On Wednesday, December 7, the Anna Maria College Molly Bish Center, Massachusetts State Police and the Worcester County District Attorney’s Office hosted a Child Sex Trafficking Conference. The purpose of the conference was to provide essential training in the recognition, identification, investigation and prosecution of child sex trafficking cases. With new human trafficking laws in effect, this training sought to provide law enforcement and district attorneys with the tools to recognize and engage suspects and victims participating in these activities. The front-line responders in law enforcement need to be sensitized to the scope of the problem, as well as, how to handle the intricacies of these cases and the specific players.
The Molly Bish Center for the Protection of Children and the Elderly is dedicated to protecting our most vulnerable citizens. One of the center’s goals is to provide training to law enforcement in best practices and the topic of child sex trafficking is a growing social justice issue. Anna Maria College’s commitment to education and social justice made this a natural fit for the college to sponsor this conference along with the Massachusetts State Police and the Worcester District Attorney’s Office under the direction of Joseph Early, Esq. This training is part of an ongoing educational initiative under public safety to increase awareness and training on this timely topic.
The conference began with welcome remarks given by Mary Lou Retelle, President of Anna Maria College. President Retelle stressed the importance of our partnership with law enforcement and the college’s commitment to issues of social justice. Next, District Attorney Joseph D. Early, Worcester County, highlighted the importance of this topic and how education and increased surveillance will help in bringing these cases forward in the criminal justice system. Secretary Daniel Bennett, Executive Office of Public Safety and Security, spoke of the unique perspective of law enforcement as community participants and shareholders in the ongoing fight against crime and the exploitation of victims. He highlighted the importance of shared knowledge and experience and how this training will have a significant impact on preparing law enforcement in enforcing trafficking laws through heightened awareness.
The program began with the presentation Where Do We Begin? by Det. Lt. Pi Downsbrough. Her presentation provided participants with a basic understanding of child sex trafficking and how it differs from more traditional cases of child abuse. Attendees were also provided with practical and concrete investigative considerations when working child sex trafficking cases.
The second presentation entitled Sexual Assault: Brain, Experience, Behavior, and Memory, was given by Dr. James Hopper. He explained how fear and trauma can alter brain functioning during sexual assault, including repeated assaults in the context of trafficking and prostitution. He also explained how these impacts can make victims less likely to disclose and less likely to be understood and believed by law enforcement and prosecutors. Attendees gained a critical foundation for learning and applying trauma-informed responses with trafficking victims who have been sexually assaulted.
The third presentation, Trauma & Physiological Effects of Victimization, by Julie Kenniston addressed strategies that can be used to engage child sex trafficking victims after identification. She discussed the difference between child sexual abuse cases and child sex trafficking. Further, she discussed how to elicit the types of details needed for a successful child sex trafficking interview that are essential for the case to move forward from investigation to prosecution.
The final presentation by Assistant District Attorney Courtney Sans was entitled Overview of the Law & Investigative Strategies. She covered topics including charging considerations, search warrants, grand jury investigations, as well as, addressed other prosecution strategies up to and including trial. In addition, ADA Sans discussed appropriate next steps once a potential victim /case is identified.
Registration for the conference (135) included 115 participants from a wide variety of law enforcement audiences. Representatives from Massachusetts State Police, Rhode Island State Police, and cities and towns in Massachusetts (Paxton, Holden, Attleboro, Dartmouth, Worcester, Northborough, Fitchburg, Northbridge, Quincy, Woburn, Ashburnham, West Springfield, Montague, Shrewsbury, Sharon, Leicester, Newton, Brockton, Upton, Winchendon, Framingham, Spencer, Holyoke, and Boston), New Hampshire (Salem), and Rhode Island (Providence). Representatives of other agencies included the Attorney General of Massachusetts, United States Attorney’s Office, Norfolk County District Attorney’s Office, Worcester County District Attorney’s Office, Community Teamwork, and Department of Youth Services.