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Covington Detective Heads to Los Angeles to Present on Human Trafficking

A Northern Kentucky police officer will speak about human trafficking during a conference in Los Angeles later this month.

Union Institute & University Professor and Covington Police Detective Eric Higgins will partner with Enrollment Counselor Sarah Kolks to present “From Victim to Offender: The Response to Human Trafficking in Probation and Parole” at the upcoming 40th annual Training Institute for the American Probation and Parole Association on July 12-15 in Los Angeles. 

Higgins is a Certified Peace Officer, Law Enforcement Officer Advanced Investigator, and Certified Crisis Intervention Officer. He was previously assigned to the sex offender caseload investigation and monitoring compliance with registration laws, and has worked in the Crime Suppression Unit as a Narcotics Detective investigating VICE crimes.  Before moving into his current rank as detective and working for the City of Covington, he worked as a Deputy Sheriff in Kenton County.  He is currently assigned to the Covington Police Crime Bureau as the financial crimes investigator and is assigned to the United States Secret Service Task Force.

Higgins said that human trafficking is a huge problem, even on a local level in Northern Kentucky. It is a very difficult form of crime for law enforcement to prevent because of the fear that surrounds those being trafficked. 

“The biggest problem in law enforcement when it comes to human trafficking is that the people who are being trafficked are either afraid to tell us, or they’re high on drugs,” Higgins said. “They will get arrested and then go back to these pimps or whatever. That makes it hard for us to gauge how many people are being trafficked in this area, because they keep getting victimized over and over again. Not only by the johns and the pimps, but by the system as well.”

The majority of the people who are being trafficked are young women, though it is not exclusively a female market. Higgins said that the starting age for girls being trafficked is around 11-13 years old. 

“That’s when these young girls get lured in and get victimized. Most of them start out because they like the attention of having a boyfriend and then it leads down to drug use. They’re going out and having sex or doing sexual acts and then bringing the money back to the people who are trafficking them. A lot of times, these traffickers will threaten them by telling them that they know where the victim lives, they know the victim’s family, they threaten to kill them or take away a little bit of the money that they are giving to those being trafficked. They are basically scared against doing this,” he said.   

There are red flags to look for when it comes to human trafficking such as the victims having multiple hotel room keys, a sudden influx of cash, signs of physical or sexual abuse, sudden negative changes in demeanor and personality and others. One easy-to-spot red flags often comes in the form of tattoos.

“If this girl has a tattoo on her arm or on her neck, then that’s a red flag,” Higgins said. “One of the reasons these traffickers do that is another way of controlling them by basically branding them with their name.  As a probation officer, if you come across a young woman who has a name tattoo on them, it’s important that the probation officer asks who it is.  Then if you can get information about the guy, you start to look into him and inform the detectives who work on these cases.”

Law enforcement often struggles to build adequate trust with victims.

“When these girls get picked up for prostitution, let’s say they have drugs on them, they get put into the system and get charged with felony drug possession. They go into probation/parole. The probation office has an extremely high case load and that’s pretty much across the board state by state,” Higgins said. “The only way this is going to be stopped is if criminal justice as a whole, whether it be the courts, probation/parole, and law enforcement works together." 

Human trafficking is a multi billion-dollar business. It brings in over $80 million dollars a day, and Higgins said that the situation is getting worse. One thing law enforcement officials monitor is any upcoming large event that is sure to draw scores of out of town guests. With these guests, traffickers will send their victims to these locations in order to capitalize on the brief population increase. An example of this kind of event is the Major League Baseball All-Star Game coming to Cincinnati this month, Higgins said.

Human trafficking continues to be alive and well because of the seemingly low risk the individuals who oversee the black market industry operate in.

“It’s a low risk business for the pimp and the actual people who are traffickers, just from the simple fact that the girls that are out there are afraid to talk and these guys are sitting in the shadows anonymously, so it’s hard for us to follow up and build a case. Plus the resources that we have on a local level isn’t always that available. To build a case like this, overtime is going to be needed to follow up on all of this stuff. It’s just difficult,” he said. “A lot of these guys are former drug dealers who no longer has to worry about other drug dealers stealing their stash, or the violence and actually getting caught by law enforcement. That’s why getting out of drug dealing and getting into this is so attractive for them.”

Written by Bryan Burke, associate editor

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