Putting Sex Traffickers Behind Bars

4 minutes read time
A DSS agent reviews forms during a forensic investigation.
A DSS agent reviews forms during a forensic investigation. (State Department photo)

Putting Sex Traffickers Behind Bars

The International Labour Organization (ILO) estimated in 2017 that there are at least 24.9 million trafficking victims throughout the world; approximately 4.8 million of those are sex trafficking victims. Human traffickers generate billions of dollars in profits by using force, fraud, or coercion, to compel others into service. The victims are adults and children from nearly every country in the world.  

To curb the tide of this ubiquitous crime, the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) investigates sex trafficking cases that cross international borders. DSS special agents posted at 275 U.S. embassies and consulates in 170 foreign countries are part of a tight network of federal and international law enforcement partners that collaborate daily on a variety of transnational crimes. A few international sex trafficking cases that DSS has investigated highlight its determination to combat sex trafficking.  

Violent Sexual Predator Sentenced to 25 Years

A married U.S. man visited El Salvador and initiated a predatory relationship with an 11-year old girl. He promised to help her family, who were being threatened by a drug cartel. His demands became increasingly violent and controlling. Eventually, he arranged for the victim and her mother to be smuggled into the United States where they lived in constant fear of what the man threatened to do to them should the victim resist his unwanted sexual demands.

To bring this predator to justice, DSS special agents and investigators at DSS headquarters, the DSS Washington Field Office, and at the DSS office at the U.S. embassy in El Salvador worked with state, federal, and host-nation law enforcement officials to carry out a multinational investigation. After 15 months, DSS presented the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Virginia with the evidentiary basis for a successful prosecution. In June 2016, a federal jury sentenced the subject to 25 years in prison on multiple charges related to sex trafficking.

Florida Man Behind Bars for Sex Trafficking Foreign Students

Unwitting university students from Kazakhstan were lured to the United States under the false pretense of legitimate summer jobs at a yoga studio, and then coerced into performing erotic massages. The trafficker operated his prostitution and erotic massage enterprise out of Miami and Los Angeles. 

DSS special agents at the DSS Miami Field Office, who are embedded with the South Florida Human Trafficking Task Force, worked seamlessly with Homeland Security Investigations to investigate this case and played a critical role by facilitating the DSS’ overseas portion of the investigation.

In March 2017, the subject was sentenced to 30 years in prison for sex trafficking and related crimes.

International Sex Trafficker Sentenced to 27 Years

Taking the witness stand in his own defense, a tall bodybuilder who sometimes sported golden fangs claimed he was in romantic relationships with the women he was accused of brutalizing and forcing into prostitution. In reality, he had stolen the identity of a U.S. man and traveled the world using fraudulent passports to victimize and force women into prostitution in the Middle East, Australia, and in the United States, including in Miami.

DSS led the investigation, which involved numerous DSS offices, the State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs, Homeland Security Investigations, and the Australian Federal Police.

Months of high-level investigations spanning the globe yielded 60 subpoenas, 13 search warrants, one terabyte of electronic forensic evidence, more than 60 investigative reports, and roughly 400 marked exhibits. After the jurors heard from 15 key victims and considered the stack of evidence the investigators had amassed, they spent less than six hours deliberating to reach a guilty verdict on all 21 counts. The trafficker was sentenced to 27 years in prison.

These cases underscore the effectiveness of DSS’ international network of law enforcement partners. Such successful prosecutions send a strong message to sex traffickers that it’s not going to be easy to escape the long reach DSS has around the globe.

About the Authors: Chris Swenson and Peter Yeager serve as special agents in the Bureau of Diplomatic Security at the U.S. Department of State.

Editor's Note: This entry also appears in the U.S. Department of State's publication on Meidum.com.

Chris Swenson
Peter Yeager