Speaker sheds light on trafficking problem domestically, abroad


Photographs by Submitted photo


More men, women and children are in some form of bondage today than any other time in human history, Matt Osborne of Operation Underground Railroad said during a human trafficking conference held in Hot Springs earlier this week.

The Human Trafficking Task Force of Garland County, in partnership with the Ouachita Area Youth Council and National Park College, hosted the Mobilizing Communities Against Human Trafficking conference Thursday in the Frederick M. Dierks building at NPC.

Held on National Human Trafficking Awareness Day, the conference gave the 300 attendees a look at how task forces and organizations are working around the globe to end human trafficking, and how their tools can be used on a local level.

Human Trafficking is a global problem in both cities and small towns across the nation, a news release said. Forced labor and human trafficking is a $150 billion industry worldwide, according to the International Labor Organization. It is estimated one in every six endangered runaways reported to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children was likely a child sex trafficking victim in 2016, and 86 percent were in the care of social services or foster care at the time.

Keynote speakers Osborne and Jessica Mass, also of Operation Underground Railroad, shared what they had seen abroad bringing traffickers to justice, and rescuing and rehabilitating the children they encountered.

Operation Underground Railroad was started by Tim Ballard, a former special agent for the Department of Homeland Security, and consists of former employees of the CIA, military and law enforcement skilled in extraction operations and anti-child trafficking efforts. Osborne, who spent 12 years with the CIA and the Department of State, started the conference by shedding light on the issues his team sees internationally.

"There's a wide range of knowledge and familiarity in this group with the subject of human trafficking," he said.

"There's something that everyone can do. There are more men, women and children in some form of bondage today than in any time in human history."

Osborne said that, although this is a dark subject, "there is hope and there is light.

"It started with this group right here, because you are an example of what needs to be done worldwide," he said. "All of us are in the minority who know about this, that it's not prostitution and these men, women and children are not there of their own accord. It's trafficking."

Many countries, and even cities in the United States, do not have the means necessary to end trafficking activity in their communities, which is where their nonprofit steps in, he said.

"We're not a vigilante group, we go in through the front door or we don't go in at all," Osborne said. "We have to get the invitation from the government ... and we say, 'Look, we're not here to tell you what to do. You tell us what to do.' And that's exactly the message I want to pass today to officials in Hot Springs and Garland County. You tell us what are your needs."

The organization can provide training, funding and equipment to communities that need it, he said, adding that oftentimes overseas they are deputized as undercover officers.

"In the best of all cases, the country already knows where its red-light district is, where the kids are being exploited, who the pimps are and who the traffickers are," Osborne said. "But again they can't convince the traffickers that they are anything other than a federal force. And yet, we can."

Osborne said some countries' governments will give OUR the greenlight to go in for a set amount of time to provide them the evidence of this activity.

"We don't carry weapons into the country," he said. "Our weapons are undercover cameras, hidden microphones, technology better than I ever had in the CIA.

"We record and these traffickers give us everything because they're so greedy and because never in a million years do they expect that someone looking like this might be working with the cops."

The organization has rescued almost 1,000 victims from trafficking, he said.

On Super Bowl Sunday in 2017, one of the largest trafficking days of the year, according to Osborne, OUR rescued 31 children and arrested eight traffickers in Haiti.

Osborne said the efforts began internationally because of the greater need for resources. However, a lot can be done domestically. In a video, officials from smaller counties in western parts of the U.S. shared the impact the organization has made in their communities.

"If you throw a dart at a map, or spin a globe and it lands on land, children are being exploited there," he said.

Breakout sessions geared toward law enforcement, counselors, teachers, medical personnel, faith-based organizations, first responders, and the general community followed throughout the day.

"NPC was proud to host this event in collaboration with the Human Trafficking Task force of Garland County and the Ouachita Area Youth Council," said Jeff Weaver, vice president for external relations. "Human trafficking is a problem that affects students and individuals right here in our community and it will take all of us working together to help end it. We are happy to do our part in raising awareness for this important cause."

Local on 01/13/2018

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