Leadership Insights on Human Trafficking Prosecution Transcript

Lindsey Lane, Senior Legal Counsel at the Human Trafficking Institute, dismantles common misconceptions about human trafficking and sheds light on the necessity of hiring passionate frontline workers. She delves into the personal challenges of leadership, discussing the need for setting boundaries and the significance of self-care in this emotionally demanding field.


Craig Weaver: Welcome to Response Leadership brought to you by the Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service. A leader in response training. We are a podcast bringing you leadership expertise from the top minds in emergency response. I’m your host, Craig Weaver. I work in marketing and communications at TEEX. And today our guest is Lindsey Lane, the senior legal counsel at the Human Trafficking Institute in Washington, D.C. Lindsey, thanks for being with us. 

Lindsey Lane: Thank you for your time. Thank you so much. I’m really excited to chat with you today.  

Craig Weaver: What a huge topic. Human trafficking. Why don’t you start by telling us who you are and how you got to the Human Trafficking Institute? 

Lindsey Lane: So as you mentioned, I’m Lindsey Lane, senior legal counsel at HTI, and we are a non-governmental organization that exists to decimate human trafficking at its source, and that’s by addressing the trafficker. And we do that through empowering police and prosecutors and frontline personnel to identify the signs of trafficking and then to create a proper response to trafficking, whether that be from law enforcement or a victim identification. We’re looking for those identifiers or signals of a person that may be trafficked.  

I joined HTI about two years ago. Before that, as you would find out, in about 2 minutes of talking to me. I was a prosecutor for several years and I feel like I can never take that hat off.  I always wear that hat. But I spent the last several years serving as specifically a human trafficking prosecutor. So really working in the trenches on these cases, working with a really fantastic taskforce in eastern North Carolina. Just kind of working these cases, from the moment we have identified a victim all the way through prosecution and trial. And it wasn’t easy work.  

And I came home one day after a really hard day, and my husband said, look like, can’t you be doing more? And I almost killed him. He had a good intention behind it and he said, look, like you’ve been doing these cases. They’re hard cases. You’re trying one or two cases at a time, but what if you could be doing more? What if you could have a bigger impact? And he I won’t tell him, but he was correct. And so it just so happened aq position opened up with HTI, where my focus now in this role is training other police, prosecutors and frontline personnel to do what I was doing. And so really it’s “give a man a fish and he eats for day or feed a man a fish and he’ll eat for a lifetime.” 

And so now I empower others and provide that capacity to other prosecutors who are just like me to do their job and to do it with excellence. And so we do that in the United States through really detailed, intensive training for frontline personnel. These are the people who are having those interactions with victims of trafficking day to day to again understand how to identify a victim and then what to do. That’s the most important part. Once you’ve identified a victim, what do you do next? We also do that in our country programs at HTI. We have current programs in Belize, in Uganda, and now in South Africa, where we go in and we build capacity within those law enforcement, within those prosecutors within that country to do the good work and to do it with excellence. 

I love it. I love coming to work every day. It’s great to see the impact of our efforts and to work with really great people who have a passion for this space and really want to see that same impact that I desired as a prosecutor.  

Craig Weaver: What is your role as a legal counselor? Who are you a leader too?  

Lindsey Lane: Yeah. So, I wear a lot of hats. We are a smaller organization, but I currently oversee the creation of our federal human trafficking port. We have four attorneys who review all the federal human trafficking cases that are filed each year in all 94 districts across the United States, we extract about 300 data points from each of those cases file. And we publish an annual report called the Federal Human Trafficking Report. So I oversee that team. I love it. I love data. Data is one of the most powerful resources we have. You know, numbers do not lie. And so, I really enjoy that aspect of our work. I also oversee our training component. So that is where we develop very targeted training, intensive training for law enforcement, prosecutors and first responders, to have to increase their impact in the anti-trafficking space. 

I really enjoy that; I enjoy working with people out in the community and different agencies. And then I also oversee our fellowship and our internship program, which is wonderful. We have the Frederick Douglass Fellowship, which is for third year law students, for students who are really interested in the anti-trafficking or human rights space. And they want to know what that would look like to have a career. As a young college student 100 years ago, I remember having big dreams of what it would be to be a human rights attorney, and sometimes the glamor of that is not quite what it looks like in a day-to-day role. It’s been really interesting to work with young law students and young college students to help them think about what their career will look like in the future. We also instill in them those leadership qualities to get them from where they are today to where they want to be in their dream career. 

Craig Weaver: You and I talked a little bit about core values. As far as the HTI goes, what are those core values and how do you instill that? That’s a  tough thing to do, I would think.  

Lindsey Lane: I think it starts with education and just knowledge and creating that understanding of the space, but also creating an understanding of the purpose and what your purpose is on a team, in life, as a person and really understanding how to combine your passions and your ethics into what it is that you want to do. We have one life, and so you’ve got to come every day to the table ready to serve your purpose in that life. And so at HTI, I think what really sets us apart from other organizations is identifying the root of a problem. That is our approach in the anti-trafficking space. The root of the problem is the trafficker, and we attack that trafficking at its source by removing the trafficker from the trafficking scheme. The trafficking scheme is dismantled. And so really helping young professionals understand a problem and learn how to diagnose and prescribe ways to get around that problem, I think is kind of where we start first, and that is one of our core values is addressing the root of the problem, whether it be the macro problem of trafficking or the micro problem of how to get through this problem that we’re facing as an organization today. And we do that through innovation, which is another one of our core values. So encouraging young students, encouraging persons within our organization to look at a problem that super dark, that super complex, like trafficking and say, how can we innovatively combat this problem? How do we attack it? We do that from a very data driven approach and something that I really enjoy of thinking ways around problems, thinking differently, doing the same thing over and over again can lead to insanity. 

So we want to think about how we innovatively attack things, and we do that with excellence. And so we encourage our teammates to show up every day to do their job, to fill their purpose with excellence, and to not just do the least. I tell my kids that. Did you do the least to get that task done, or did you give it your best? But to really encourage people to find their purpose, to know what it is they bring to the table and to show up every day with a spirit of excellence. I think that’s something that I really enjoy about HTI, knowing at the end of the day, our products, our work has been done with excellence. It meets a certain standard that you can stand back and be proud of. I think those are all kind of some important concepts that we embrace as an organization, but we also try to instill in others.  

Craig Weaver: What kind of person do you look for or what kind of person generally shows up saying, I have a passion for this line of work? 

Lindsey Lane:  

I think a lot of people, when they hear something like human trafficking, have this tremendous desire. They want to do something, but they don’t know what to do. It starts with that, that desire to be the change in a really dark situation. But really what it takes is someone who’s willing to put in the hard work. If this were the kind of problem, we could tap a magic wand and make it disappear, that’ll be great. Sadly, that’s not how it works. It takes a lot of patience and time and effort and commitment to see something through. That’s something that we would look through in someone’s character is not just their desire, but really a commitment to a cause, a passion. Something goes really beyond just an interest, but a deep commitment and a passion to see change in an area. And knowing that sometimes that’s going to require a lot of hard work, whether that means you’re holding the reins and you’re leading, or maybe it means you’re the person who’s coming in behind to give that support, maybe not in a front role. I think that’s something we would look for as someone who really has a commitment to the space beyond just an interest. 

Craig Weaver: What does trafficking look like in America? I know there are some misconceptions about it. I probably have a bunch, but how would you describe what trafficking looks like? 

Lindsey Lane: I like to ask people if you close your eyes and I said the word human trafficking, what image pops in your mind? And almost always the response I get is a woman being kidnaped, cages, ropes, chains. A lot of time we hear some of the most popular movies of someone being kidnaped and taken to a foreign country and exploited or sold into the sex industry. 

And whilst some of those things might be a little bit true, the reality is trafficking is a crime that happens in plain sight and a lot of times we just miss it. Traffickers often know their victims. Victims are very, very rarely kidnaped. Most often victims of trafficking are recruited by a trafficker, meaning they are lured into the exploitation. What we have found in our review of data of cases that were prosecuted in the federal court systems across the US are that a lot of people meet their traffickers online. And so it starts with a casual conversation on some of our most common apps, on Facebook, on Instagram, on Snapchat, they meet a trafficker. The trafficker tells them everything that they need and want to hear. They start a relationship, and then over time, that person ends up being exploited. We see that a lot among young children, especially young girls. They meet someone online, the trafficker who they’re having communication with, may say that they are an underage teenage boy, but in fact they’re actually a much older person or an older male who is actually grooming them to exploit them later. 

So people often ask like, you know, our children are going to be kidnaped and human traffickers. First of all, that’s not right at all. What’s more likely is that a child is very likely to be introduced to their trafficker online. They’re much more at risk of danger behind a closed door in their bedroom with access to social media and a cell phone than they are probably in public. 

Craig Weaver: I know that you have a relationship between law enforcement in terms of training. What is the relationship like between your organization and law enforcement on a more local level? What do you tell them? How do you train those people?  

Lindsey Lane: Yeah, it’s a great question. So it all goes back to data. What does data show us?  We have found that victims of human trafficking very rarely self identified. In my time as a prosecutor, out of the dozens of victims I worked with, none of them came running out saying, “Help me, I’m a victim of human trafficking.” Even when they had interaction with law enforcement, they very rarely identify as a victim of trafficking. 

Craig Weaver: And so why do you think that is? Is it is it fear? What are the reasons for that? 

Lindsey Lane: Yeah, what survivors have told me is that “I never realized I was being exploited. I thought I was just in a bad spot. I got into something over my head. I got into a situation. I’m the person who caused it, and I just couldn’t get out of the situation.” And it took an intervention of law enforcement officer or service provider to come in and say, “Hey, do you realize what he’s doing to you is not love? This is you get you. Let’s get you out of that situation. Help you process that.” And so what we have found is that when we empower those frontline workers to be proactive, when they’re on scene at a hotel, when they’re on scene at a hospital, they’re looking for those identifiers. 

 And when they have the correct conversations with survivors or with victims who are in the exploitation, we see that change. We see the needle move in getting that victim into a position where they can receive the help and services that they need. And again, we can get to the root of the problem, prosecuting that trafficker. And so that’s what we focus on as we focus on empowering frontline personnel with the education and the knowledge they need to make those identifications. Next step is having those policies, protocols in place to know how to get that that victim that they have now identified into the proper care that they need and to see that case through to prosecution so that traffickers held accountable.  

We do that from a data driven approach, it looks different region by region. Certain law enforcement in certain areas may look very different than law enforcement in a more metropolitan area. But we look at the types of trafficking that are taking place and then go we in and train and we build that capacity within that organization such that they become sustainable in their investigations and prosecutions. 

Craig Weaver: Do you see a lot more traffickers being prosecuted? Is that happening a lot more?  

Lindsey Lane: Ideally, that would be the outcome is the sooner we can identify a victim, the sooner that we can make that information available to law enforcement. They can begin a quality investigation in conversation with their prosecutors. We will see more successful outcomes in the prosecution of those traffickers.

Craig Weaver: You’d mentioned to me last week when we spoke that the trafficking, human trafficking looks slightly different and then not that different in terms of Uganda or New York or Dallas or wherever. Do you do the same training? Does the training remain consistent wherever you are?  

Lindsey Lane: That’s a really good question. You know, our model remains the same of training police and prosecutors for that purpose of creating that capacity within them. And trafficking at its core is a financially motivated crime. You know what motivates a trafficker is money. And so that’s the same in the United States as it would be in Africa, as it would be in Central America. It’s a financially driven crime. And so having that in mind and thinking, well, how do we combat that looks the exact same. When it comes to sexual exploitation. It looks very similar across the globe where you have someone who is exploiting vulnerabilities within someone else, with the purpose of them engaging in commercial sex and their they’re benefiting from it financially. 

There’s also a unique side, too, to human trafficking outside of what we would typically see in the United States. Cultures are very different. In Uganda, our team there faces cases that involve child sex trafficking for purposes of marriage, trafficking for human sacrifice, trafficking for child soldiers. You know, those are types of scenarios that look very different. But the training component is the same of just educating those law enforcement as to what to look for and what to do next. 

Craig Weaver: Do you travel quite a bit in what you do? 

Lindsey Lane: I do, and it’s something I enjoy. I think it gives you a tremendous appreciation for what we have here, the structures that we have in place, the access to justice that we have in the United States. It also is very rewarding to see other countries who are so passionate about solving this problem and knowing that we have the ability to help build that capacity within their own countries. Fantastic. 

Craig Weaver: It seems like the kind of work you do, It would almost be impossible for you not to go see what’s happening. It’d be tough to do from this many thousand miles away. What would you say is the most difficult part about being in leadership in terms of anti-trafficking? 

Lindsey Lane: It is a tough job. It’s a dark space sometimes, and it’s really difficult to maintain boundaries of work has to stop and person has to begin. To be fully present and to have that same characteristic of excellence as a mom, as a spouse, as a person, as a friend, and then also to know when to turn those switches on and off in a professional capacity. 

I think setting those boundaries and exemplifying those to the persons that we lead is very important. It’s easy to tell others how to exhibit self-care or how to set those limits. But if we’re not setting those examples in our own lives, actions speak louder than words. And so, I think that’s really difficult sometimes when you’re working in this area where, the work you do does mean something. Every minute that you’re investing can protect as a survivor, protect a victim of trafficking. But to know that there are also limitations where we stop and we focus on ourselves for a minute, too. 

Craig Weaver: So how do you do that? It’s easy to give very healthy advice to people about how to decompress. But, how do you do it personally? How do you display that? 

Lindsey Lane: For me, the past year, I’ve really focused on setting hard boundaries. I will be present at dinner time. My phone is turned off, my laptop is closed. I will make football practice as many times as possible. Also, limiting travel. And that’s really tough when people need you and they need things of you. And when you think, wow, if I can get this one agency trained, think of the impact that we can have. But it’s going to take me missing a Thanksgiving program for my kids, those are all things that we have to weigh. But really setting those boundaries and then also being really efficient and being a good steward of time. 

I think that’s really important to have. Finding a system that works well for you. For me personally, it’s been learning how to delegate tasks, how to automate tasks and how to just set aside time for deep work and know when things have to be done. Shutting everything off to get those things across the finish line. And then with on our teammates encouraging them to do the same. What works for me may not work for you or for other people, but encouraging them to use those on, you know, structures in place for themselves is really important. 

Craig Weaver: Is it difficult for you personally to delegate? 

Lindsey Lane: It absolutely is difficult. How did you know!  I thought it’d be interesting to ask you if you find it difficult to delegate and how do you know what to delegate? Is that something you had to learn in practice? 

Lindsey Lane: I think delegation is really a key characteristic of a strong leader and it’s not easy to achieve. A couple of years ago I read a book called Procrastination on Purpose, and that was a game changer for me. It really talked about when you have a task and you have the ability to empower someone else or train someone else to do that task, take the time to train them to do that task, because in the end it’s going to pay off. It might be more of an investment for you on the front end. But later on it’s going to benefit everyone. 

Craig Weaver: What advice would you give to somebody that wants to get into this line of work? 

Lindsey Lane: Geez, let’s see. One is educate yourself. I like to tell everyone this. I want you to do your research before you click share on anything you see on social media. It might sound really interesting, fascinating, but you really need to do your research. And in my time working as a prosecutor and in my time at HTI, what I found was a lot of people have a tremendous desire to work in the anti-trafficking space, but they don’t really have an understanding of it. 

And when you don’t understand, sometimes you can do more harm than help. And this is a really rare area where doing the wrong thing can be worse than doing nothing at all. And give the perfect example. A lot of times, people feel like it would be really helpful to just go into a situation and remove a survivor from trafficking without really understanding the levels of control that traffickers can have over survivors. We don’t have time to go through trauma bonding today, but, you know, we’re a trafficker has such control over a victim, they still have this tremendous feeling of, you know, of wanting to still be with the trafficker while knowing that they’re being exploited. But if you go in and you remove a victim from that situation, you may end up causing them more harm. 

You’re putting them at risk of danger. The trafficker could come back and take that out on them later. And so if you are interested in the space, I think it would be important to just have an education and understanding of what human trafficking looks like specifically in the United States, understanding that victims don’t often leave the trafficking situation without someone there to support them in that. And then learning what skills that you have, how could you bring that to the table, whether that be, you know, working directly with survivors or working in a policy space or working in legal support for survivors or housing, there’s so many different areas you could be involved, but it really takes understanding the space and knowing what skill set you can bring to the table. 

People you know, they want to go and be like “Well, let me see what a survivor of trafficking looks like. Let me go into a home.” That’s not what we do, the work we do is completely behind the scenes. There is no like,” here’s a survivor. Let’s let her tell her story.” You know, a lot of the work we do goes completely unknown. And we’re okay with that because we know what we’re doing is making a difference. 

Craig Weaver: I can imagine this type of work. It takes a lot of patience to do things well and to see things through. Is it difficult for you? 

Lindsey Lane: Absolutely. Especially because, I think my personality is I like to see something through to fruition. I’d like to see it completed. And I learned my lesson very early on in working with survivors. It’s my job to meet them where they are. When they are ready. Then I’m going to be standing there ready to help and to prosecute that trafficker and make sure that what he has done to them, they will never do to anyone  else. And that’s a tremendous level of patience. As a person who, it’s just natural for us to have that sense of competition, to want the bad guy to be held accountable. But we have to remember that it takes time. Justice can look very different for different people and sometimes that might mean the traffickers made whole in a different way and the traffickers not prosecuted in that case. 

And it’s something I still have to take into consideration that, you know, survivors are each in a very different spot and we have to do our very best to provide ride for them to have law enforcement prosecutors ready to tackle the case. You know, when that time comes. 

Craig Weaver: What’s the most rewarding part of what you do? 

 Lindsey Lane: Gosh, watching that little seed that you planted years ago, just grow. Just even getting phone calls from a survivor that I worked with years ago said, “Hey, do you remember me? I wasn’t ready then, but I am now and I just want to say thank you.” That makes it worthwhile. There’s also tremendous satisfaction in seeing the justice system work exactly as it’s supposed to, to see a victim be made whole through, you know, the prosecution of the trafficker, the implementation of restitution, to make them whole, to see them receive the services that they need in a well working system. But that gives you the satisfaction of knowing that the time and the patience and investment that you put in, finally paid off. 

I would just want people to know if this is a space that you are interested in and you are a frontline personnel, you are someone who might be encountering potential victims of trafficking and day to day, become educated, become aware of that. If HTI can help you do that, please let us know. If your agency is in need of training to better understand this crime, to know what to look for, and then to set in protocols in place as to what to do if a victims identify would be more than happy to help you create that education so that you can have standards of excellence in what you bring to the table for the anti-trafficking space. 

Craig Weaver: Thank you so much for doing this with us today.  

Lindsey Lane: Thank you for having me. Thanks for letting me share about something I’m incredibly passionate about. 

Craig Weaver: Thank you for listening to Response Leadership brought to you by the Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service. We hope you enjoyed this episode. If you did, please leave a review and follow us on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you listen to podcasts or visit us at teex.org/podcast. 

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