Webinar presenters Cherice Hopkins and Rebecca Burney answered a number of your questions after their presentation, How a History of Sexual Exploitation and Racial Violence Funnels Women and Girls of Color into the Abuse to Prison Pipeline. Here are just a few of their responses.
Audience Question: What measures are being taken nationally to allow for Victimless Prosecution? I’ve found that when our cases go federal, even though it’s hard evidence, we still have victims that are required by prosecutors to be at court.
Cherice Hopkins: That’s a great question. There’s a group called Equitas that provides assistance to prosecutors particularly on issues of sexual violence to try to help them be able to move their case in a way that is cognizant of the fact that they’re survivors. I can’t speak specifically to their efforts, but I think that is part of their work to help provide training and assistance on how those things might be able to come about. I think it’s something that’s still being grappled with. To Rebecca’s point that we shared something that is still taking place quite a bit – reliance on survivors for cases. But I think there’s also trying to get other opportunities to be able to share if they are involved to frame it as a choice as opposed to this quid pro quo or this pressuring, as well as being able to really educate survivors on what that process looks like. So, it can be an informed choice because it is potentially being empowering. Part of it is just the way that the approach is taken. Not treating survivors, particularly young people as people but as a means to an end. So, I think another thing that’s taken place is really trying to develop this training or engage prosecutors, law enforcement in training to support them in their interactions with young people, the survivors.
Rebecca Burney: For the audience, really think about how Rachel had those trauma bonds and ties to her trafficker. Many youths consider their trafficker to be their boyfriend or someone that they have deep emotional ties with. And so, trying to force that person to testify against them is very difficult. So, I actually compare it to think about a domestic violence situation, and if you’re tying services for the domestic violence survivor to testifying against their abusive partner of the trauma that would cause. I don’t think we necessarily think of it that way when it comes to trafficking and we need to because it is similar harm by forcing trafficking survivors to do that testimony as well.
Audience Question: For any other law enforcement agencies on the call, we in Tulsa work with child abuse forensic interviewers, so that they interview the child one-on-one, versus being interviewed by a detective or an investigator.
Cherice Hopkins: If I can just add, I also want to mention the National Children’s Alliance. They support all the child advocacy centers across the country. So, the Child Advocacy Centers, I don’t know the number, but there are a lot of them, and they can also provide support in that process to make sure you know that information is gathered for a case to move forward. But in a way that really is cognizant of that tribe trauma. Make sure to do not re-traumatize the child as well as be able to connect them to services and support that they need to heal.
Rebecca Burney: I just also wanted to add to briefly, I think about stories like Rachel’s where her trafficker actually waited until her 18th birthday to traffic her. And so many, many traffickers are aware of the laws are aware that services that are given to youth under the age of 18 do not exist for those over the age of 18. They’re aware that it’s much more difficult to convict them of trafficking an adult than it is a child. And so, I would just encourage everyone to think about the services you offer to children. And try, if you can, to figure out how you can get those same experts to help interview an 18-year-old or 19-year-old who’s experienced similar trauma.
Audience Question: What was the book that you recommended? That was written by the survivor you introduced right at the start of your segment.
Rebecca Burney: Oh, so that was the book by Cyntoia Brown. If you Google her name Cyntoia Brown memoir, it will pop up. Free Cyntoia: My Search for Redemption in the American Prison System. It started while she was still incarcerated, and she really detailed her own journey while she was in prison serving time for killing her buyer.
Audience Question: Can you share what kinds of programs are available while these young survivors are involved in the justice system or possibly even in prison or jail?
Cherice Hopkins: It really varies based on the jurisdiction. So, some jurisdictions have a lot of programs and services and others do not. So, I can say specifically in DC, if they are made aware of a trafficking situation, they do try to connect that young person to a provider that serves trafficking survivors. So, there are a couple in DC that specialize in domestic child sex trafficking. So, even if a youth is incarcerated, they do still allow them to speak with counselors and other staff at organizations who are specifically trained. They also allow them to help advocate for their cases, partnerships with their attorneys of record, and the organization serving trafficking survivors. And then, once they are released into the community, there are often collaborations on placement, as well, but it really varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.
Rebecca Burney: It definitely varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. And I think the other thing I wanted to add on top of that is the importance of screening. Because oftentimes, you know, Rachel spoke to her own experience about having a shift and like having to view this adult who she thought was her boyfriend who’s going to care for her and actually seeing how he exploited and harmed her. A lot of young people don’t know what trafficking is, they don’t identify as survivors. And so, it’s also really important in terms of getting young people connected to services is to have screening mechanisms in place, because they often are going to say, like, “Oh, I’m a trafficking survivor.” And we know that a lot of young people come into the system on charges that aren’t prostitution charges. For example, in LA County, I think they had stopped arresting young people on prostitution charges, but they did implement screening protocol for years. And they found that they were almost 400 young people in their system, who are survivors of trafficking, and so it was only through implementing that screening protocol that they were able to identify them and try to get them connected to services. So, I just want to say that, like, screening is also, like, definitely it’s important to have programs in place. And I think one thing, we always hear that there’s a need for more funding for those programs, particularly in the, in the community, but also, screening is really important, because otherwise, you know, that’s part of identifying the people to make sure that they get connected to those programs.
Audience Question: Once a child is being trafficked, what can be said during a one-time encounter to try to assist? Her experience was in a situation with an African American teen who was 17 and was groomed and trafficked into another state and she ran during transport to a children’s facility.
Rebecca Burney: That’s tough because, unfortunately, many of these young people have negative experiences with the system. So, it takes time for them to trust victim service advocates, attorneys. I would say, based on my experience with survivors, once they have disclosed that they’re being abused, just saying, “I believe you. You didn’t deserve what happened. And I will work to support you in any way that I can in my role.” Something along those lines, saying you believe them is huge, and making sure that you’re not blaming, you’re watching your tone, you’re making sure that you’re not insinuating that, what happened was their fault, that they are fast. That you believe any of those stereotypes that Rachel talked about. I think that’s huge. And then just following up, seeing if you can get them services. Don’t promise anything you can’t deliver on. But if you are in a position to advocate for them, if you’re there, while they’re being interrogated, for example, making sure that police officers are doing it in a trauma-informed way, that they have counsel present. All of those things would be helpful. Even if you only had a one-time interaction, they would remember that.
Cherice Hopkins: That was great. I think I would just re-iterate what Rebecca said about healing, being a journey. These young people have been through a lot. In addition to their experience of trafficking and trust does take time. And so, I think it’s just whenever we interact it’s important to keep in mind that we’re strangers to them, that they may be people that we actively view with ———–. And so just being very, very intentional to come from a place of caring and consideration.
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