I'm Greg Bristol, retired FBI Special Agent fighting human trafficking. AMA!
My short bio: I have over 30 years of law enforcement experience in corruption, civil rights, and human trafficking. For January, Human Trafficking Awareness Month, I'm teaming up with the U.S. Fund for UNICEF in a public awareness campaign.
My Proof: This is me here, here and in my UNICEF USA PSA video
Also, check out my police training courses on human trafficking investigations
Start time: 1pm EST
UPDATE: Wrapping things up now. Thank you for the many thoughtful questions. If you're looking for more resources on the subject, be sure to check out the End Trafficking project page: http://www.unicefusa.org/endtrafficking
The first thing I would do is get familiar with what human trafficking is. The US Department of State (USDS) annual Trafficking in Person's (TIP) report gives a great overview of the world problem. The FBI's Civil Rights Unit and Department of Justice (DOJ) Civil Right Division web sites also have background on this crime, what cases the federal government has, and stats on the number of people charged and convicted. After that I would going a grassroots anti-trafficking community group and invited your local police or federal law enforcement to come in and speak to you.
Can you talk about how often we run into people who are being trafficked and what we can do as laypersons if we suspect something?
When you are driving by a truck rest stop at 2AM and you think you see girls in the parking lot getting into trucks, call the NHTRC hot-line and report a possible incident of sex trafficking.
If you are driving by a young girl that appears to be a "prostitute" getting yelled at by a male, call the NHTRC hot-line and report a possible incident of sex trafficking.
If your friend tells you about her neighbor who has a domestic servant who has rarely been seen outside that house in ten years, ask a few more questions, collect the facts, and call the NHTRC and submit a domestic servitude tip.
If you are working late one night and you are across the street from a "massage parlor" that is open until 2AM and you see an out of state van pull up and six women quickly exit it into the massage parlor and ten women are loaded into it, call the NHTRC and submit a tip.
If you see young boys selling candy bars and when you don't buy something from him and the young boy walks away only to get yelled at by a man for not making sales, discreetly collect more information and call the NHTRC and submit a labor abuse tip.
When in doubt, call the NHTRC.
When someone asks you to tell a cool FBI story, what story do you tell them?
When I left the Michigan State Police in 1987 to become a FBI Agent I was assigned to the FBI Washington Field Office and assigned to a foreign counterintelligence squad. The 1980s was the "Decade of Spies" in the US. 1984 alone had 12 resorted espionage cases. US counterintelligence arrested or neutralized more than 50 Americans who attempted to or actually committed espionage. I work the Oklahoma City bombing, both attacks on the World Trade Center, and the DC Sniper Case. In January 2002, I was assigned to the Enron Task Force and investigate all the fraud involving Enron Corp, a 4.5 year assignment. They day I got back after Ken Lay and Jeffrey Skilling were convicted, I was assigned to a Civil Rights Squad, and worked hate crimes and human trafficking. One of my 2009 human trafficking victim rescues is featured in the documentary Not My Life, which I think is the best documentary out there on this topic. Working human trafficking cases has been the highlight of my law enforcement career.
Thanks for doing this AMA. What was the worst instance of human trafficking that you saw and where was it? Thanks!
Being in the DC area we did not get the really "bad" cases, like you would see in the SW states. The 2006 NY case (Tae Hoon Kim) was pretty bad. He was the Flushing-based middleman and transporter in the ring. A court ordered wiretap let to the discovery on an extensive network of Korean-owned brothels, stretching from RI to DC. When I took part of interviewing many of the victims and saw how those women were mistreated, it really showed how bad this crime was and that motivated me to work those cases until I retired. It is hard to work an espionage case, a 17 year bombing case like the UNABOMBER, or a $7 billion bank fraud embezzlement case, but human trafficking cases are not hard. However, it take law enforcement resources to address it and it seems there are few officers, deputies, troopers or special agents trained to investigate this crime, let alone ASSIGNED to investigate these crimes. I hear time and again concerned citizens calling in tips about street prostitution and the police doing little about it. Street prostitution IS HUMAN TRAFFICKING plain and simple. The pimps are part of the organized crime network that is running these operations, and they are becoming millionaires through their efforts, leaving a trail of hurt victims.
Can you please explain the magnitude of how large of a problem this is with in the United States? I hear it all the time but it's hard to actually believe.
We don't have good stats on what the level of human trafficking is in the US. I often hear that human trafficking is the second largest and fastest growing crime in the world (2008 UN Office on Drugs and Crime report). That means it is between drug trafficking and weapons trafficking.
The International Labor Organization (ILO) stated in 2012 that modern -day slavery worldwide claims 20.9 million victims; however, only 40,000 victims worldwide were identified in 2012.
Here in the US, the magnitude of the problem is not known. DOJ estimates that been 14,500 and 17,500 are trafficked into the US each year. Yet DOJ's Civil Rights Division only prosecuted 128 cases in FY 2012, charging 200 defendants (source: USDS TIP report).
If you would like to learn more about the stats, check out the DOJ Office of Justice Programs Special Report Characteristics of Suspected Human Trafficking Incidents, 2008-2010. It reviews in detail federal prosecutions of traffickers.
Some good news is just around the corner: Beginning in January 2013, the FBI's Uniform Crime Report (UCR) will begin collecting offense and arrest data regarding human trafficking as authorized by the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008. The act requires the FBI to collect human trafficking offense data and to make distinctions between assisting or promoting prostitution, purchasing prostitution, and prostitution.
Hi, first off thanks for your work in the field. It's greatly appreciated. From what I'm aware of, organized crime really spearheads the flow of human trafficking. Which organization causes you the most the concern and what steps have you found to be the most effective in stopping trafficking?
We first recognized organized crime's involvement in human trafficking in the 1990s. I don't recall ever hearing the term "human trafficking" before the early 1990s. Before TVPA passed in 2000, the fed relied on The Mann Act or Peonage laws to prosecute "human traffickers," but there were few prosecution at all. In the early 1990s, world leaders were recognizing human trafficking was occurring. In 1994, the UN held a conference to deal with this crime problem, and the USDS began to discuss and develop international law enforcement standards regarding small-arms trafficking, money laundering, official corruption, human smuggling, and human trafficking. Those efforts and six shocking cases of human trafficking in the 1990s, led Senator Wellstone to introduce TVPA. It was passed in 2000, and those new Federal laws have greatly help law enforcement.
Unfortunately, I don't see much information on who those organized crime groups are. We know that one group acquires and moves the victims, another transports them, and the last group exploits the victims. Those groups seem independent but organized.
Thanks for doing this AMA. Question: Is there a specific demographic that is more commonly trafficked (young, females, impoverished background), or have you seen it all?
I saw it all. A lot of the demographics was related to what part of the US you were on. I was in the the DC area, so I did not have the smuggling cases like the Agents in Houston or Dallas might have, that often led to human trafficking cases. Sex traffickers look for vulnerable girls/women, they look for the runaways, or youth with financial problems. When coercion and fraud does not do what they want, they often turn to force.
The above mentioned 2008 DOJ report will show demographic information on the subjects arrested and victims.
Law enforcement manpower to assist me. On June 10, 2009, I was working a domestic servitude case (Virginia - which is mentioned in the documentary Not My Life) when James von Brunn walked into the US Holocaust Memorial Museum and started shooting people. He was a white supremacist and Holocaust denier.
I worked on that case to determine if it was a hate crime and had to "drop" all my human trafficking cases during those weeks. I was the only FBI Agent working human trafficking in Northern Virginia and DC at the time, so if I was not doing…sadly it was not getting done.
After Von Brunn was charged by the DC Metropolitan Police with first-degree murder and firearms violations, I went back to working human trafficking cases.
Why did you start working for the FBI? What motivated you to fight against human trafficking?
Although I enjoyed being a State Trooper for nine years, I wanted to do more investigations. While in Detroit, I met many FBI Agents and worked with them when they need a marked patrol car on a raid or a traffic stop. But after I helped them I usually stayed outside while they went in to do the investigations, and I decided that was the work for me. I was in the 19th recruit FBI class in 1987 (87-19). When I started working human trafficking cases in 2006, I was one of two agents working civil rights cases. Priorities of the civil rights squads at that time was Color of Law violations (police brutality), hate crimes and human trafficking. Within a week I was helping FBI New York Division on a raid in DC, which resulted in the arrest of 31 Korean National operating a human trafficking ring. They were charged with conspiracy to engage in interstate transportation of women for the purpose of prostitution, conspiracy to transport illegal aliens, and money laundering. It was a big case, and I did not know how prevalent it was in the DC area at the time. It also involve the ring leaders bribing NYPD officers. Once I started rescuing human trafficking victims, whether they were forced into domestic servitude or sex trafficking I was hooked. My cases involve search warrants, grand jury testifying, forfeitures, raids, and arrests. I used the FBI's evidence response teams to help me collect evidence and used any of the many tools available to Agents to develop cases. It was also great working with NGOs like Polaris Project and community groups like DC Stop Modern Slavery.
How wide spread is human trafficking during the Super Bowl? I remember reading an article on it last year and some big busts were made.
The first year I ever heard anyone talk about sex trafficking around the Super Bowl event was 2012. This year, NJ officials are admitting prostitution will likely increase with thousands of visitors in the area. As a result, NJ is ramping up its response to human trafficking, in part through a public outreach campaign to raise awareness of the problem.
NJ has a state official overseeing their human trafficking program. In 2013, NJ adopted comprehensive legislation to combat the problem and support victims. NJ police can now arrest traffickers using state laws, and don't have to rely on the federal government to address this crime problem.
The new NJ laws provide harsher penalties for traffickers and stronger protection for victim, including removal from their criminal record of any unjust convictions that were a direct result of their exploitation.
Compare this effort to 2012, when we saw 1,000 listings posted on Backpage.com in Indianapolis during the week leading up to the Super Bowl, advertising "young" "curvy" women and girls for in calls and out-calls.
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children said the 2010 Miami Super Bowl brought 10,000 prostitutes to the city. I have not seen their prediction for 2014.
Keep an eye on this topic to see how many traffickers get arrest related to that event. If there are no traffickers arrested, ask law enforcement why?
Why do people generally start human trafficking?
Profit, plain and simple. When you talk about domestic servitude, where women work seven days a week in homes and have little free movement outside the house, it usually involves the employer "saving money." When you look at agricultural servitude or restaurant servitude, the victims are saving their employers a lot of money but not getting proper wages (they are usually paying off a smuggling debt). When you look at sex trafficking, the pimps/traffickers are getting most of the money the women are making. After a shocking case in 1998 in Maryland involving Russian women victims, Senator Wellstone said law enforcement through either complacency or inadequate laws and practices had made human trafficking a low risk business ventures. Through his leadership, we got the TVPA laws, which includes enhanced forfeiture abilities to go after the traffickers proceeds. Plus TVPA allows victims to sue the trafficker in civil court for lost wages. Human trafficking is about traffickers getting easy money off the victims.
Hello and thanks for doing this AMA. What was the most dangerous situation you 've been into? I meen I 've seen tons of CIA/FBI special agents and I was always wondering what is like to actually live these experiecnes
After I retired from the FBI in 2010, I became a Special Agent with the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) and worked in Afghanistan for two years, working contract fraud cases. I carried a SIG 9mm with ten magazines and a rifle everywhere I went. In the FBI I was carrying the Glock 40 caliber. Yet when I look back to my nine years with the State Police I was carrying a six shot revolver with two speed loaders while patrolling the highways in and around Detroit. Lots of car and foot chases back in those days a few years before crack hit that area, so I would say being a State Trooper was far more dangerous than being a FBI Agent. When I went to make an arrest as an FBI Agent, I would take 10-15 Agents with me and the situations were well planned out in advanced. I found working the first few weeks of 9/11 very challenging because we had to find the identities of the terrorist quickly. I was assigned to Dulles Airport, and investigate the flight that took off from there and later crashed into the Pentagon. It was a trill being a FBI Agent, and seeing a case develop well before the public read about it in a newspaper.
Where are people the most likely to get trafficked?
We know in Los Angeles the #1 place traffickers get sex trafficking victims are bus stops. In the European Union, we know the main forms how traffickers acquire women: deceit (false offers of jobs, false marriage offers) and seduction (lover boys approach vulnerable women).
In the poor countries we know traffickers buy young children from their parents, falsely promising them that they will be working in a trade while being educated, when in fact they will start out as slaves in some form of forced labor and end up a sex slaves years down the road.
Remember, at events like the Super Bowl (see above) where there is a lot of demand, the traffickers need children and women to fill those orders. Where are they going to get those future victims to fulfill the demand for their services?
When we have honest discussions about that, law enforcement can work in a proactive manner to detect those crimes. But you also have to have dedicated personnel resources at local, county, state and federal departments/agencies to investigate the tips, let along doing something proactive. Take a look at the FY 2012 FBI UCR and compare drug arrests to human trafficking arrests. There is quite the imbalance with those numbers.
The next time you have a chance to speak to a law enforcement leader ask them to discuss their most recent human trafficking case. If they say they have never had one, ask them why! Remind them this is the second largest and fastest growing crime in the world!
Which case of yours has negatively affected you the most?
I don't get negatively affected from working cases generally speaking. Any hardships I experienced have motivated me to do a better job. It bothers me when I see good human trafficking cases like in the recent arrest of an Indian diplomat in the US, on charges of visa fraud, who don't get charged with violating TVPA (domestic servitude).
If there was force, fraud OR coercion in that case, she should have been charged with violating TVPA…not getting diplomatic immunity and walking away from the visa fraud charge. Where is the outcry for the diplomat's domestic maid, who MAY have been paid little or no money for her work. I look forward to reading the court documents in that case, but it looks like domestic servitude to me. Too often I see these diplomats involved in domestic servitude and they don't get charged or held accountable. Why?
How did you get this job?
I am a retired FBI Special Agent. In November 2013, UNICEF invited me to NY City to be part of a child sex trafficking Public Service Announcement (PSA), which should be out soon. From that they asked me to be part of this REDDIT.
What's the worst situation you've seen or heard about in the United States?
There are too many bad stories of human trafficking and exploitation to write about here, but those involving sex tourism rank high on that list. John Wrenshall was arrested in 2008 for conspiring to travel in foreign commerce with the intent to engage in illicit sexual conduct with children.
Thomas Pendleton, of Delaware, was convicted in 2009 for sex tourism charges. He was extradited from Germany in 2008. That took a lot of effort tracking him down around the world to arrest him, but it was all worth it when he was sentenced. He received a 30 year prison sentence.
Hi, thanks for doing this AMA!
Umm, I had two questions:
-What made you decide to become a FBI agent? How did you make it there? -We have a problem with human trafficking in Peru. Have you ever encountered issues coming from my country back at the States?
I was a State Trooper for nine years and met a lot of FBI Agents during raids when they needed a "marked" patrol car or uniform officer to be in the front of the pack (raid). It took me about three years to get into the FBI but it was well worth it. I really liked the investigations aspect of the work, and with human trafficking, the reward of rescuing a victim.
Our US Health and Human Services helps victims of human trafficking. They list the topic seven countries of origin of victims they help and Peru is to on their list. I have not seen any human trafficking victims in the DC area from Peru nor have I encountered issues coming from a Peru national living in the US.
I know the USDS considers Peru to be a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to trafficking in persons, specifically forced labor and sex trafficking. The US ranks other countries on how well they follow anti-trafficking laws/policies like our TVPA, and I believe Peru does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. You could get more information on that on the USDS web site.
Why have we seen such as massive crackdown on trafficking now as opposed to a decade ago? Has the trafficking industry expanded? Are there any factors that could have caused this expansion?
In 1978 while at the State Police Academy or while at the FBI Academy in 1987, I did not learn about what human trafficking was. Until 2000, it was looked at as a civil rights violation, and the Mann Act or Peonage laws could be used to addressed it. I also don't remember ever hearing about human trafficking calls prior to 2000. TVPA changed that, along with community groups and anti-trafficking NGOs holding law enforcement accountable. Now with the National Human Trafficking Resource Center overseeing a national hot-line where citizens can reports tips on human trafficking, we are getting the calls.
NHTRC operators notify local, state or federal law enforcement as soon as they get information about human trafficking. That service has only been around 4-5 years.
TVPA also allocated funding for victim service providers to "go out there" and find victims. We did not have that level of service before 2000.
Is it true that the FBI don't actually make arrests? You investigate, point out the bad guy, and local law enforcement (or whomever) take them in to custody?
During the gangster era of the 1920's, FBI Agents did not have arrest authority, per se. They investigated the crime and local law enforcement made the arrest. That changed in the 1930s, and Agents obtain full arrest powers.
In my human trafficking cases in the DC area I would investigate the allegation/tip, collect evidence, and conduct interviews. If a federal crime occurred, I would submit my investigative report to the US Attorneys Office who would decide whether charges would be filed. If that decision was yes, I would testify in front of a grand jury, get a grand jury indictment, and then go arrest the subject. Once I had the person in custody and finished printing and photographing him/her, I turned the individual over to the US Marshal's Service.
What weapon did you prefer to carry? Glock 22, 1911, revolver in .38 or.357, etc?
I shot best with the S&W Model 66 .357 revolver from my days with the State Police. When I joined the FBI I was issued a .38 revolver, then went to the 10mm S&W Model 1076, and then the 40 caliber Glock Model 22. Preference today would be the 10mm 1076. It was a stainless steel pistol and I never had a problem with it. I was also carrying the MP5 rifle with a 10mm round, so I had a lot of ammo with me when I went out on the street.
I joined the FBI in 1987, the year after the famous 1986 FBI shoot out in Miami where the bad guys were carrying mini-14s and sawed off shotguns, while some Agents were carrying 2" snub nosed .38s. Not a fair fun fight.
What can we do as citizens to help fight human trafficking?
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