Resources In An Expanding Incident; The Disaster We Face

As we prepare to discuss the psychology of captivity at the ICISF World Congress in May, I have been feverishly reading articles, watching documentaries, reading interviews, and conducting interviews. Human trafficking in Northern Virginia, slave markets in Mauritania, organ harvesting in Egypt, slave trading in Libya, and enough articles to fill volumes of books without end. The reality is that human captivity in all forms is a modern day scourge, and the exploitation of human beings for profit is one of the largest industries on the planet. It is easy for people in the western world to dismiss this reality as they live their everyday lives without fear or worry. If it doesn’t affect your world it is easy to not worry about it. The perpetrators of these crimes are able to hide in plain sight because of the facade of false security we put around our communities. The sad and most salient message we hear from our friends in law enforcement is that they just don’t have the resources to follow up on every report they receive, nor to prosecute every crime they uncover. In some cases, the requirements to prosecute these crimes are far greater than the resources available, and the cases are often dropped.

One of the things I did in my post military life was to train in search and rescue, and community emergency response. One of the advanced courses required by every agency in the United States for emergency management leadership positions is called Incident Command System 400 (ICS 400) which covers incidents like Hurricane Katrina or 9/11/01. ICS 400 spends a lot of time on managing resources, mobilizing, demobilizing, tracking, and requesting new resources to help in the middle of multiple expanding incidents. The exercises in ICS 400 are designed to tax a student’s leadership skills, and help them to understand that there is no panacea to disaster response. The sad reality that many students learn is that no leader has the ability to manage resources beyond their span of control. The other sad reality in disaster management is that there are often a lot of resources, but most often the one thing lacking is the right resource to handle the most critical problems. These lessons are absolutely true in human trafficking, and modern day slavery.

One of the other things you learn in search and rescue is the dangers of self-deploying to a disaster response. Your team may be the resource that is needed to handle the specific problem that needs to be solved, yet if you self-deploy you are generally seen as a cowboy and sent home. If you are the leader of such a team, you must get the word out ahead of disasters about your capabilities, find ways to work with other response agencies, and ensure that you have the funding to deploy when called. There are often more forces trying to stop your team’s success than there are trying to help your team be prepared to solve the critical problem of the next disaster. This is also very true in the anti-human captivity realm. Everyone around us agrees that human-captivity is a problem, but unless you have backing and support from the right team, you face the same dilemmas of not being able to deploy your team, that you face in search and rescue and disaster relief. The problem is that this is a disaster of epic proportions and there are not enough resources in the effort to even make a dent in the problem.

If we were to look at the human trafficking problem in Northern Virginia as a microcosm of the current global problem, I think most people would be shocked. The problem surrounds us, and is in every high school and middle school in Fairfax County. In many cases, teenagers live seemingly normal lives, and unbeknownst to their parents, are pimped and sold for sex right under their parents noses. Women are duped and recruited into the trafficking world, and others are forced into domestic servitude. There is little qualitative, and quantitative data available online to support these claims and it takes hours of research and to find the right person to talk to, just to break the surface. If we were to place this activity on a heat map it would be shocking to most parents, and if we were to do a social network analysis of each case it would be more shocking to see just how close it is to your family. I would argue that if we did this analysis on a global scale, we would be even more shocked of just how far and how close modern day slavery is to each and every one of us. Unfortunately for us, this kind of research is hard to resource and fund, and is not the hottest ticket item, and is not selling something hip or cool. Just as in search and rescue and disaster relief, the tools that are needed in the next disaster are kept out of the fight by those who protect their fiefdoms, and are unwilling to work with someone new. In comparison to disasters, the difference here is that human captivity and modern day slavery is growing exponentially every day. The difference is that we do not get to reset before the next disaster because it surrounds us and grows by the minute. If you represent a group that fights captivity and slavery, we would love to talk to you about who we are and what we do. Captive Audience PTRT is making headway, but we want to fight the problem of captivity and modern day slavery more than we want to fight our way in to the system to fight it.

Your Crisis Plan

We are constantly looking at case studies of missionaries, aid workers, and members of the press who have been kidnapped for ransom abroad. Some of these cases involve people being held by ISIS, Abu Sayyef, The FARC, and criminal cartels. One thing that repeatedly stands out to me, is the family is almost always caught off guard by these incidents. The other thing that stands out to me, is that the organizations in which these people serve, are also often caught off guard. While the hostage has suffers much hardship, the families are impacted as profoundly as the hostages themselves.

One of the case studies I have studied throughout my career has been the story of Martin and Gracia Burnham. The Burnhams had been missionaries in the Philippines for nearly fifteen years when they were abducted by Abu Sayef. They survived in the jungle on Basalan Island for over a year, and Martin lost his life in a rescue by the Philippine Army. The family dealt with desperation, were ignored by the government for a significant amount of time and, had it not been for September 11th 2001, may not have received any help at all. The case study made it very clear that the family was unprepared for what happened and had not even considered the possibilities. The government did become involved, and the FBI was able to assist to an extent however, it was family involvement that pushed efforts along.

Another case study about a humanitarian aid worker named Kayla Mueller, is very relevant. Kayla was kidnapped by ISIS and, while in captivity, was forced to marry Abu Omar al Baghdadi. Kayla was also held for an extended period of time, and after several failed rescue attempts, was killed in a US led air strike. The case study also made it very clear that Kayla’s family was unprepared for what transpired, and suffered greatly. The FBI did attempt to help, and provided both good and bad advice. The point is that the discussion was never had and the family received no training on what to do if some type of crisis occurred while she was working overseas. The family did receive some help and professional consultation along the way, but their best efforts were often stymied by the government.

We recommend that not only should high risk travelers (missionaries, aid workers, journalists, adventurers, vacationers, business travelers, etc) receive anti kidnapping and hostage survival training, but that their families should develop crisis response plans before their loved ones embark on their journeys.  We also recommend that their host organization have a crisis plan. We have talked to hundreds of aid workers, missionaries, journalists and the companies they work for, and know that only some have received training and done the planning. The bigger reality is that most have not and do not think the training or planning is warranted. The result is that the families are impacted right along with the hostage. Depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and stress are a reality. If you have loved ones traveling to remote areas where something could happen or you lead an organization where people could be kidnapped, suffer from a terrorist incident, or deal with an unplanned crisis, you need a plan. Please reach out to us if you would like to develop such a plan for your family or your organization.

If you choose to do it yourself, we recommend doing some research. You should determine what crime is like where your loved one is going. You should search data bases such as the aid worker data base to see what types of threats are in the areas to which your loved one is traveling. It is important to have a family crisis committee designated. The family committee should have a spokesman to go to the media, and means to make decisions, and an understanding of what resources the family has if they have to evacuate their loved one, pay for a ransom, deal with a death, or provide evidence to an investigation. The family or organization should also have legal counsel available. The family or organization should know what medications their loved one is taking and their medical history. The family or organization should have proof of life information such as questions they could ask their captors to have answered by their loved one. The family or organization should have a last will and testament, power of attorney, and a signed consent to allow the government to monitor their phone and social media. The consent to monitor is held by the family or organization until something happens or shredded when they return from their trip. There are many other things which should be discussed ahead of time. The reality is that you will likely never need the plan but it is far better to have one, regardless.

Dissonance (I don’t need training because it will never happen to me.)

I just spent some time on the Aid Worker database researching the number of reported kidnappings of NGO aid workers kidnapped in 2018. Surprisingly 31 aid workers were kidnapped, 28 of which survived. Two were kidnapped and killed. I have not found a reputable database for missionary incidents but know from my research that the number of missionaries kidnapped is exponentially higher than that of aid workers. Every year, good-hearted people set out on journeys to do good things for humanity. In so many cases these young people are filled with the belief that nothing will happen to them because they are setting out to do good. In many cases, humanitarian NGO’s and missionary organizations also foster this mindset and send their people out without any prevention training. This dissonance often leads to good-hearted people falling prey to opportunists, sociopaths, criminal organizations, cartels, and terrorist groups.

In the past twelve months we have spoken to over one hundred missionaries and aid workers from a variety of small organizations. We have also talked to members of the press, and people who travel frequently. In almost every case, while speaking to the organizations themselves, we have been told “We have our own people who provide that kind of training.” That may be true, but the individuals we have spoken to have indicated that they have not received any travel security or anti kidnapping training. In the case of one person traveling to Africa I was told “I just don’t see the need for that kind of training.” As a parent, this bothers me. I want to see our young people head out into the world to do good, armed with the skill sets and knowledge base to protect themselves.

A one-day seminar could provide Aid Workers, Missionaries, Press, and Travelers with enough situational awareness to avoid trouble. A three-day seminar could do even more to provide the same group with the ability to recognize and avoid trouble, defend themselves, and escape from captivity if required. A small investment in people could prevent a lot of problems. Crisis management training for the managers should also be pursued. The time to think about what to do is not after an incident happens. Prevention is the best cure, but if you are one of those who believes that you don’t need to be armed with knowledge, I need to let you know that we also provide crisis support. Please check out opportunities to attend our Anti Kidnapping and Hostage Survival training on March 6th. It will be worth your time.

How Kidnapper’s Target People

Kidnapping for Ransom (KFR) has become one of the biggest methods for making money amongst criminal networks outside of the United States, Canada, and Western Europe. Kidnapping for ransom does occur in the United States, Canada, and Western Europe but they are far less frequent than places like Mexico, Honduras, Columbia, India, and Pakistan. Kidnappings are not always for money and may sometimes happen for ideological purposes. We are not discounting those types of abductions. Similarly, human traffickers often use the same methodology to abduct their victims. We will call this methodology the abduction cycle.

Kidnappers, Traffickers, and others who desire to abduct people, rarely abduct anyone spontaneously. The first step is always spotting a potential target. Kidnappers often employ a small network to watch for potential victims who meet the human requirements needed to meet their objectives. As a traveler and a citizen, it is important to be informed of who is being abducted at your destination and even in your own neighborhood. Who is it that these networks are trying to find? These requirements will vary from network to network as will the purpose of their abduction. A KFR network will look for several things

  1. A person at the airport who displays wealth and affluence
  2. A person oblivious to their own personal security, and vulnerabilities
  3. A person who will tug at the heartstrings of the public at large, also known as a “Sympathetic Client”

Kidnappers, traffickers, and other abductors will then begin surveillance of the potential target. Surveillance will have several phases which will include assessing for virtual vulnerabilities and physical vulnerabilities. The kidnappers will observe patterns of life which include times, places, habits, routes, and places where the kidnappers with have the strategic advantage. A common mistake westerners make is to assume that the host country’s law enforcement personnel are not part of these networks. A KFR network will observe for some of the following things:

  1. A person whose online presence, including public records, indicates a high net worth
  2. A person whose choice of hotel room and security posture makes them a soft target
  3. A person who leaves at the same time, by the same route, and same means of conveyance every day, with little situational awareness
  4. A person whose image projection demonstrates that they are vulnerable to becoming a victim
  5. A person with a vice such as heavy drinking, drugs, prostitution, or other things that would place them in a vulnerable situation

Kidnappers, traffickers, and other abductors then go into the targeting phase. This phase includes picking the time, place, and method for the abduction. Targeting will often include rehearsals and other indicators such as:

  1. Calling your hotel room to determine your availability
  2. Sending unwanted maintenance or room service
  3. Trying to pre-position a taxi especially for you
  4. Following you around for several days (If you keep seeing the same people over and over again through the day, or same vehicles, you are being followed.)
  5. Dry runs such as cutting you off on a road to determine your driving skills, or bumping into you on the street to determine your situational awareness

Kidnappers, traffickers, and other abductors then go into the acquisition phase. This is the phase where the person is abducted. There are three things to remember at this point and that is that they will most likely use speed, surprise, and violence to gain control of the victim and cause learned helplessness. This is where they will take advantage of the shock of capture to gain control and get them as far away as possible.

  1. Speed could include ramming, disabling, or blocking your vehicle or suddenly gaining access to you when you least suspect it.
  2. Surprise is almost always used in conjunction with speed to ensure the shock of capture. It causes the freeze response in your sympathetic nervous system.
  3. Violence is almost always used and will be used repetitively to instill learned helplessness. The violence will likely come physically, verbally, and sexually. The more you fear your captors the easier it will be for them to control you.

Kidnappers, traffickers, and other abductors will then go into the transportation phase. This involves getting you as far away from the abduction as possible.

  1. You can expect to be moved and transported in several vehicles.
  2. You can expect to be held at multiple locations.
  3. You can expect to be restrained, blind folded, possibly drugged, and stuffed in a trunk or other compartment where you will lose track of place, time, and direction.

This phase may go on for weeks, or months. Expect the kidnappers to question you about your phone, family, wealth, and other potential victims.

Kidnappers, traffickers, or other abductors will go into the holding phase. This is where the kidnappers believe they have a reasonable amount of safety and security. In many cases, this location may be in plain sight. It is not uncommon for some of these locations to be near a police station, or in an affluent neighborhood where nothing bad ever happens. It is important to know that you are likely to be moved around from location to location.

Kidnappers, traffickers, and other abductors will transition to a resolution stage when their objectives have been met, their use for the victim has been exhausted, or they feel like they may be caught. This phase may happen in a number of ways:

  1. Ransom is negotiated and paid to the kidnappers
  2. Another negotiated solution takes place through law enforcement or a third party intermediary
  3. Government or local law enforcement uses a kinetic method to capture or kill the abductors and rescue the victim
  4. The abductors choose to release the victim
  5. The abductors choose to kill the victim

We encourage everyone to obtain basic training on how abductors operate and to learn situational awareness. It is not uncommon for citizens to tell us that they are afraid of knowing because they fear it will make them paranoid. We argue that knowledge makes you safer, and if learned and practiced, it will simply become part of who you are. We will be teaching Anti Kidnapping and Hostage Survival in New York from March 6-8, and a basic situational awareness course at the same location on March 9-10th. We hope to see you there.

People Not Systems!

Captive Audience Prevention Training and Recovery Team was asked yesterday what makes us different than the big Goliath security companies and their approaches to countering kidnapping for ransom, extortion, and terrorism. Our response was very simple, “We focus on people and not systems”. One of the Special Forces imperatives that I learned was that humans are more important than hardware. I have seen over and over again, that when you operate in the human domain, relationships, education, training, and dynamics matter.

Kidnappers, traffickers, criminals, and terrorists thrive and succeed where people are untrained and unprepared. Many people we talk to often tell us that they are afraid of seeking training like ours because they are afraid of becoming paranoid. The fear of knowing that bad people are out there and how to avoid becoming a statistic, makes the bad guy’s jobs easier. In a sense, learned helplessness has permeated our everyday society by making it taboo to talk about preventing kidnappings, trafficking, criminal, and terrorist activity, because it is scary.

I often tell our friends that the training we provide will not make them paranoid, but instead, will make them safer. Our focus is on people, and empowerment. One of the best examples of a society of trained and prepared people, is Israel. Israeli citizens are trained to be vigilant from an early age. The vigilance is not paranoia, but a learned state of mind. We call it knowing the baseline, or knowing what right looks like. Paratroopers who aspire to be jump masters, spend entire days learning how to inspect a perfectly rigged parachute. Student jump masters become incredibly proficient in knowing what a perfect parachute looks like and, when deficiencies are suddenly thrown into the parachute, the students see them right away. Knowing the baseline and being empowered with knowledge makes us all safer, just as with student jump masters.

Many of our competitors focus on selling hardware and skimp on empowering their clients. In a systems based business, businesses make money every time the app, beacon, alarm, or widget is used and they make money from the service they provide. The answer is seldom empowerment of the person buying the service with more knowledge but instead selling another widget, app, alarm, or beacon. The problem is that systems also create learned helplessness when not backed up by knowledge. Special Forces soldiers are required to learn how to navigate over long distances with map and compass. Land Navigation training is done over and over again and refreshed repeatedly. Many argue that this is less necessary than ever because of GPS technology and the prevalence of GPS systems on our phones, computers, cars, and watches. The sad reality is that GPSs have failed me at the worst times and I have had to go back to the basic skill of map reading. The result is nine safe tours to Iraq and Afghanistan and returning to write this blog post.

As we continue to discuss themes like the shock of capture, learned helplessness, critical thinking, and survival, I need to add that empowerment and vigilance becomes a state of mind, and brings calm. It is up to all of us to learn to be vigilant instead of complacent, in order to prevent our systems from failing. If we all learned how to recognize and prevent kidnapping, trafficking, extortion, crime, and terrorism, imagine the impact we could make and the peace of mind we would have. At the end of the day, it is learned helplessness that allows perpetrators to be successful, and it is learned helplessness that forces victims to remain under their control.

Shock Of Capture

Kidnappers, traffickers, slave owners, and captors of all kinds, use the shock of capture to quickly gain control of the people they hold. Captivity by itself is an extremely draining and emotional experience for the captive. The loss of freedom and control over oneself alone can be incredibly taxing. The methods that captors employ to gain immediate and unquestioned compliance, can be the most devastating and damaging part of captivity.

The shock of capture is caused by the quick, violent, and brutal methods used to capture another human being. Imagine driving down the street in Central Africa, while working as a humanitarian aid worker. It is unlikely that you received training on how to avoid being targeted, or what to do if you find yourself being kidnapped. Imagine yourself doing this service with what you know about the world right now. Ok here we go. You have been driving down the same street, at the same time, in the same vehicle every day for over a month. This time there seems to be an absence of people on the street, and things seem out of place. You feel a lump in your throat, and your heart rate is elevated but you cannot figure out why. Suddenly a car full of armed men speed past you and pull in front of you slamming on their brakes forcing you to brake and run into them. A car comes up from behind you and rams your vehicle from behind. The armed men rapidly exit the vehicle, pulling your driver out and beating him in front of you. At the same time the armed men smash your window yank open the door, pull you by the hair, and force you into their vehicle. Before you can process the event, you are in the back seat of the kidnapper’s vehicle. Someone is screaming at you and asking you questions about your phone and family in rapid succession. Every time you fail to answer, you are punched, slapped, or similarly brutalized.

The scenario I just described is one of many tactics used by kidnappers worldwide to capture and gain control of their prey. The initial contact, violence, and abuse may last for several days. It may consist of violence, isolation, sexual assault, emotional abuse, and generally a combination of all of these. It is not uncommon for victims to be beaten, interrogated, raped, and berated within the first twenty four hours of captivity. The captors use this methodology to force their prey into learned helplessness. The captors know that the faster they can break you, the sooner they can focus on the next victim. If you are unprepared for the shock of capture and the methods being employed against you, the shock could cause your captivity to cascade into deep depression, and a loss of the will to live. The long term effects of the shock of capture may take years to resolve, if they are resolved at all. The suicide rate among victims is extremely high, and the complexities of captivity are often more than conventional psychologists are prepared to handle.

There are some things that might lessen the effects of captivity. I am about to offer the best and most sound advice I can. Perhaps the best thing you can do if you are an aid worker, missionary, journalist, or traveler is take Anti Kidnapping and Hostage Survival training. The first and most important thing taught in this training is to how to avoid becoming a target in the first place. The second important thing taught is what to do when you get the lump in your throat and you feel like something isn’t right. The third thing you learn is how to defeat the amygdala driven “fight, flight, or freeze”, response driven by your sympathetic nervous system. The training then trains you how to keep your wits about you, be resourceful, and survive. At Captive Audience we believe the best way to deal with the scourge of human slavery and exploitation is to first prevent it. As a soldier I gained a healthy respect for my enemies when I went through SERE training. SERE did not ruin my desire to help others. It helped me to do so with trained skill, experience, and useable information.

The shock of capture does not have to defeat you, but now is the time to train out your harmful instincts and replace them with reasoned response. Respond, don’t react. Prepare your battle space in advance.

Learned Helplessness

A common theme in Kidnappings, Human Trafficking, or even among Prisoners of War is the way in which the captors control their captives. In many cases, these events start with an extremely violent episode. This episode may be prolonged and include psychological abuse, physical abuse, and sexual abuse. This extreme event is designed to dehumanize the victim, and take away the belief that the victim can make their own choices or take any action on their own behalf. The psychological term for this phenomena is Learned Helplessness. I will not go into the controversial 1970’s experiment done on dogs associated with this theory, but it is an interesting study. The bottom line is that Learned Helplessness is the reason why victims of Kidnapping, Human Trafficking, POWs or victims of abuse have such a difficult time when they come home.

The difference between a Victim and a Survivor is when the Victim realizes that they make choices on their own behalf. Captors such as Pimps and Kidnappers generally follow a pattern known as the “Cycle of Violence”. The cycle consists of the Tension Building Phase, Acute Abuse Episode, and the Honeymoon Phase. The Tension Building Phase generally begins with the victim beginning to step out of line or that the captor believes the victim is going to step out of line. The Acute Abuse Episode may be physical, emotional, sexual, or a combination of the three. The abuser will use the threat of these episodes, and the things that trigger them, as their means of control. The Honeymoon Phase is generally a period following the abusive episode where the captor gives positive feedback, gifts, friendship, and a sense of security to the victim. The Honeymoon Phase causes the captive to bond with the captor, and in many cases, to identify with them. The Honeymoon Phase can quickly change if the captor feels like they are about to lose control of the victim.

      The cycle of abuse becomes the one predictable constant in the victim’s life, and inevitably becomes the devil that they know. Learned Helplessness is the reason why captors, abusers, and anyone who uses threat of force to control others are successful. It is also why people end back up in abusive situations after they escape.

What Color Is The Elephant?

Human Trafficking in the United States is an incredibly complex problem in relation to other problems such as drugs and gangs. Local, state, and national laws are not written to truly address the issue, and in some cases, the laws are restricted because of ethnic and religious sensitivities about the age and familial relationships related to marriage. Local, state and national law enforcement agencies are also at a disadvantage as their training does not go into great detail on human trafficking, and departments do not have the staff to give due attention to the problem. Nonprofits and private investigators often augment law enforcement efforts and are able to focus on the trafficking problem better than law enforcement can. In many cases, law enforcement will not touch a case until they can establish that a crime has been committed. NGOs who work to help victims of trafficking are usually understaffed and under resourced to deal with the realities facing the victims they try to help, and communities have limited resources to offer.

 One of the key problems with domestic trafficking cases, which is similar to international cases, is the “Sympathetic Client” syndrome. In many cases, the victims of human trafficking come from abusive homes, are runaways, have substance abuse problems, and are easily dismissed as missing persons or, if over the age of eighteen, are dismissed as career prostitutes. Community and state governments, like officials in our overseas embassies, must determine where resources are allocated, and upon what community problems they will be focused. The lack of prioritization and the prostitute-runaway paradigm often dehumanize victims of human trafficking, making it difficult to escape, and lack of resources make recidivism among victims extremely high.

Who are the victims of Human Trafficking?

International trafficking often starts with the promise of a job and a better life in a big city or western country. We often think of this problem solely in terms of sex trafficking, but labor trafficking is as great a problem as sex trafficking. In some instances labor trafficking feeds into or runs parallel to sex trafficking. The mail order bride industry is another venue where trafficking is prevalent. Potential mail order brides are often promised a dream home and well-to-do husband, only to find themselves in an abusive relationship or to find themselves in a new country under the control of a pimp. These victims are most often deceived, conned, set up, or forced into Human Trafficking. The victims are then worn down psychologically to prevent them from escaping their captivity.

The United States has its own unique problems with trafficking. It is easy to place these victims in the category of abused run-away, or drug addict. Perhaps even the mature woman who genuinely wants to work for an escort service. It is much easier for the everyday American to label the outward manifestation of the problem with terms like prostitute, street walker, migrant worker, ho, mail order bride, or a host of other de-humanizing terms. Unfortunately many of the victims of Human Trafficking in the United States come from affluent homes and find themselves trapped in a tangled web of manipulation, psychological control, and threat of force. Sadly some of these victims are trafficked right under the noses of their parents, while living at home.

Who are these invisible victims? Do you know an awkward teenaged boy or girl who has trouble making friends? Do you know a teenaged boy or girl who is mad at their parents and looking for adventure? What about the girl or woman who is attracted to the bad boy? What about the college student who is strapped for cash, failing out of school, or lost their job? The obvious targets are runaways, kids in dysfunctional homes, or those with drug or substance abuse issues. Pimps, spotters, and recruiters are always looking for their latest acquisition. It can often start with the victim being befriended by someone if the trafficking world and then developed for recruitment. This process may take weeks, months, or even years. The victim is often showered with gifts, romance, and the promise of love. The victims are then set up for the recruitment. In many cases the recruitment begins with a violent rape where compromising media is taken. The victim’s life, and the lives or their loved ones are often threatened. Pimps use psychological manipulation to create a condition known as “Learned Helplessness”, which is a key component in Battered Wife Syndrome and Stockholm Syndrome. It is not uncommon for these victims to develop Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

In a world where the sex industry is growing and pornography is part of an easy internet search, it is easy to dehumanize these victims. It is much more palatable to repackage and assign a different label to people trapped in this world. In every case I have researched or victim I have interviewed, the victim was coerced, duped, or set up and did not enter the Human Trafficking world of their own accord. Once the victims were in the trafficking world, they found it almost impossible to get out, and once out, found it nearly impossible to reconnect with the “normal world”. Recidivism is incredibly high in trafficking because of this inability to adjust to being back home. The devil you know often makes more sense than the system you do not understand.

In our next post we will discuss “Learned Helplessness” and why it is so important to understand in Human Trafficking, Kidnapping for Ransom, or any other form of Human Exploitation.

The Elephant in the Room, Human Trafficking

Human Trafficking is not just a local problem, it is an international problem. Human Trafficking is one of the key ways criminal organizations fund themselves. Cartels, gangs, and organized crime organizations use human trafficking as a way to subsidize their income. One of the unique phenomenon’s I have observed is that Human Trafficking becomes more prevalent in areas where law enforcement has become effective at counter narcotics operations. It becomes evident that criminal organizations are resilient and make up for revenue losses where other sources dry up. Kidnap for Ransom cases, express kidnapping, and express prostitution cases also pick up. This trend is truly never addressed in counter narcotics or even counter insurgency strategy. Human Trafficking is often the elephant in the room. It is much easier to label it as prostitution, and demonize the victim rather than really looking at the problem.

Human Traffickers often fall into several different categories:

  1. Opportunist or locals with no real network connection. This group often consists of parents who traffic their own spouses, children, friends, and neighbors. In many cases this group operates with impunity. This group often consists of abusive parents or relatives, pedophiles, predators, and pornography addicts.
  2. Local Networks. This group has established their illicit business under the guise of legitimate residence and business. Local Networks may consist of opportunists as well as long term traffickers. It may also consist of local gang members. These networks often conduct every type of trafficking, from forced labor and sex trafficking to child pornography and black market organ trafficking.
  3. Criminal Networks, Organized Crime, and International Gangs. This group is often the most established and the most resilient. This group often traffics people from outside the United States, but is also notorious for trafficking at risk local children, teens, and adults.

The sex trade by itself is incredibly resilient. An average street pimp can make upwards of $300,000 US Dollars a year anywhere in the United States. Average estimates for the illicit sex industry as a whole vary by study, but every annual estimate for the United States is in the several billion dollar range.

In a world where insurgencies, terrorists, and international criminal organizations threaten our way of life, these figures are staggering. The Western world has been fighting the “War on Drugs” since the late 70’s and the “War on Terrorism” since 9/11. The elephant in the room for us now is Human Trafficking. No one argues that Human Trafficking is bad, which is the issue. If Human Trafficking was polarizing and caused debate our politicians would take action. The reality is that it is a go-to when politicians need a good news story. The other reality is that politician do not like to admit human trafficking is an issue in their constituencies because it paints the communities they represent in a bad light, which had adverse effects on the local economy.

In the next few blogs our focus will be on Who is at risk, and how do they end up being trafficked? How they are controlled and manipulated? What is the psychological toll on the victims? These posts will surprise you and maybe that will start a discussion. Maybe we can make this polarizing so that more action can be taken.

The Fire Department Is Not Coming

 I retired from Army Special Forces in 2013 and, like many veterans, spent some time trying to find myself. One of the things I did during the past five years was to take the County Community Emergency Response Team course (CERT). (Class #89 for my fellow CERT friends) The instructor wrote something on the board within the first five minutes of this multi week course that has stuck with me ever since, “The Fire Department is not coming!” In the case of CERT, the reality is that, in a community disaster such as a hurricane or earthquake, the fire department will be overwhelmed and local neighborhoods will have to be prepared to take care of themselves. This is true for families, companies, churches, NGO’s, and other groups who have a family member, friend, or colleague go missing. The Fire Department is not coming. The CERT Instructor went on to explain that the Fire Department will come at some point but, depending on the severity of the disaster, it may be hours, days, or weeks before they or other responders can get there. Indeed the Fire Department may come eventually, but if you weren’t prepared, it will be far worse in the end.

       Over the past five years since retiring from Special Forces, I have been on a quest to civilianize the skills I honed as a Special Forces Intelligence Sergeant, and acquire new ones. This quest led me to become a Private Investigator and a Certified Missing and Exploited Child Investigator. I completed a Master of Arts in Diplomacy with an emphasis on international conflict management after finalizing a Bachelor’s of Science in Strategic Studies and Defense Analysis. I completed a civilian focused Kidnap, Ransom, Extortion, and Terrorism Crisis (Hostage) Negotiator course followed on by level one and two of the Law Enforcement Crisis (Hostage) Negotiator course. I pursued search and rescue training, and in the process was able to take the Critical Incident Stress Management course for individuals and groups as well as Psychological First Aid. I did all of this while working and deploying as a government contractor, and starting my own company. The result of this quest and my experiences in uniform following 911, has given me some unique insight and expertise that I want to discuss over the next six months in this blog. I want to emphasize that the statement “The Fire Department is not coming” is really an understatement when we discuss missing persons, kidnappings, human trafficking, organ harvesting, extortion, and combinations of these crimes.

     Over the next six months we will explore topics relating to kidnapping, human trafficking, organ harvesting, extortion, and other forms of captivity. We will discuss the problems internationally and domestically from the victim’s perspective, the governments’ perspective, the family’s perspective, and the perpetrators perspective. We will address the issues, obstacles, and things families should know. We will also explore the long term psychological toll on the victim, the family, and those who are involved in the recovery or rescue. Our posts will be a little less frequent than last year. We look forward to this endeavor.