The Underground World of Human Trafficking

A couple weeks ago, I reached out to my Instagram audience asking if any of them knew a police officer I could interview.

Many of us have been doing our part to support the Black Lives Matter efforts — to first raise awareness about how widespread and embedded racism has seeped into our psyche, but also, to unlearn thought patterns and actions.

With this work and the loud uproar to defund the police, I wondered what the mood of the “room” was with the officers these days.

In reviewing the responses, I had an overwhelming number of people say, “Jesse Hugus — you have to interview her!” so naturally, I reached out, and she said yes!

Thank God.

I went to high school with Jesse but she was a few grades ahead of me and had much better things to do than hang out with a thirteen year old freshman with a Laguna Beach obsession. STEEEEEPHENNNN.

‘What time can you connect?’ I asked eagerly.

She responded and within minutes, our plan was in place which all unfolded in such a synchronous manner, given the… well, you’ll see.

“Hi!” I started as her glowing face popped up on my screen, “you look like modern day Barbie!” I said sincerely. Her blonde collared-length hair was naturally curled and her olive green tank top complimented her skin… I wondered if she just went into some sort of rejuvination chamber and suddenly, I couldn’t wait for my laser appointment on Tuesday.

She smiled and laughed, giving me a humble “thank you!” before we got down to business.

Jesse is a native Arizonan — she was born in the Phoenix area and moved to Prescott around six years old; she currently resides in Phoenix with the rest of us psychos that think 120 degree heat is acceptable.

Hey, it’s still better than humid-ass Florida.

We reminisced about the terrors of the ice bath before jumping into Jesse’s initial ambition for her life.

“Well, I definitely went against the grain of the ‘typical’ girl… I wanted to be an astronaut when I was young… I wanted to be the first female on the moon,” she laughed (I could totally see it).

“Then in high school, I wanted to go into public safety because my dad was a Phoenix Firefighter, but he had other ideas,” she shared, “he had more traditional views about what roles women have, which was not in the fire department,” her response was matter-of-fact but I felt my brows furrow and a surge of women empowerment platitudes ran through my head about girls being able to do whatever they want.

Not to worry — she reinforces that sentiment by going to college for Criminology, working in a lab doing forensics work (I miss Dexter).

We walk through her getting hired on as a police officer, the intense months of basic training, and patroling the streets.

She talked about doing morning memorials for fallen officers, working the graveyard shifts (not a fan), and putting in ten hour days.

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Photo by ev on Unsplash

After almost six years serving as a police officer, Jesse was promoted to the investigations unit where she is now the sex crimes detective.

I called for a police officer and now she tells me she’s the sex crimes detective?!

My ‘SAVE THE CHILDREN’ poster was lying in the other room as I would be heading to the march against child sex trafficking that same day.

Like I said — synchronicity.

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Photo by 𝓴𝓘𝓡𝓚 𝕝𝔸𝕀 on Unsplash

She laughed, “well, as you could imagine, there’s not a lot of women on the force, so I was pulled aside to do work on prostitution operations and sex trafficking.

I remember going to Flagstaff so we could try and identify this serial rapist that was picking up girls on their way home from the bars… then I would be in Phoenix working to identify predators at certain hotels,” each word came out stronger than the previous as I sat listening with my mouth wide open, nodding for her to continue.

“I don’t think people realize what a massive world sex crimes and trafficking is,” she looked up at the ceiling with concern, “it’s literally everywhere, which really rocked me… some of the people showing up to these stings were business owners, professionals, 18 year olds, 70 year olds…it’s just so prominent,” I could almost see the rolodex of cases she recalled.

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Photo by Ruthson Zimmerman on Unsplash

With a deep breath, I asked what happened when a John picked her up, imagining what would’ve appeared to be a sweet, innocent young blonde girl, turning into Angelina Jolie in SALT once she got the perp.

“HUNDREDS?! In ONE area?” I felt my tear ducts start to well and goosebumps lined my arms.

“Oh yeah, easily,” she assured me, “some of them show up, some of them get smart and bail… it’s just unbelievable… the amount of people that participate in that kind of lifestyle,” she shook her head and I joined her with a look of disgust and a shiver.

“We’re not seeing this on the news…” I pleaded, anxiously running my fingertips through my hair, “why aren’t we hearing about this on the news? Do you have any theories?” I begged for something that made sense.

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Photo by Austin Distel on Unsplash

Bottom line — no matter what the reason — we need to know about the problem, so we can make every effort to stop it from being one.

We go on to talk about a bust that happened in Prescott Valley involving all-too familiar names from the community, then I ask how this even comes to be… how these predators even meet each other, because I don’t imagine two dudes are throwing back beers in a garage and one goes ‘hey, you attracted to kids?’

“So, most of this happens on the dark web. They’ll start engaging with one another, and then start trading photographs through what they call handshakes, and literally form a friendship because they know if they’re exchanging with one another, they’re not gonna get picked up.”

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Photo by Caspar Camille Rubin on Unsplash

I felt myself shiver again.

“Yeah, it’s gross,” she responded, “and you even have people that create it with their own children and sell it, or they trade it for other kinds of pornography,” she paused to take a sip of her iced tea, in an effort remain calm, I assumed.

“Their own children?!” my voice cracked as my heart ached for the vulnerable kids being abused in the place where they should feel the safest.

“Okay, that’s great,” I responded, “but let me ask a potentially dumb question… why is it so easy for Facebook or Google to flag posts with ‘inappropriate content’ and take that shit down, but hundreds of thousands of child pornography files can continue to be traded daily?” I pressed with frustration.

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Photo by Kon Karampelas on Unsplash

She explained how advanced a lot of these systems are on the dark web, so their IP addresses are nearly undetectible.

It’s not like they go serve five years in jail, come out, and are no longer attracted to children

“Fine,” I sounded defeated, but realized this would just be the beginning of my deep dive into this world, “what are your thoughts about those that claim pedophilia is a sexual orientation?” I remembered reading something recently about a professor pushing these beliefs.

“As humans, while we’re developing, when we’re five, we typically think other five year olds are cute… same thing when we’re ten, eighteen, and so on… but the theory is that pedophiles’ sexual development stops at a certain point which, from my work, makes the most sense. And unfortunately, with what I’ve seen, it’s engrained in them. It’s not like they go serve five years in jail, come out, and are no longer attracted to children.”

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Photo by Charlein Gracia on Unsplash

So what’s the answer then? Pump them with chemicals to take away their sex drive?

According to Jesse, that’s not the solution… these predators would still have the natural draw towards children. So, life in prison? Throw them in a special institution for the rest of their lives? Death penalty?

I don’t know.


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Photo by Alberto Casetta on Unsplash

“They’re called romeo pimps and they find kids at malls, movie theaters, online…and they start chatting, telling them everything they want to hear, which eventually leads to a relationship where they’ll ask about the child’s family — who their parents are, any siblings, where they live…anything and everything they can get” my stomach tightened at the thought of someone trying to do this to my three year old niece.

“So then, once they’ve built up that trust with the child, the perp will always suddenly need money for something and say ‘hey, my friend will give us $200 if you have sex with him; you need to do this for me’ and then if they say no, they’ll threaten hurting the child’s family.”

From there, as Jesse explained, the pimp has the child under their control and a lot of them become attached. “It’s kind of like a form of stockholm syndrome,” she surmised. “Especially when they come from a broken home, which a lot of the victims do; they grow this affinity for the person selling them.”

Pulling from the Epstein documentary, I asked how common it was for the young girls to recruit other victims.

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Photo by Jeffrey F Lin on Unsplash

“Yeah, you see that very often, actually; where one girl has been working with the trafficker for a while, and builds a trust… then she’ll start running the girls and making arrangements.”

Feeling sick yet? Angry? Disheartened?

I’m sure… but like I said… give us the chance to KNOW about this so we can decide how to educate our loved ones.

Jesse informed me that once the girls are rescued, there are group homes they join, where a lot of treatment and lifeskill training takes place.

I nod with her and expel my thoughts…

“Human beings are resilient, right? That’s part of what makes us so fascinating… we can get used to almost anything, so it makes sense that these children would need to go through a complete detoxification for an extended period before even considering trying to fold back into their communities. I just hope these communities… our communities, can learn how to best support the victims,” the knot in my stomach was still clenched.

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Photo by Mike Erskine on Unsplash

She motioned in a way to say ‘I agree’ as her dainty gold necklace sparkled in the sun.

“Okay, great, that’s a perfect segue…” I felt a glimmer of hope, “what would you say to the lay-person in terms of signs to look for?”

She paused to consider.

“Just trust your gut — if you see something that looks off, call… and make sure you take down as much information as you can — license plate numbers, hair color, skin color, any notable distinctions about the persons’ appearance. I think if we pay close enough attention, we’ve all got a pretty good feel for when something doesn’t seem right,” she laid out a veil of confidence for us all.

“Yeah, a lot of these people find themselves in jobs that give them a direct connection to children…” she said, recalling a former middle school teacher in Prescott that was arrested for consuming child pornography.

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Photo by Christian Wiediger on Unsplash

“Yeah,” she started before considering her next words, “it’s a bit of a gray area with infringing on freedom of speeh, but I do think we’ll see a lot more of that type of development in the future because many of these perps don’t have a criminal history,” she looked disgusted and my face matched hers.

We concluded our conversation with insights into the police department as a whole, which I WILL touch on in the future, but in an effort to stay on topic, I would like to leave you with a few statistics to mull over.

So, again, I ask you, the reader, what your opinion is… how should these people be treated? Life in prison? A ten year sentence? Death penalty? Psychological rehabilitation? I’m genuinely wondering, as our work here is just beginning.


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Inspirations: Mindy Kaling, Issa Rae, Lena Dunham. Trying to manifest some combination of them all + Vince Vaughn’s wit. BLACK LIVES MATTER

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