find that information below:

Office of Attorney General Ashley Moody
Human trafficking awareness day 2024