Paradigm Shift

Sep 03, 2023
police officer on shift

par·a·digm shift


a fundamental change in approach or underlying assumptions.


The term "paradigm shift" denotes a fundamental change in approach or underlying assumptions.


In the realm of law enforcement, particularly in the United States, there is a pressing need for a paradigm shift in the perception and handling of situations concerning human trafficking, with an emphasis on domestic sex trafficking. This shift is vital to ensure more effective strategies and interventions.


Imagine this Scenario: You’re a patrol officer responding to a domestic violence call at a hotel. Dispatch informs you that a young woman has been observed with different men entering and leaving her room throughout the evening. Another guest at the hotel reports hearing an altercation between the young woman and her presumed boyfriend and witnessed him striking her across the face in the parking lot.




Ask yourself: What is your immediate assumption about the young woman?


If you approach this situation with the preconceived notion that she is involved in prostitution, then it's high time to reevaluate and embrace the paradigm shift.


Surprisingly, a substantial proportion of law enforcement officers are ill-informed about human trafficking. According to studies, two-thirds of law enforcement officers rely on mass media as their primary source of information regarding human trafficking, and a mere 17% have received formal training on the subject.


Human trafficking ranks as the second most lucrative criminal enterprise in the United States, trailing only drug trafficking. Despite this, many of those who can make a significant impact – those who might encounter victims daily – possess little awareness or understanding of the complex web of exploitation unfolding before them, especially in the domestic sex trafficking sector.


The misidentification of victims is a recurring issue. Law enforcement often mistakes human trafficking with prostitution. Although these two phenomena may share similar environments and indicators, they are distinctly different. Erroneous identification can result in traffickers eluding capture and the victims facing wrongful charges or incarceration.


This blog aims to help patrol officers distinguish between prostitution and human trafficking, fostering a paradigm shift in their thinking. By doing so, we can enhance the effectiveness of combating human trafficking on a national scale. 



What’s the difference? 


Human trafficking involves the use of force, fraud, or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act.


Conversely, prostitution is defined as the act of engaging, agreeing, or offering to partake in sexual conduct with another individual in exchange for a fee or something of value.


Below is a visual representation that shows the differences between human trafficking and prostitution, while highlighting the reasons why they are frequently misconstrued as being same. 



Caption: This infographic illustrates the core differences between human trafficking and prostitution, shedding light on the actions that often lead to confusion. Understanding these distinctions is essential for accurate identification and appropriate intervention. 


Identifying The Situation 


While on scene as the responding patrol office the question you must ask yourself first and foremost to differentiate between human trafficking and prostitution is:


Is the person performing the act keeping the proceeds?  Or is there someone else who is benefiting?


Next you need to ask:


Are they under force, fraud, or coercion to give up some or all of that something of value? 


If they are under force, fraud, or coercion to perform the acts then they are very likely being trafficked.  


Also, of note, if the probable victim is under the age of 18, they cannot willingly engage in prostitution even if considering themselves as independent sex workers.  There is no such thing as an underage prostitute. 




To accurately distinguish between human trafficking and prostitution, it is crucial to recognize and assess the presence of force, fraud, or coercion. Below are various actions indicative of human trafficking, along with the potential language that a trafficker might employ when communicating with a victim. This information is essential for comprehending the victim’s perspective and context.



  • Kidnapping
  • Torture
  • Battering
  • Threats with weapons
  • Sexual Abuse
  • Confinement
  • Forced Use of Drugs
  • Forced Abortions
  • Denial of Medical Care


How this might sound coming from the trafficker:  

“You can’t leave this room till you make your quota.”

“You’re not dying, you don’t need to go to the doctor” 

“you have to take a hit to cool off, you will make more money when you’re chill.” 

“no face, no case.  You back out I’ll kill you.” 

“I’ll give you your fix once you make your quota.” 

“You can only do in calls, no leaving the room till you earn my trust.” 

“You don’t need a baby in the ‘the lie’  go get rid of that.” 



  • Contract Signed for Legitimate Work
  • Promised Job Differs From actuality
  • Promises of Money or Salary 
  • Misrepresentation of Work Conditions
  • Wooing into a Romantic Relationship


How this might sound coming from the trafficker:  

“you will do this for us, because I love you. We are a Team” 

I’ll help you set up your own business.” 

“Sing this modeling contract, that’s all you have to do.” 

“you are in  control of your own body, you only do what you want, when you want.” 

“Will make so much money.” 

“You will make $1000 a night” 

“I’ll fly you out here to be a promoter” 

“You’re going to get paid to party.” 

“I promise you will be famous.” 

“I’m your King and you are my Queen, do this for me.” 



  • Debt Bondage
  • Threats of Harm to Victim or Family
  • Control of Children
  • Controlled Communication
  • Photographing in Illegal Situations 
  • Holding ID/Travel Documents
  • Verbal or Psychological Abuse
  • Control of Victims’ Money
  • Punishments for Misbehavior


How this might sound coming from the trafficker:  

“I will hold your ID to keep it safe while you’re working.” 

“I’m the manager, money comes to me first.” 

“You have to pay for the pictures I took for you.” 

“If you don’t make the quota and pay me back I’ll your family.” 

“You use your hoe phone for work and if you earn it I’ll let you have your other phone back.” 

“You make your quota or I will give your kid to Child Services and tell them what you do for a living.” 

“You’re a disgusting hoe, you can’t get a real job.” 

“If you look other men in the eye besides Daddy, you will be beat.” 


What Next? 


When a situation is identified as a probable trafficking scenario, it is crucial to adhere to your department's procedures for handling such cases. Typically, an on-call vice or human trafficking detective agent will be assigned to confirm the situation and question the victim. These officers are often specially trained in identification and victim-centric interviewing techniques, which greatly aid in conducting a thorough investigation.


Additionally, victim services will likely be contacted and dispatched to provide assistance to the victim, should she be willing to accept it. This support can be invaluable in helping her navigate the difficult circumstances she has encountered.


It is essential to remember that each department may have its own specific protocols for handling trafficking cases. Following these procedures diligently ensures that the victim receives the appropriate care, and that the investigation proceeds smoothly. By working together, law enforcement professionals and victim services can make a significant impact in combating human trafficking and supporting survivors on their path to recovery.