Police: Human trafficking on the rise in New HampshireBy SHAWNE K. WICKHAM
New Hampshire Sunday News
April 09. 2018 9:20AM
Panel discussion tonightBedford Police Department is hosting “Hiding in Plain Sight,” a summit on social media and human trafficking, tonight at Manchester Christian Church, 56 Old Bedford Road, Bedford. Panelists will include law enforcement experts, medical professionals, victim advocates and a trafficking survivor.
Admission to this evening's summit is free. Doors open at 6 p.m., and the event begins at 6:30 p.m.
Most people think human trafficking is something that only happens in dark, faraway places.
But authorities say it’s on the rise in New Hampshire, another ugly outgrowth of the state’s opioid crisis.
Bedford Police Department is hosting “Hiding in Plain Sight,” a summit on social media and human trafficking, tonight at Manchester Christian Church, 56 Old Bedford Road, Bedford. Panelists will include law enforcement experts, medical professionals, victim advocates and a trafficking survivor.
“We’re trying to tell the story of what human trafficking looks like in the New England area, and specifically what’s going on in New Hampshire,” said Bedford police detective Matt Fleming, one of the organizers.
It’s a “by-product” of the drug epidemic, he said. “We have women who have fallen victim to drug abuse for whatever reason and ultimately are easy targets to be sex-trafficked at that point.”
Fleming said this is not just happening in the big cities. “It’s not a Manchester problem or a Nashua problem,” he said. “It’s a New Hampshire problem.
And he said, “Sometimes it’s the next house over.”
Michael Posanka is the resident agent-in-charge for New Hampshire at Homeland Security Investigations, an investigative arm of the Department of Homeland Security. Human trafficking, he said, is “a human rights violation.”
“It’s a crime of overcoming an individual’s will through force, fraud or coercion, and thereby compelling them to engage in some kind of labor, whether that’s traditional labor, domestic servitude or commercial sex.”
Most cases he sees in New Hampshire involve sex trafficking, he said. It’s about addiction — and desperation, he said.
Drug users, he said, “will do anything to feed their addiction, the addiction is that strong. And if that means engaging in commercial sex to finance their drug habit, that’s what they’re going to do.”
That leaves such individuals vulnerable to exploitation, he said. He’s worked cases in which women were given the choice between making drug runs to Lawrence, Mass., or engaging in prostitution.
Posanka recalled the case of a trafficker who stood in front of two women who were “dope sick” from withdrawal. “He held up a bag of heroin and said, ‘If you get back to work, this will be yours,’” he said.
“That’s trafficking,” he said. “That’s not a party; that’s not a good time.
“That’s controlling somebody’s addiction to compel them to engage in prostitution. And that’s what we’re seeing.”
In 2015, HSI and Manchester police began investigating a sex trafficking ring in Manchester, eventually arresting two men and a woman. All three pled guilty to trafficking charges and are now doing time in state prison.
They operated out of several hotels in the city and a West Side apartment, according to a 2016 affidavit by a Manchester detective. The ringleader, Nathaniel Clarke, now 38, used drugs and threats to control his “girls,” getting them hooked on heroin and then controlling their supply. He took photos of them and advertised their services on backpage.com.
Investigators determined that Clarke had five or six females working for him, including a juvenile. All told similar stories; most became cooperating witnesses.
One woman told police that Clarke took her driver’s license and cellphone, according to the detective. She said she had been off heroin and on suboxone until she met Clarke; he used heroin to force her to work for him.
“Clarke would personally inject (her) with heroin, and control the amount she would receive,” the detective wrote in the affidavit. After each sexual encounter, Clarke took the money.
The going rate was $300; the victim got $100 but most of that ended up going back to Clarke to buy the drugs, according to the detective.
Lt. Nicole Ledoux runs the juvenile and domestic and sexual assault units at the Manchester Police Department. She said her department now has a detective assigned full time to the state Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, a partnership among federal and local law enforcement agencies.
Addicts, Ledoux said, are “a very vulnerable population,” easily exploited by the dealers who control their drug supply.
She said most victims she’s seen here are between 18 and 29 years old. “They’re not prostitutes; they’re trafficking victims,” she said.
“Their traffickers use violence and threats, but also controlling their access to opioids,” she said.
“It’s happening everywhere in the state,” Ledoux said. “These are local victims being trafficked by local people.”
Congress recently passed an anti-trafficking bill that would make it easier for police to crack down on websites that advertise sexual services. In response, Craigslist announced it will no longer accept personal ads.
Critics, including the Electronic Freedom Foundation, say the new law will silence online speech by forcing internet platforms to censor their users.
Fleming said the new law can be another tool for police. But he said, “You know and I know that when we put out a fire in one spot, another fire erupts in another. They’ll find other ways to get out there on the internet.”
The detective said he knows it’s difficult for some to grasp that human trafficking is a real problem here. “If you haven’t seen it happen in your neighborhood, you just don’t really believe that,” he said. “But when it does hit your family or someone you know, then your eyes become very wide open on the matter.
“What we want to do instead of waiting for people to become a victim and then have to open their eyes, we want to open their eyes in advance,” Fleming said. “So they can look for the warning signs and talk with their kids about the dangers of this stuff.”
Why should people care about this issue? For one thing, trafficking brings the criminal element into the state, Ledoux said.
But more importantly, “It’s basic humanity,” she said. “Vulnerable people who need treatment, who need help, are being exploited because they’re addicts.”
Ledoux said she hopes parents and teachers will attend tonight’s summit to learn about protecting kids from such dangers. Traffickers are smart, she said, “and they’re going to go where they can find a vulnerable person.”
“And young kids that are going through the teenage years are always vulnerable.”
Fleming said he hopes to fill the 800-seat church. “We’re going to put everyone in the room together and talk about it,” he said.
Admission to this evening’s summit is free. Doors open at 6 p.m., and the event begins at 6:30 p.m. The event is sponsored by Bedford police, Homeland Security Investigations, N.H. Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force and New Hampshire Child and Family Services.