Podcast: Community Partnerships to Address Human Trafficking

Posted on March 12, 2021


Addressing Trafficking - GovLove
Margaret Hendersonangela sowers
Margaret Henderson
Director, Public Intersection Project
UNC School of Government
Bio | LinkedIn
Angela Sowers
Environmental Health Specialist
Orange County, North Carolina
Contact | Bio

Recognizing trafficking. Two guests join the podcast to talk about how local government staff can be part of the effort to eliminate human trafficking. Margaret Henderson, Director of the Public Intersection Project at the UNC School of Government, and Angela Sowers, Environmental Health Specialist at Orange County, North Carolina, discussed the signs of trafficking and how local governments can prepare staff in different departments to be part of the solution.

Host: Lauren Palmer

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Keep Reading

Exploring the Intersections between Local Governments and Human Trafficking: The Local Government Focus Group Project

Labor Trafficking—What Local Governments Need to Know

Margaret Henderson on Recognizing Human Trafficking


Episode Transcription

Lauren Palmer  00:10

Coming to you from Kansas City, Missouri, this is a Gov Love, a podcast about local government. Gov Love is brought to you by ELGL, the Engaging Local Government Leaders network, we engage the brightest minds in local government. I’m Lauren Palmer, a Gov Love co host and the director of local government services for the mid America Regional Council. Before we get into today’s episode, Gov Love is brought to you by Granicus. Short term rentals or STRs are found on sites like Airbnb and VRBO. Their numbers are growing at a staggering rate in 1000s of communities across North America. What does this mean for government? It’s time to act. STRs can be a tremendous source of revenue for local governments or a real community nuisance. That all depends on adopting the right Compliance and Enforcement strategy. Today, over 350 communities have partnered with Granicus on their STR compliance programs for everything from address and host identification, to ordinance consulting and permitting tools. Interested in learning more about the STR market in your community and how Granicus can help? Visit granicus.com to schedule a free consultation. That’s granicus.com for more information. Today, my guests are Margaret Henderson, Director, Public Intersection Project at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, and Angela Sowers, a registered Environmental Health Specialist who is currently serving as an Environmental Health Program Specialist in Orange County, North Carolina. Angela and Margaret, welcome to Gov Love.

Margaret Henderson  01:43

Thanks for the invitation.

Lauren Palmer  01:47

We are thrilled to have both of you with us today to discuss a sobering topic with a discussion on the important roles that local government professionals can play to combat human trafficking. But we’ll start on the lighter side with our signature lightning round. So I wanted to start by asking each of you North Carolina is known for being situated perfectly between the mountains and the beaches. So which do you prefer? And Margaret we’ll let you go first.

Margaret Henderson  02:13

You know, I have found it’s optimal being exactly where I am three hours away from either one so I can make it to the beach in three hours or make it to the mountains in three hours. And it’s sweet.

Lauren Palmer  02:28

I gotta say, I’m jealous, although you can’t really be at the Missouri River. But what about you, Angela, do you have a preference?

Angela Sowers  02:35

I think that I agree with Margaret on that where we’re situated in the Piedmont. It’s just wonderful. It’s beautiful here and we’re so close to be able to enjoy both, so.

Lauren Palmer  02:47

Okay, the perfect non answer for both of you. We’ll go with that, the mountains and the beaches. That’s why people choose North Carolina. So we’ll move to our second question. What is your irrational fear? Angela, why don’t you go first?

Angela Sowers  03:01

I thought about this. I’d probably say that my irrational and I don’t know if it’s so much irrational is that I learned to swim in the ocean. So now that I’m quite a bit older, I have kind of this irrational fear that because I can’t see anything that I might bump into a shark.

Lauren Palmer  03:23

Gosh, I don’t know if that’s irrational, I mean.

Margaret Henderson  03:31

Well, I’ll say that. Well, I share that in that the ocean is too freaking big. And I grew up in West Texas where we frankly just didn’t have much in the way of water so it’s a very strange element for me. But I’ll also say it’s less about irrational fear now but North Carolina has certainly worked on de-sensitizing me to snakes. There are so freaking many snakes in North Carolina, and I garden so I encounter them frequently. They managed to surprise me pretty regularly.

Lauren Palmer  04:04

Really, like are we talking about the little like six inch Gardner snakes or like big scary snakes?

Margaret Henderson  04:12

Well, the most frequent snake that I see are out North Carolina has these black snakes that are long, like three and a half four feet long. They’re not poisonous, but they’re really cranky. So they’re not scary the way rattlesnakes were are in Texas or where you live, but they just surprise you.

Lauren Palmer  04:35

Gosh, again, not an irrational fear. That is seriously terrifying to think about a four foot black snake and sharks.

Angela Sowers  04:47

I could appreciate the snake thing as well.

Lauren Palmer  04:50

Yeah.

Angela Sowers  04:52

Well, we have rattlesnakes, yeah, we have rattlesnakes here but you don’t, you see them up in the mountains typically and they hide, so.

Lauren Palmer  05:00

Yeah, I would be hiding from the rattlesnakes up in the mountains. No good. Okay, well, we’ll wrap it up with our final lightning round question. What is your go to karaoke song?

Margaret Henderson  05:14

I hate to be negative here, but I run in the opposite direction of anything related to karaoke. So I would be the person getting the car keys and heading home as soon as somebody tried to open the door to a karaoke bar.

Lauren Palmer  05:31

Oh, really? You don’t like to sing?

Margaret Henderson  05:33

No, no. Perhaps I have done it with when riding a horse or something like that. And there was no one else around for great distance, but not in public. No.

Lauren Palmer  05:47

Maybe you just haven’t found your song yet. You know? Maybe if you just found the right song.

Margaret Henderson  05:55

Ever hopeful.

Lauren Palmer  05:56

Angela, what is your karaoke song? Yeah.

Angela Sowers  06:01

So my go to karaoke song is we are family by Sister Sledge. Yeah, yeah.

Lauren Palmer  06:11

That’s a great karaoke song! Like, do you sing that with friends or?

Angela Sowers  06:14

Yes, yeah. So my softball team, yeah, we would. Yeah. For games and stuff. And adult leagues. We that was our that was our go to karaoke song. So I’m like, Margaret, I wouldn’t do it on my own, so.

Lauren Palmer  06:30

it helps to have a little support system when you’re up on stage. I can appreciate that.

Angela Sowers  06:37

Absolutely.

Lauren Palmer  06:40

All right. Well, I appreciate each of you sharing those answers, it’s fun to get to know you a little bit better. And now we will get to our main event. On Gov. Love, we love to start just hearing a little bit more about our guests and your career path. So Margaret, we’ll let you start, why don’t you tell us a little bit about how you got into the work that you’re doing at the University of North Carolina?

Margaret Henderson  07:02

Well, it is fair to say it was completely accidental. I learned fairly early on in life that I was interested in Human Services kinds of things in general, and that I had the capacity to work with issues that others might turn away from. So I got into working with a governmental program related to AFDC and food stamps. That’s what it was called back in the day. And then I went to work for a family planning clinic and found I really liked nonprofit work. I’ve got a history of working in issues related to the health and safety of women and children in general. And the human trafficking work just became a natural evolution of that, although I’ll say even with a pretty strong background, in Rape Crisis work, for example, and familiarity with domestic violence issues. My learning curve around human trafficking was still pretty vertical. It’s a very complex, dynamic to learn about.

Lauren Palmer  08:06

Yeah, and we are eager to learn more about it today. Angela, I’m going to ask you as well, tell us a little bit about your career path and how you got into the role that you’re in now.

Angela Sowers  08:17

So I was really interested initially in medicine, I was always into science. But what I found out through some experiences that I was difficult for me to emotionally detach. So I, you know, being someone that was really into science and medicine, and I really just didn’t know what kind of path to take. And I was always an environmentalist, as well. And so I started, I kind of fell into, you know, research and I thought environmental health sounded really interesting. Where you’re protecting people in the environment, you can be involved in environmental sciences, you can look for disease trends that are caused from exposures in the environment. And I was very interested in microbiology and infectious disease. So this was a fantastic pairing that just really caught my attention. And so I’ve been very fortunate along the way, I’ve had a lot of good support. And I finished my environmental health degree out of Norfolk, Virginia at ODU and served in Indian Health Service for a period of time with the US public health service. And I worked for the state of Virginia for about 12 years, doing similar to what I’m doing now. And I’ve been in Orange County since 2017 for about four years, and I’m a Program Specialist. So now, I kind of support quality assurance for food, lodging and institutions. And I do public outreach and environmental health with the community. So I might talk about diseases with mosquitoes or tics or talk with people about potable water, a variety of subjects. So it really kind of the field allows you to really, to expand, so.

Margaret Henderson  10:14

I think for the ELGL members who are out there contemplating their career paths, Angela, and, and I, to a lesser extent, hit on a couple of issues for them to consider. One is, how much direct client contact do you want, no matter who your client is. It’s invigorating, and it can be pretty exhausting to do that work. And then how do you like working in systems? How do you like being a generalist versus specialist? I’ve been really lucky that my career path enabled me to keep learning different skills and some more happily than others, perhaps, but like, Angela, I enjoy being a generalist.

Lauren Palmer  10:58

Okay, well, thank you for sharing a little bit more about your backgrounds. To start with our topic today, Margaret, I want to just ask you to give us all kind of a baseline of understanding just what is human trafficking.

Margaret Henderson  11:13

I think the important thing to recognize is that we probably have all seen it without recognizing it for what it is. So the fundamental definition is that one person uses force, fraud, or coercion, to make another person perform either labor or sex acts for profit. So there’s always a third party out there making money off the labor or sex acts. And it can be conflated with other issues, even just having an abusive boss. But the more you learn about the topic, the more you learn how to distinguish this from other kinds of, of abusive work, violent work, dangerous work. I think it’s important for folks to recognize that human trafficking is can be both sex and or labor trafficking. The media pays the most attention to sex trafficking. But we professionals in the field think that labor trafficking actually vastly out numbers that in number of incidents, but nowhere do we have very good data that tells us exactly what’s going on all over our country.

Lauren Palmer  12:32

Can I understand that there are 25 business models of human trafficking? Can you explain that to us and how those business models intersect with local government?

Margaret Henderson  12:42

Yeah, be glad to. And while I’m doing that, I’ll be mentioning, two websites two resources that your listeners will want to explore if they want to learn more about the topic. There, we are lucky enough to have the National Human Trafficking hotline here in this country. So they get calls from all over the place. And it’s people seeking services or asking questions, seeking information. Maybe they’re asking for direct intervention, the calls range widely. And they, along with the sister organization, the Polaris project, they began mining the data they had in these calls. And so Polaris created this fantastic report in which they organized the types of trafficking reported to the hotline and created 25 different business models. So you know, remember, this is all about people making money over, off the work of other folks who are vulnerable for some reason. So if you go to the PolarisProject.org, you can find their report, it’s about the title has topologies of sex and labor trafficking in it. And in all the bulletins, I co authored for the School of Government here at UNC Chapel Hill, we’ve talked about the 25 different business models, and a lot of them, well probably a few of them are the ones we think of most frequently, like escort services or hustling sex on the streets, or maybe even some folks will think about migrant farmworkers for example, but there’s a lot of other forms of trafficking such as the labor trafficking that can happen in nail salons, or beauty salons, which Angela can speak to in her, from our own experience. Carnival workers you know, those traveling carnivals that go around to fairs, the workers there may be actually labor trafficked. In North Carolina, we have the Christmas tree industry. So anywhere where people are, the work is temporary where it moves, where there’s some sort of isolation, either natural or forced, there’s the potential for abuse. Sometimes the people that we see begging on the off ramps on highways, they might actually be being trafficked. They’ve been told, come up with a certain quota or you won’t get food, you won’t get shelter, you won’t get alcohol, you won’t have a place to be, you’ll be in danger. So I encourage everybody to look through these publications, whether it’s the from the School of Government website, or from Polaris and familiarize yourself with all the different forms of trafficking, because you will, you will be surprised.

Lauren Palmer  15:36

Thanks, Margaret. Angela, I want to pivot to you. I know you have some experience with this, because of your background in environmental health. Maybe you could just start by giving us a quick intro to environmental health and what services you provide. I know you talked about that a little bit in your background, but help us just understand the environmental health profession.

Angela Sowers  15:57

Okay. So the environmental health profession is a branch of public health. And of course, our mission is to, you know, utilizing 10 essential public health delivery system. That really there’s a there’s some pretty good definitions out on the web. And NEHA has some pretty good expansive, but basically, you’re a practitioner, utilizing specific scientific data and education, and promoting and investigating and practicing the preventing human injury and illness from the environment. And it’s the interaction of the environment and people. And that could be water quality, could be soil and septic install wastewater disposal, it could be chemical exposure in the environment. So some people might work for OSHA, or do IH and safety work, you have folks that also are in academia that continue to do investigations and toxicology. And then you have folks that work in public health that look at, you know, food facilities and lodging, and institutions such as nursing facilities to ensure you know, when there’s disease outbreaks or things that are taking place, you know, we’ll evaluate to see how to eliminate and or prevent. So really, a lot of what we do is preventative, which can be a challenge to try to try to quantify that data. So we’re out in the community quite a bit. Excuse me, and depending on, depending on what state or locality if you work in environmental health, either federal as environment health officer or as a specialist, which is pretty much synonymous is and the participants there will determine what you might actually be evaluating or looking at. So as an environmental health generalist, you know, I do a little bit of everything. So in the previous position that I held prior to coming to Orange County, I had an experience where I was out in the field doing an inspection at a hair salon. And when I came in, it was very different. That did not look like they were practicing cutting hair, all the stations had piles of magazines and about a quarter inch of dust. And the people that were there waiting for me to issue their permit to operate acted strangely. And so I knew something wasn’t quite right. When I went to look around the facility, there was what appeared to be a door cut into a wall. And that looked oddly strange. And so all these things I was kind of taking notes on as I was walking around, making sure they had hot water, that they had running water, all of the things that you might check that are required under whatever code that you’re working out of. And about that time I got ready to issue their permit and leave. And this young lady came out. And she was dressed you know in shorts, tank top, high heels. It was during the winter so it was 40 degrees outside. And she came out of the door in the wall. And I don’t think that the ownership that was there expected me to actually observe that, I did leave and I actually sat in my vehicle long enough to get my paperwork together. And then I watched a gentleman come out of that establishment that appeared to be dressed in a $3,000 suit and get in his BMW and leave. And this all looked very strange and I knew what I was thinking in the back of my mind when I saw this, I need to go tell somebody. So I returned to my office that day. And I spoke to my manager, and I shared with her what my thoughts were, and was concerned for the young lady because she looked very young, she looked maybe about 13 or 14 years old. And, of course, this was during the day during the week where someone her age would be in school. And at that point, my manager made the decision to contact law enforcement and try to determine how we could assist in trying to resolve that situation and what we thought was going on.

Lauren Palmer  20:44

Thank you for sharing that personal example, Angela, and for having the courage to act on your suspicions and your observations. Can you tell us if you know what was the outcome?

Angela Sowers  20:59

So the outcome ended up being that the police took the information. And they investigated it. And the facility was shut down. And they found out that there were young ladies being trafficked out of that facility, and that there was prostitution taking place.

Lauren Palmer  21:25

Okay. So Margaret, I want to ask you, I can understand how Environmental Health Officers encounter signs of trafficking since they are routinely in the field and inside businesses like the example that Angela just shared with us. Are there other local government professions that might be in a position to observe and report human trafficking?

Margaret Henderson  21:46

There sure are. A couple of years ago, a colleague of mine, Nancy Hagen, and I did focus groups with local government staff. So we went to two municipalities and two counties and got consistent information in all four places. So we would have took that list of 25 different business models of sex and labor trafficking. And we just went down the list and said, if this was happening, who in city or county government would intersect with it. And we found out most importantly, that local government staff are likely to intersect with 19 of the 25 different business models of sex and labor trafficking. And we found out that some of the people most likely to see it might not be the folks you would think of immediately. So we all know that solid waste management staff go all over our communities, they probably connected with more of the different models than anybody other than first responders. In, in in terms of first responders, I don’t, I don’t care what they’re there to do, whether they’re to put out a fire or to deal with someone who just had a heart attack or had a car wreck. They go all over our communities, and they hit places when people aren’t prepared for them necessarily. So there may be less opportunity to hide the indicators there. But I think one of the more important points I want your listeners to consider is all the people like Angela who do some kind of inspection process, they are likely to see the indicators, particularly of labor trafficking. So again, I don’t care if they’re, they’re about water quality, or fire codes, or they’re assessing the value of the property for the property tax office. They’re going all over our communities, and likely to see the indicators. I’ve been doing these sort of human trafficking 101 sessions with local government audiences, which is how Angela and I encountered each other. And almost with every audience, I get another story of someone who has seen something. And maybe they felt kind of creepy about it or uncertain about it at the time, but they weren’t sure what they were looking at. And so we’re just collecting that as we go. A few examples include the property tax assessor who went out to a high end home in the mountains and everything looked normal until he went down in the basement and the basement was full of bunk beds. And it just didn’t look like they were there for the grandkids. It’s just a red flag. It was a single indicator. But my point is if you see a single indicator, pay more attention and see if you see any other indicators. There were some Child Protective workers who were investigating a woman for neglect of her children, her kids were, as I recall, like in the 8 to 12 year old range, and she found a video or they found a video on the woman’s phone of those kids being coached and engaging in sexual play. And at the time they thought about it in terms of abuse, they didn’t think about it in terms of Mama might have sold that video. And Mama was actually a trafficker in addit- in addition to being guilty of neglect of her children. So it just goes on and on, I think our librarians are in a great position to see vulnerable populations coming in, you know, pre pandemic, to use their computer resources to apply for jobs. And if we can train them on the jobs that are good, too good to be true. And I suspect, they all have a pretty good idea of what those are like, come start your recording career or come be a model or come be an actor, all those kinds of things. Come make $1,000 in in two days. If we can train folks to recognize these warning signs, then potentially they can either intervene, or, and I think that gently thinking about the librarian, who might say to the person, the kid applying for the job to become a recording star, maybe that’s too good to be true. Or they can report to the appropriate law enforcement agency and affect an intervention that way. We’re learning something every time we go out and do one of these training sessions, which is why I love doing them. And I hope we can just stay curious about what we’re seeing, and what we might be able to do about it together. All the traffickers need for us to do is nothing, you know, if we look the other way they can can keep doing their work. But if we pay attention to the indicators, and we report it appropriately, then perhaps we can do something to discourage the practice from happening.

Lauren Palmer  26:57

I think that’s a really inspiring point and a call to action. As you’ve noted, our government audiences full of listeners from every sector of municipal service, who interact with the public in countless ways, you’ve shared with us some examples of warning signs they might observe in the course of their duties. And when you do trainings, how do you train employees recognize those warning signs, what what’s some advice that you can give to our listening audience as they go about their work in local government of what they should be observing and looking for?

Margaret Henderson  27:39

I think the first thing to be aware of is that traffickers look for vulnerable people. And Heaven Knows local government staffs see and work with vulnerable populations every day, whether it’s through public transportation, or foster care kids or any other number of options there. So if we get good at understanding about the vulnerabilities we’re seeing, we will probably get better at understanding how those people might be taken advantage of. So it could be that I come from a family that’s been, it’s just been unstable, maybe violent, for generations, is just a mess. And so I’m seeking security, I’m seeking food, I’m seeking the resources I need wherever I can get it. And a trafficker can see and tap that. Maybe I’m someone who is something other than a US citizen, you know, I could be here legally and still be vulnerable to labor trafficking, or being sex trafficked. Anything other than full citizenship is a vulnerability. Maybe I’ve been fairly stable, maybe I didn’t have a big safety net, but I’ve been stable on but the tornado just blew away my house and my job. And so I don’t have a place to stay, I don’t have a place to work and make money. And I’m, I got to get that fixed. So what am I going to do to find some kind of stability again? Maybe I’m somebody who’s been rejected from my original community, like I’m a gay, lesbian, or bi kid, or I’m a trans person, and I hit the road. And I go looking for a place that will take me in and accept me for who and what I am. Traffickers can see that vulnerability and open it up by saying, I see you, I accept you, you can stay with me. And later on it becomes, by the way, I need you to help pay rent, and here’s how you can do it. And that’s when things start getting ugly. Our communities can have particular environmental conditions that enable trafficking and one example of that is that unfortunately, sex trafficking often pops up around military bases. Sex and labor trafficking can pop up where convention centers are where there are big public events like athletic events, that kind of thing. It’s important that we just learn to recognize how traffickers will exploit what’s around us. And I do mean immediately around us. So how trafficking shows up in one community might look entirely different 50 miles away, or maybe there’s another city with sort of the same profile as yours. But the trafficking shows up differently there. Because the geography is different, there’s more forming over there than there is in your, your community. So no matter what you’ve seen in in your community, you might not see it someplace else. But it’s good to understand how it might happen wherever you are, and then just figure out how you’re going to, how you’re going to deal with that. One of the things I appreciate about Angela’s, a profession in environmental health, that they’re probably the best situated to recognize labor trafficking that happens in restaurants, because they may be the only folks outside the restaurant staff who go into the kitchens. So it’s important that they understand what it means to find a bunk bed in the storeroom in the back of a restaurant, or define closed drying on the dumpster behind the restaurant. There’s so much for us to learn. And if people will just be curious about their environment, and about their profession. I think we can make good headway with that.

Lauren Palmer  31:35

Then your comments really remind me, this isn’t an issue that’s isolated to any one type of community, you really touched on urban and rural and it’s really an issue that affects all areas of our country in all different kinds of communities.

Margaret Henderson  31:56

The question to ask is not does it happen here, but what forms of trafficking happen here?

Lauren Palmer  32:04

We’ll be right back to today’s episode. Gov Love is brought to you by Granicus. Short term rentals found on sites like Airbnb and VRBO are more than just party mansions in LA. Their numbers are growing at a staggering rate. And that means that it’s time for local governments to act. Short term rentals can be a tremendous source of revenue for local governments, or real community nuisance. It all depends on adopting the right Compliance and Enforcement strategy. To date, over 350, communities have partnered with Granicus on their STR compliance programs for everything from address and host identification, to ordinance consulting and permitting tools. Interested in learning more about the str market in your community, and how Granicus can help? Visit granicus.com to schedule a free consultation. That’s graincus.com for more information. Now back to the show.  I really like that way to think about it. Not where, but what shape will it take? Can you tell us some of the steps that you and others in your field have taken to draw attention to this issue?

Margaret Henderson  33:15

When I started working on this issue, it was with Project No Rest and they were set up to address primarily sex trafficking of children in North Carolina and very concerned about the child welfare system. And in the course of that work, I noticed that folks were very focused on and appropriately so on child welfare and foster care and teachers and public health nurses. And I thought, well, that’s smart. But do you not know what everybody else does in local government? And it turns out, no, they they didn’t. So that’s why I started exploring who else in local government might see this stuff. So we’ve got a website, if you’ll just Google my name, Margaret Henderson, human trafficking, you’ll get to it or School of Government, human trafficking, you’ll get to it. And we’ve written bulletins for elected officials and managers just sort of a generic here’s the basics kind of things. We’ve got a really good bulletin on how sex and labor trafficking affects children and what to know about that. We’ve got another one for property tax officials. Wrote a very small piece for registers of deeds in North Carolina. That’s what we call the folks who issue marriage licenses, and so wrote a small piece about here’s what a forced marriage might look like, you might not know in your office or be able to tell whether or not trafficking is involved, you know, an actual exchange of something of value. If my daughter marries you, I get this. But it’s enough to raise concerns and potentially intervene if either the bride or the groom look really unhappy about being married. And there seems to be some inequity in the relationship. And here’s a step you can, you can take. So we keep writing new bulletins as we get more information and discover these new audiences and the unique ways in which they might see trafficking. And then as I said earlier, I go forth and do these human trafficking 101 courses. My position enables me to see this from a systemic level. Unlike Angela, I haven’t had direct client contact with victims and knew at the time, although I can certainly look back in my Rape Crisis work back in the 90s, we were seeing these folks, and we were just using other labels. We just, nobody was talking about human trafficking in the 90s. But that’s exactly what was going on. When a gentleman loaned his daughter to his friends for a weekend in order to pay off his gambling debt. Though, I’m following the trail of breadcrumbs and seeing where it goes, and it keeps turning up new opportunities to build awareness and explore appropriate opportunities and boundaries of local government work as it relates to human trafficking.

Lauren Palmer  36:22

Well, I certainly appreciate the work that you and others have done to draw attention to this issue. You know, because of your work, some organizations have adopted training or protocols about how employee should respond if they observe something suspicious. But many organizations may have never thought of trafficking as a local government issue. What advice would you give to a local government employee about how to respond if they observe those warning signs, and I’d like to hear from both of you on this, Angela, maybe you could start?

Angela Sowers  36:55

Sure, I kind of wanted to expand on some of the things Margaret was talking about, as an environmental health officer also or environmental specialist, which is some of the titles that are carried local or state. Absolutely, labor trafficking is, is real. You’ll also may observe that, especially in inspections, where you’re looking at migrant labor camps, and that’s a lot of areas will do inspections for those for proper sanitation. And then also, that is what Margaret was stating before, in restaurants, especially if you see younger people, that you that may appear needing to be in school, people living in places, um, obviously. And very typical of places with transient population, and geographically, there’s some very, you know, especially in rural areas, so what I would suggest is definitely I kind of go with, if you see it, say something. And if you have a gut feeling that what you’re seeing is not that or does not appear to be right, it probably is not. And to start with, you know, if you have a really good supportive network, which hopefully you do, talk with your manager, or talk with somebody that you work with, or possibly seek out an expert that can assist you. And as far as developing a program, you know, being able to facilitate developing a relationship with law enforcement, because we’re in the capacity of doing inspections, but we’re not there to, to investigate these types of situations, we have the capacity to be able to say something to the right person, and having an established relationship helps that with that, where you’re able to tell someone about what you saw, or what you’re experienced. And then really work closely with entities or organizations, local, state and national and especially academias and Margaret’s position to be able to look at developing educational programs and being able to provide training for people so that maybe it’s something they’re not aware of. They don’t know what they’re looking at, and to encourage them to say something.

Lauren Palmer  39:30

Margaret, is there anything that you want to add advice for an employee who might observe these warning signs?

Margaret Henderson  39:38

Yeah. If you observe something, you’re going to wish you had figured out a protocol before you or you saw the thing and were pretty excited about it. I said that to a group of public health agency directors, you don’t want to be figuring this out when the bad guy is waiting to pick up somebody from the the STD clinic. So there’s there’s, there’s good news, there’s good news. And I want to tell everybody that there is some really pretty fantastic training available online. I mentioned them in these bulletins. So you don’t have to look too far. If you don’t have a good resource right in your community, you can still access effective training. It’s really good to have a conversation ahead of time about what would we do if we saw something suspicious? and have that conversation about well, do I just need to call law enforcement directly? Do I need to call the hotline, the National hotline that’s available to anyone, anywhere, anytime. Do I need to report it to my supervisor first and then call the hotline? What are what are your what’s going to be your protocol here? So just have that conversation ahead of time if you can, and, and figure out a plan, and your plan is going to vary according to your community. Some communities have law enforcement who are on top of this in a beautiful way. Others have law enforcement that have not been educated, and maybe are skeptical that it’s something that happens or something that they should address. It’s just the way the world is. So your responses can vary wildly, according to, again, what’s around you. But the important thing is to have the exploratory conversation earlier, rather than later. and define what your expectations are. And then if you have occasion, to report an incident, debrief about it, just how did it go? What worked well, what didn’t? And what do we want to do differently next time? That’s, that’s just part of being a learning organization that I know your, your listeners are all about being. So seek education, come up with an initial plan, try out the plan when you have to, and then rethink the plan to make it better.

Lauren Palmer  42:04

I think you gave some really good suggestions of things that leaders in organizations can think about to prepare their organizations and communities to address human trafficking. Do you have any other thoughts along those lines for supervisors or managers who might be listening? What are the initial steps that they should take to prepare their organizations to respond?

Margaret Henderson  42:29

Building basic awarenesses is so very important. And as we’ve already talked about, there are a lot of different ways to do do that, and do it in ways that are free or low cost for that matter. You know, I want to reassure everybody out there that if you are working to reduce vulnerabilities in your community, like keeping kids in school, or making your public housing safe, then you are working to inhibit human trafficking, because you’re reducing the vulnerabilities. So the other thing that we need to do is just increase our awareness about the indicators and figure out a plan for reporting. And, you know, we are nowhere close to perfect in terms of intervention and response. And it’s can be in a remarkably challenging situation to try to make better. And we’re not going to have wins all the time. But I think none of us want this going on in our communities. And all of us want to do something to make it a little bit better. We won’t be able to have solid wins with everyone we encounter. But maybe we can help a few folks. And that that keeps me motivated.

Lauren Palmer  43:49

What about you, Angela, any advice for managers or supervisors about actions they can take?

Angela Sowers  43:56

I’m in agreement with Margaret to start with as being able to have open conversation and to try to consider developing a program and then identifying what might actually see. I’m sure in our field, if people actually sat down and and talked about things that they may have seen in the field, I’m sure plenty of people could share stories and maybe had not known or did know. And for managers and supervisors to be prepared to deal with addressing fears. I think inspectors in general sometimes might be fearful of saying anything or they might feel like they might get dragged into an investigation or have to be a witness in court. And typically, that’s not something that occurs, at least in the experience that I had many years ago. And to also be able to provide contacts, and so that their folks know what they need to do next step wise and honing in that process. And having that honest conversation.

Margaret Henderson  45:07

Lauren, I’d really like to insert at this point that there is a lot of inaccurate information out there in social media in particular. So I want to strongly encourage people go to go to professional sources, not to rely on what you see in media accounts or on social media, it’s it’s terrifying, how inaccurate, most of the fearful stories out there are. So please go directly to someone who knows what they’re talking about.

Lauren Palmer  45:45

Thank you. I’m glad you got that in. Is there any other information that you want to share before we wrap up today?

Margaret Henderson  45:57

I want to reassure people, that it’s possible to make incremental progress in this work. And the most important thing we have to do is calling these crumbs by their names accurately, we have deflected what they are. We have paid more attention to so called prostitutes without ever considering that they may be doing that work not of their own volition, and be be under threat of violence if they don’t do that work. We haven’t shifted responsibility to the people who buy sex. Most of us can say definitively that we don’t fall into that category. We haven’t bought sex. We haven’t bought pornography that was produced by traffic victims. Unfortunately, all of us have benefitted from labor trafficking, though. And that’s not pleasant to sit with. But it’s something we need to do as well. So it takes learning a little bit, letting it sit, coming back at it, learning a little bit more thinking about that a while and coming back at it. I said earlier, my learning curve was just about vertical in this field, even though I had a really strong background in violence related issues. So I encourage patience, and I hope everyone is just relentless in learning what they need to learn in order to make their communities safer.

Lauren Palmer  47:32

 Well I thank both of you so much for coming on and sharing your expertise with us on this important issue and to use your words, Margaret, it’s not easy to sit with. But a really important topic that I’m glad that you are willing to share with our Gov Love audience. Before we wrap up today, we love to end our episodes by giving you a chance to share if you were the Gov Love DJ, what song you would pick as our exit music for this episode. And Angela, we’re gonna let you pick. 

Angela Sowers  48:06

Imagine by John Lennon.

Lauren Palmer  48:09

I think that’s a great choice and an inspiration for this particular episode. That ends our episode for today. Thanks so much to our guests, Margaret Henderson and Angela Sowers for coming on and educating us about this important topic. Gov Love is brought to you by ELGL, the Engaging Local Government Leaders network. You can reach us  at ELGL.org/GovLove or on Twitter at @GovLovePodcast. You can support Gov Love by joining ELGL. Membership is just $50 for an individual or you can sign up your organization. Subscribe to Gov Love on your favorite podcast app or if you are already subscribed help us spread the word that Gov Love is the go to place for local government stories. Thanks for listening. This has been Gov love, a podcast about local government.


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