Responding to a problem that many rarely see, the city will soon be hiring someone to help police respond to cases of human trafficking.
Matt Prouty, of the Rutland City Police Department, announced the new staff member at last week's Project VISION meeting. The staff member, who will be paid through a three-year federal grant, will work from the VISION Center, which shares a building with the police department.
While Prouty said he understood that some may not understand that Vermont has a human trafficking problem, he said it's a crime that's “here in Vermont.”
“It's very real. We've been working in cooperation with the feds, the FBI, with the (Vermont) Drug Task Force to combat this since at least 2011 in cases that I've been involved with. Any time you have a drug market, you have a commercial sex market. They just go hand in hand,” he said.
In addition to commercial sex trafficking cases, the case manager will also be dedicated to people who are trafficked to provide labor or because they are in a position of indentured servitude.
The case manager will work for the police department but Prouty said they will not be what people think of as a traditional police officer.
“Many of the victims that we identify and get services to may never cooperate in a criminal investigation. That's a decision that's up to the victim but if we can get people at least stable, to a safe place, into treatment, or whatever the case may be (to) meet some needs, connect with someone that can provide some stability,” he said.
In complex human trafficking cases, success is subjective, according to Prouty.
“Success for some may be they cooperated with law enforcement, got services and the perpetrator was arrested and convicted. Others may be, they got out of the life, got stable, got their children back and they just want to be left alone,” he said.
Having a case manager who is not a cop may help with the main goal, Prouty said, which is to find the victims, intersect with them and get them connected to services.
“This person not being a law-enforcement officer is kind of special in that regard because they can be a support structure that doesn't come with the 'long arm of the law,' that doesn't come with having to provide sworn statements and things like that. This is a social-working position,” he said.
Last month, the U.S. Attorney for Vermont and the Vermont Attorney General's office, as well as the Vermont Department of Public Safety and Vermont Center for Crime Victim Services, announced a $1.2 million federal grant for the Vermont State Police and the Vermont Center for Crime Victim Services to support efforts to stop human trafficking.
Prouty said the funding for the position in Rutland is from a different federal grant and requires a local match.
At the Project VISION meeting last week, Prouty said he had recently gotten confirmation for the first $100,000 installment from the federal Victims Of Crime Act, or VOCA.
On Monday, Prouty said the total amount of the grant was $300,000 with a 25 percent local match. The local match is expected to be found within the existing police department budget, Prouty said.
The position will be similar to the human trafficking case manager position already embedded in the South Burlington Police Department.
Shaun Burke, the police chief in South Burlington, said the value of the case manager is that staff member is not a police officer.
“In fact, they are victim-centered. We are extremely fortunate with the person that we have. She came from the advocacy world and understands all assistance available. She just does a phenomenal job of connecting victims of human trafficking to the broad network of systems that are available,” he said.
Burke said he expected having a second case manager would allow for “more robust victim outreach and advocacy in the southern part of the state.”
South Burlington's case manager is expected to work with the Rutland hire to share her experience. Prouty said she already worked out of the VISION Center when she was in southern Vermont.
Burke agreed with Prouty that human trafficking is “more prevalent in Vermont than average folks realize.”
“It's not human trafficking in the classic sense where indentured people are trafficked here in shipping containers from another country. What we see is drug addiction and those that traffic in drugs. Not only are they profiting from drug sales themselves, but they also have this prostitution market that they use addicts as the product,” he said.
While Burke said the South Burlington case manager helps victims break free of the lifestyle, he said it was usually the addiction that made it hard for victims to free themselves.
Prouty said Vermont is taking a community health approach to human trafficking instead of simply a law-enforcement approach.
“Folks that are involved in commercial sex, living the life, possibly involved in the drug market as well, these are things that are terrible for people, physically, emotionally. It affects their extended families, it affects neighborhoods, so our perspective is, if we can intersect in a multitude of ways, meeting people where they're at, that's a benefit in all those other categories,” he said.
Prouty said he expects the city will be advertising for the position in the “very near future.”
Prouty said he hopes the local case worker will qualify for continued funding or have the resources within the state to support the position after the first three years of funding expires.