Podcast: Challenges of Prosecuting Human Trafficking Cases in Florida


Broward County, Florida has taken proactive measures to stop human trafficking by dedicating 11 child protective investigators to investigate allegations, but there remains significant challenges in prosecuting cases.

In this episode, AMU professor Dr. Jarrod Sadulski talks with Jumorrow Johnson, the human trafficking coordinator for the State Attorney’s Office and the president of the Broward Human Trafficking Coalition. Learn why there must be a change in legislation, which currently allows child survivors to be deposed and leads to difficulties in getting survivors to testify. Also learn about efforts to educate officers and the public about what human trafficking really looks like.

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Read the Transcript:

Dr. Jarrod Sadulski: Welcome everybody. Thank you very much for coming to today’s podcast. We have a very special guest with us today. We’ve got Ms. Jumorrow Johnson. Welcome. Ms. Johnson, thank you for being here.

Jumorrow Johnson: Thank you so much for having me.

Dr. Jarrod Sadulski: Yes, I really appreciate you taking the time to speak with us today. To introduce you and to give a little bit of background, you are the human trafficking coordinator for the State Attorney’s Office in Broward County [Florida] and the president of the Broward Human Trafficking Coalition in Broward County, correct?

Jumorrow Johnson: Yes, sir. That is correct.

Dr. Jarrod Sadulski: Awesome. Can you share a little bit more about your background in terms of the important role that you have in combating the problem of human trafficking?

Jumorrow Johnson: Sure, of course. I’d love to do that. So as you stated earlier, I am currently employed with the Broward County State Attorney’s Office, which is in the 17th Judicial Circuit. And I am employed as the human trafficking coordinator for this specific office.

So I’m sure you know that the prosecutor’s office, the State Attorney’s Office in some states is the DA, the District Attorney’s Office, but for us, it’s the State Attorney’s Office. Our office prosecutes crimes. So there are different divisions. You have homicide divisions, you have felony divisions, you have domestic violence divisions. I am assigned to the sexual battery and child abuse unit, and so the prosecutors in our unit prosecuted all crimes surrounding any type of sexual abuse, sexual assault, child molestation, human trafficking, any type of child abuse, whether it be physical or sexual. We also prosecute elder abuse cases in our unit as well.

And so I also serve as the president of the Broward Human Trafficking Coalition, which is a 501(c)(3) organization. We’ve been in existence since about 2008. I started out in the coalition as just a member of the coalition, and as years progressed, I moved up, I became a board member, and then I became the vice president.

And now I serve as the president of the coalition, and that all stems from my background work with the Department of Juvenile Justice, in which I was employed for 15 years. And during my time with the Department of Juvenile Justice, I oversaw a unit called the crossover unit.

I was actually the first supervisor ever for that unit. So I wrote all of the circuit operational procedures for that unit, and that unit, we were specifically responsible for supervising children that had been placed on a form of probation or a conditional release by the juvenile court, but they were also being served, not just in the juvenile court, some of them were also being served in the dependency court.

I also supervised youth that had been charged with sex offenses. So my unit supervised the youth sex offenders. We also supervised youth that were classified as interstate compact cases, which means that those are cases that would come from other states, children that were on probation in other states, and if their parents moved to Florida or they moved to Broward, those cases would come to my unit and my officers would supervise those cases.

So while being a supervisor with the Department of Juvenile Justice, we started noticing a lot of kids being charged with prostitution. I’m talking about 12, 13, 14, 15, 16 year old kids being charged with prostitution, and I didn’t understand how children were being charged by law enforcement with the crime of prostitution, and in the state of Florida, the age of consent to have sex without restriction is 18.

So how are you charging a child for crime they don’t have the legal right to give consent to? And so that’s what really kind of catapulted me into doing this work.

Dr. Jarrod Sadulski: Wow. That’s very, very interesting. It’s important work. It’s definitely an honor to have you here today. It’s a challenging topic, but it’s so important that we get the word out there, and you certainly have a background that understands. Can you provide us with a brief overview of the problem of human trafficking, in general terms and specifically in Broward County?

Sure. That’s a great question. One of the things that I’d like to talk about in discussing the issues in Broward County is the myths and misconceptions that people still have and hold that this only happens to a certain group of people, and that it’s reserved for a certain class of people.

In Broward County, where I’m heavily involved in all things anti-human trafficking, in Broward County we have what we call an MDS committee, which is a multidisciplinary staffing committee. And understand, in Broward County what we’ve seen is that human trafficking touches all races, ethnicities, genders, sexual orientations.

So here, we have an issue with not just sex trafficking, but we have an issue also with labor trafficking here in Broward County. Understand, we are one of the largest counties in the State of Florida, which is why we are hit so hard with both labor and sex trafficking, because one is our geographical makeup, and two is because of the diversity that is here in our county.

So because human trafficking does not discriminate, and because the County of Broward is such a melting pot, the numbers that we get here are extremely high.

One of the things that I’d like to touch on and bring to everyone’s attention is a lot of the work, and some of the work that we do in Broward County is stuff that people are not doing any place else. In Broward County, we have multi-disciplinary staffings two Thursdays a month in this county, where when someone contacts the 1-800-96-ABUSE hotline, which is the Florida abuse hotline, and they report some allegations or suspicions that a child is being groomed for trafficking, commercially sexually exploited, or trafficked or any way they feel that this is happening, mind you, again, these are allegations that are being called into the hotline.

In Broward County, the Broward Sheriff’s Office, which oversees our child protection unit here in Broward, we call them BSO CPIS officers, they have designated 11 Broward Sheriff’s Office child protection investigators to investigate specific and only human trafficking allegations against children when calls come through the hotline.

So when those calls come through the hotline, one of those BSO CSP investigators is assigned to that particular call, that case, to follow up with whatever the allegations are. And then what happens is that whatever staffing Thursday that has been scheduled, that CPIS investigator comes to us and presents that case.

And it is at that time we determine whether or not there’s enough information to verify this child as a trafficking victim, or a commercially sexually exploited youth. We’re lacking on a lot of areas. We’ve come a long way, but when identifying adult victims, of course you know it’s much harder, because with human trafficking, if the person is over the age of 18, you have to have that element. You have to have that element of either force, fraud, or coercion if the person is over the age of 18.

And so a lot of times it makes it very difficult to identify an adult victim of human trafficking, because with youth, there are certain components that we don’t need. We don’t need that force, fraud, or coercion because of the age of consent and things like that.

But we do have so much that we’re dealing with in Broward, that the State Attorney’s Office has actually created a human trafficking diversion program for youth, because we do know that the pimps and the traffickers will coerce the children into committing crimes. And so because we’re in Broward County trying to approach this, and we have been approaching this from a victim-centered approach, the State Attorney’s Office, rather than prosecute these children, is giving them an opportunity, a diversion, because we’re looking at the why and not the what.

Yeah, they may have a battery here, but what else is going on here? There may be some underlying issue. So while we’re addressing the criminal aspect of it, we’re also making sure that the young people are getting the services that they need here in the county.

Dr. Jarrod Sadulski: Wow, that’s excellent information. That’s definitely a proactive approach, and I hope that other larger metropolitan areas are taking the same approach and being proactive and identifying the underlying causes of the situation that these children are in.

So from your experience as the human trafficking coordinator for the State Attorney’s Office, as well as the coalition president, what are some of the challenges in prosecuting human trafficking cases?

Jumorrow Johnson: Wow. There are many. Even trying to address the issue from a victim-centered approach, you catch a lot, you see a lot. There’s a lot of trauma bonding that takes place between a trafficker and a survivor.

So a lot of times, the challenges are when you are trying to prosecute a trafficker, you run into the wall of the trauma bond. You run into the wall of the victim, the survivor not being in the position mentally, psychologically to even testify. You run into the problem that the victim is on the run because they’re in fear, or you just run into the fact that the victim is not on the run, they’re just so terrified that they do not want to face this person in court.

And then you also run into the issue when prosecuting a case where you have some people that don’t see themselves as victims, because they become so numb and become so desensitized to what’s happening that they feel like, because I survived it, I survived it. I’m alive. I’m okay. I just want to forget it ever happened and move on, because understanding, when you’re trying to prosecute human trafficking cases, because human trafficking cases can be prosecuted in both federal and state court, because it’s a state crime and it’s a federal crime.

Now federal cases move faster, way faster than state cases do. So a lot of times in prosecuting cases, the State Attorney’s Office, when we sit down and we’re looking over these cases, we have to make the determination, because we’re coming at it from a victim-centered approach, what’s going to be best for the victim? How is the survivor going to be best served?

So is it better to let the case go federal because in the federal system, the case is going to move quicker? And in the federal system, the defense does not have to depose the survivor, where Florida is one of the many states that will still allow the defense to depose the victim, and that’s a challenge for us.

If we have a 13- or 14-year-old trafficking survivor, we’re trying to prosecute the case and the trafficker’s defense attorney wants to depose the survivor. The state of Florida allows that.

That is something that we really need changed via legislation. That’s a legislative issue. Not all states do that, but Florida is one of the ones that does allow the defendant’s attorney to depose the victim.

In federal court, that doesn’t happen. They still have to go to trial, they still have to testify, but that’s just one less piece in the form of trauma that they’re safe from. So those are some of the things and some of the challenges that we’re facing when we’re prosecuting, when we prosecute cases, or trying to prosecute human trafficking cases here in this county.

Dr. Jarrod Sadulski: Right, interesting. Wow. I could definitely see how a victim being deposed, how that’s going to provide a sense of fear and it’s going to ultimately get them to perhaps not open up and I could see why that needs to be changed. I hope they do change that.

So as we continue our discussion, a lot of people don’t fully understand what human trafficking is, and I believe that a lot of victims, I should have mentioned, don’t realize that they’re a victim. How is the coalition working to provide this awareness to the community and to victims?

Okay, great. Yeah, thank you for asking that question. And so this also gives me a little bit of an opportunity to talk about the Broward Human Trafficking Coalition and the work that we do.

Our mission, our sole mission is to raise awareness and educate our community, our community partners, community-based organizations, of course our faith-based population about human trafficking and what it is.

So what we do is we create curriculums for all of the entities, the systems, the school board, all of the systems that I just mentioned. We create curriculums for them. We also create curriculums, not just about human trafficking, but also the trauma that is attached with human trafficking.

We specialize in human trafficking one-on-one, which is a basic two-hour training course on what human trafficking is, but most importantly, Dr. Sadulski, what human trafficking is not. Because what happens is you get caught up in the satire and the sensationalism of human trafficking, because it’s the hot topic, and then people start seeing human trafficking everywhere. And then what happens is that actually hurts the cause. It really kind of diminishes what we’re trying to do.

So one of the things that the Broward Human Trafficking Coalition focuses on is not just educating about what human trafficking is, but what human trafficking isn’t.

We create curriculums for faith-based organizations and how those communities of faith, how they can deal, how they can deal with the congregations, and those that attend their places of worship, if in fact they come across a family or a young person that is dealing with someone being trafficked.

We create curriculums for the schools. Actually right now, I’m in the process of getting a curriculum vetted through the school board of our county that we created, which is assisting teachers in recognizing and identifying human trafficking in their virtual classrooms. So we’re in the process of trying to get that vetted. I actually made some corrections to the curriculum today to send back in so they can continue the vetting process.

We have created, through the coalition, a fantastic network of service providers. We are not a service provider agency. We do not provide specific services, other than the education and awareness piece, but we have created such a community that, for instance, we have Holy Cross Hospital, which we are partnered with, which has a steps program. The Holy Cross Hospital steps program offers free medical attention to survivors of human trafficking. Young women that need gynecological assistance.

We have partnerships with optometrists for survivors that need glasses. We have partnership with Nova Southeastern University that offers their dentistry program, that offers their psychology program for counseling. We have created partners with so many different organizations.

So when we get the phone calls, or people are calling us saying, “Listen, this is what I have. This is what I need,” we’re able to refer appropriately, even though we’re not providing that specific service. Because people respect what we do and they know that they can trust this organization, we’re able to make sure that we’re not creating and causing any further harm, that we are referring out appropriately.

Dr. Jarrod Sadulski: Right. Excellent. Wow, that’s fantastic. I didn’t realize that the coalition was doing all that. That’s definitely, it’s needed, and it’s definitely on the cutting edge in terms of what organizations are doing nationwide that I’ve spoken with, and we’ll discuss toward the end of the podcast, as far as how citizens are able to reach out to the coalition if they want to volunteer, but we’re about to take a break, but before we do, the website for the coalition is bhtc.us.

Jumorrow Johnson: Yes. It’s http://www.bhtc.us. It’s very user-friendly and we try to keep it as updated as possible. You can also find statistics for Broward County cases of human trafficking, commercial sexual exploitation. You will also be able to find those statistics on our website, a calendar of events and all kinds of things.

Dr. Jarrod Sadulski: That’s fantastic. So our audience includes a lot of first responders. How can first responders assist in recognizing and combating human trafficking?

Jumorrow Johnson: That’s a great question. First thing is they have to be willing to be teachable. The organizations have to buy into the fact that the training is needed, because people think they know what this looks like because they’ve reserved it for a certain group of people. So if you’re not looking for something to happen to a certain group of people, you’re going to miss it.

And the fact that human trafficking does not discriminate, which means that it could happen to anybody, if you’re not trained in understanding that it can happen to anybody, if you have not grasped that concept, if you have not been in the presence of someone that has given you or taught you what the red flags are, what a rehearsed story sounds like from a human trafficking survivor. If your organization hasn’t bought into the fact that this type of training and education is needed, then we’re going to continue to miss the mark.

So in order for law enforcement officers to better serve those that are being trafficked by traffickers, those that are being victimized by traffickers, those that are being exploited by traffickers, the first thing first is they have to be made aware, they have to be taught what trafficking is, what trafficking isn’t, and then they have to be teachable.

And the most important thing, Mr. Sadulski, they have to care. Because I conduct trainings all the time for law enforcement officers. You have a background in law enforcement, and there may have been times that you’ve been to trainings and you may have checked out, or you probably have thought that this probably isn’t something that is applicable to me or I’m not going to need to know this, and so when you’re a trainer and you’re scanning the room, you can pretty much tell who’s checked in and who’s checked out.

When we’re talking about this particular topic, when we’re talking about this particular issue, when we’re talking about this particular epidemic, we need everybody to stay checked in, to stay tuned in all of the time. Because for the simple fact that it’s not reserved for one specific population, it is not reserved for one particular race or ethnicity or within a socioeconomic category. It doesn’t discriminate.

It can touch any and everyone on any given day, because two things drive trafficking: money and exploitation. So when you’re talking about money and when you’re talking about exploitation, no one is exempt.

So for law enforcement to be able better serve, they have to be willing to receive the training, to hold on to it and to apply it in their everyday duties. I know some amazing law enforcement officers and I know some not so amazing law enforcement officers.

We have a human trafficking task force from Broward County. The State Attorney’s Office created the task force under the leadership of our current state attorney, Mr. Satz. I’m the coordinator for this task force.

Our partners are the FBI, Fort Lauderdale Police Department, Coral Springs Police Department, and Miramar Police Department. And you’re talking about officers who are working 16, 17, 18-hour days on human trafficking cases, following up on leads, doing sting operations, following suspected traffickers.

There are 31 municipalities in Broward County, and we only have three municipalities on our task force. That says something about the response or the lack of response. Hopefully going into this new year, January, we’ll be able to approach these municipalities again and say, “Hey, this is what’s going on. This is what’s needed.”

We just had a big case in August where our task force, along with the assistance of the FBI, was able to arrest two female traffickers that were trafficking some young girls, and so having that and being able to go take that to them and say, “Listen, this is what’s going on in your county. We need your help,” because if we got this case done with just three guys, just imagine what else is out there.

Dr. Jarrod Sadulski: Right. That’s a good point. It’s so important that attention is drawn to it.

Jumorrow Johnson: If you’d like, if you’re interested, we can talk about some of the statistics and the numbers that we see here in Broward County.

Dr. Jarrod Sadulski: Yes, please.

Jumorrow Johnson: I had talked earlier about the multidisciplinary staffings that we have two Thursdays a month, and so this is just to give you just some idea of what we’re looking at here in Broward County, as it pertains to identification.

So as I stated earlier, when I talked about the process of when someone calls something into the hotline and the hotline receiver will then assign that case or give that case to a BSO CPS investigator, and then we have the staffings.

So what we do is we collect numbers quarterly in Broward County, and then at the end of the year, we compile a report for that year. And so the report consists of the total number of calls that came into the hotline that was specific to trafficking only.

And then we go through them and then we staff them, and then we have the numbers of the kids that are verified, their age ranges, their background, their race, and their gender.

So the numbers that I’m about to read out to you now are for 2019, and these are specific to Broward County only.

So for 2019, there was 201 calls came into the Florida Abuse Hotline specific to trafficking of children. 201 calls. Now 188 of those calls were specific to commercial sexual exploitation of a child, and 13 of those calls were specific to labor trafficking of a child.

So of those 201 cases, we were able to verify, without a shadow of a doubt, 60 of those cases were absolutely identified as being children that were being trafficked. 60 out of that 201. That’s a lot of kids.

Dr. Jarrod Sadulski: Yeah, that’s scary.

Jumorrow Johnson: Yeah. So the age ranges at the time of intake, and the ages I’m about to give you is of the 201 cases. We verified 60, but of the 201 calls that came in, there was two that ranged in the ages from 0 to 5, 10 range into the age of six to 11, 138 range in the age of 12 to 16, 47 range in the age of 17.

And we do know for a fact that the age of entry into the commercial sex industry is anywhere from 12 to 13 years old. So that is why that 12 to 16 age range is so high.

When we talk about the child’s background, of that 201 calls that came in, only 48 of those children were in dependency care, were in foster care.

149 of those kids were community children, which means that they were your kids, my kids, your niece, your nephew. These were kids that came from the community.

96 of those calls referenced African-American children, 82 Caucasian, one Native American, five biracial, and 17, for whatever reason, we were not able to determine their race.

14 of those calls were specific to male children, 183 to female, three to transgender, and one we were unable to determine a gender for whatever reason.

So I said this to just give you some idea of what we’re dealing with here in Broward County, but also what we’re doing and the efforts that we’re making to identify what’s going on with our children.

Dr. Jarrod Sadulski: Right. It’s definitely disheartening to hear those numbers, and it’s so important that people realize that this is going on in their communities, their neighborhoods. This is a definitely difficult, but very, very important information to share. If a victim of human trafficking is listening today to this podcast, what would you say to them?

Jumorrow Johnson: I would say to them that it can get better and it does get better. There is help for you, you are worth it. Your life is worth fighting for, and if you need help, you can always contact the national human trafficking hotline at 888-373-7888. If you are in fear of using the phone, if you don’t want to draw attention to yourself and you don’t want anybody to see you dialing the number, you can text 233733 to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, and that text spells “be free.” So if you’re too afraid to call the hotline because you don’t want to be caught dialing a number, you can text 233733, 233733. You can text “be free” to the hotline.

If you suspect anyone is being trafficked, please contact the national human trafficking hotline, +1 888-837-3788. If you suspect a child is being trafficked or groom for trafficking or commercially sexually exploited, please contact the Florida Abuse Hotline at +1 800 96-ABUSE. That’s +1 800-962-2873, +1 800-962-2873.

We encourage everyone that if you see something, say something. We’re not asking you to investigate anything. We don’t even care if it’s not trafficking, but what if it is? You could save someone’s life. All we’re asking you to do is just to make a phone call, tell what you saw, and let the professionals do the rest of the work.

Dr. Jarrod Sadulski: Absolutely. Very impactful. It’s very important. What can our audience members do if they wish to partner with the coalition and provide support? Are there any volunteer opportunities, and how can they contact the Broward Human Trafficking Coalition?

Jumorrow Johnson: Yes, thank you. As I stated earlier, the Broward Human Trafficking Coalition, we are a nonprofit, and I mean that literally. All of the work that we do, my executive board, none of us take a salary. None of us take a salary.

Everything that we do through the Coalition is done based on volunteer work. So we survive off of sponsorships and off of donations and off of volunteer work. So if you’re interested in partnering with us, if you want to sponsor an event, if you want to donate to us, you can email us at info@bhtc.us, or you can donate through our website, which is www.bhtc.us.

Every single penny that is donated to the Broward Human Trafficking Coalition goes back into our Coalition to educate our community and raise awareness about human trafficking. None of us take a salary. None of my board members take a salary. Every piece of energy and time that we spend is done through volunteer work.

Dr. Jarrod Sadulski: So I want to, again, thank you so much, and I want to encourage everybody to get involved and to support the Broward Human Trafficking Coalition. And again, the website’s www.bhtc.us.

We’ve been speaking with Ms. Jumorrow Johnson from the Broward Human Trafficking Coalition, as well as she is the human trafficking coordinator for the Broward County State Attorney’s Office. Ms. Johnson, thank you so much for sharing this information.

Jumorrow Johnson: Thank you so much for having me, Jarrod. It was a pleasure being here. Thank you again.

 

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