State Police announce ‘Operation Hope’ to combat human trafficking in city

Seven women suspected of being victims of human trafficking were offered services and 25 additional victims were identified earlier this month in Hot Springs as part of Operation Help and Opportunity to Prevent Exploitation, a Arkansas State Police said Monday.

Arkansas State Police and members of the Arkansas Human Trafficking Council conducted the single-day Operation HOPE recovery, providing victims with services such as food , housing, on-site medical services, counseling, therapy and drug rehabilitation, according to an ASP news release. .

“These concerted efforts will significantly contribute to making Arkansas a place where human trafficking is not tolerated,” ASP Director Col. Mike Hagar said in the release.

“Arkansas’ dedicated law enforcement community is fully committed to addressing the dark reality of human trafficking with empathy, with the goal of bringing victims out of the shadows and providing them with the support and care they need to recover,” Hagar said.

The multidisciplinary operation brought together law enforcement and victim service providers from across the state, working together to combat human trafficking, recover victims and arrest traffickers “to make our communities more safe,” the statement said.

“Before and during the operation, intelligence analysts and law enforcement identified local victims. Prior to the operation, three children and one adult were removed from exploitative, vulnerable and unstable situations. All minors were placed in protective custody and the adult was placed under protection and received victim services,” the statement said.

“Not only are we hunting the bad guys, we’re also looking for the wounded,” Maj. Stacie Rhoads, CID commander, said in the release.

The operation was made possible through the coordinated efforts of representatives from federal, state, local and non-governmental organizations, including the Arkansas Attorney General’s Office, Hot Springs Police Department, County Sheriff’s Office of Garland, FBI, Homeland Security Investigations, Harrison Police Department, Arkansas Fusion. Center, along with victim advocates and medical staff from Regional Sexual Exploitation Response “RISE,” Project Genesis, Into the Light, ACASA, Saline County Safe Haven, River Valley Medical Wellness and the NWA’s forensic nursing team, according to the release.

The Arkansas ambassador for the Rotary Slavery Action Group told the Rotary Club of Hot Springs National Park last week that 557 cases of human trafficking have been reported in the state since 2007.

Shawnee Cooper told Rotarians that Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders issued an executive order “directing DHS to review our fight against human trafficking” in the state around February 2023. The Department of Human Services and the Department of Security public have formed four working groups to determine how to resolve the problem.

Nationally, 20 percent of children “will be approached by a trafficker before the age of 18,” Cooper said, noting that it is a very lucrative business.

“Worldwide, this is a criminal organization worth about $150 billion,” she said. “They make a lot of money from vulnerable individuals. We only spend about $320 million a year fighting this, so that’s a high profit and there are very few consequences that usually come from it. Every time I talk about people being enslaved, I’m talking about sex trafficking, labor trafficking, organ trafficking, child soldiers, child brides. But in the United States, there are some. two main ones: sex and work.

The ASP release said a similar operation in Jonesboro in February identified 30 adult women as victims and five were offered services in northeast Arkansas.

“The ASP cannot release further details at this time as the investigation is ongoing,” the statement said.

“Human trafficking continues to be a problem in Arkansas and throughout the United States, and law enforcement will continue to take it seriously. If you have information or suspect human trafficking in your region, please contact the Arkansas Human Trafficking Council at (email protected) or the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 888-373-7888,” it says.