Cullman County Human Trafficking Task Force looks to educate community

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The Cullman County Human Trafficking Task Force held a community meeting on Wednesday, May 22. Department of Homeland Security Regional Director Logan Hoffman spoke to the task force and gathered residents. (Cheyenne Sharp)

CULLMAN, Ala. – The Cullman County Human Trafficking Task Force met Wednesday, May 22, at the Cullman County Sheriff’s Office Training Center.

The gathering was a meet and greet of sorts, with Secretary Ana Claire Pealor revealing that while the task force is not a new organization, its membership numbers have waned since the pandemic. The meeting and its special guest speakers from the Alabama Attorney General’s Office and the Department of Homeland Security were a draw to get the community involved in finding and doing their part in ending human trafficking.

United States Department of Homeland Security Regional Director out of Huntsville, Logan Hoffman, spoke to the group and shared which populations are the most targeted as well as stories and likely scenarios Cullman residents could see that potentially could be human trafficking.

With a lengthy career of over 20 years as a law enforcement officer and agent with the Department of Homeland Security, Hoffman recalled his first brush with human trafficking. As a young officer, Hoffman responded to a call of a shooting during a drug deal gone sour. After a quick investigation, it was revealed that instead of the sale of illicit drugs turning bad, it was the sale of a 14-year-old girl.

“Is it all getting kidnapped and shoved into a shipping container and sent overseas and sold on the black market? No. I would say that’s what human trafficking may look like,” shared Hoffman. “I think in Cullman County you will see vulnerable, underprivileged people being taken advantage of for profit.”

Hoffman touched on the largest populations of trafficked individuals through labor or human trafficking: immigrants and their children. According to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, over 16,700 victims of human trafficking were identified in 2021 alone . Similarly, Survivors Against Familial Exploitation reports that approximately 200,000 American children are sexually exploited annually; like child sexual abuse, 90% of commercial sexual exploitation starts within the victims’ own homes, perpetrated by a family member or close family friend.  Most of these children will be entered into commercial sexual exploitation around 5 years old, but for some it will begin as early as infancy.

Alabama Anti-Human Trafficking Alliance Coordinator Katie Beth Macarthy exposed one more hidden fact about trafficking in Alabama – northeast Alabama is a hotbed of unaccompanied minors; many of these unaccompanied minors simply disappear when they leave the airport.

McCarthy said, “In northeast Alabama, we have seen an influx of unaccompanied minors that are coming through the border. They’re doing home studies and being placed with individuals that are not family members, and then we lose track of them.”

The U.S. is the world’s largest consumer of sex and human trafficking, but the federal government has no regulations or policies on maintaining contact and welfare checks on the minors brought to the country, according to McCarthy. Instead, said Hoffman, the onus falls on the individual states and their departments of human services.

Victims of human trafficking do not always look, behave, or become victims of trafficking the same way. Hoffman shared tips on who to look for and  how to spot a victim in a potentially dangerous situation.

“They target halfway houses and places where young girls are in foster care. They may not have any parents. They may have had some trauma and some abuse in their past,” Hoffman said.  “It’s no secret that we have an immigration problem in this country, and a lot of those families and individuals don’t have a lot. They’re very vulnerable and easy to target.”

The next task force meeting will be held on June 10 at noon, in Judge Chad Floyd’s courtroom at the Cullman County Courthouse.

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