CT launches task force to prevent human trafficking in Hartford area

Chief State's Attorney Patrick Griffin, left, Krystal Rich, executive director of the Connecticut Children's Alliance, and Hartford State's Attorney Sharmese Walcott announced Wednesday the creation of a regional task force to combat human trafficking in the greater Hartford area. 

Chief State's Attorney Patrick Griffin, left, Krystal Rich, executive director of the Connecticut Children's Alliance, and Hartford State's Attorney Sharmese Walcott announced Wednesday the creation of a regional task force to combat human trafficking in the greater Hartford area. 

Lisa Backus/Hearst Connecticut Media

In 2014, officials say Connecticut's 17 teams of police and service providers dealing with child abuse across the state investigated or provided services for nine cases of child trafficking. 

By 2022, the number rose to 92, according to Krystal Rich, executive director of the Connecticut Children's Alliance. 

"That number isn't even scratching the surface," Rich told a group of police, policymakers and prosecutors on Wednesday. "There is still an enhanced response needed." 

Rich, along with Hartford State's Attorney Sharmese Walcott, Chief State's Attorney Patrick Griffin, eight Hartford area police chiefs, officers, representatives from the state Department of Children and Families and service providers on Wednesday announced the creation of the Regionalized Human Trafficking Recovery Task Force, a unit that will investigate sex and labor trafficking in the greater Hartford area and connect victims with services. 

It's a new way of dealing with a crime that is often in the shadows, Griffin said.

"There was a need in the greater Hartford region to come up with a new approach," Griffin said. "We have to think aggressively on not only how we can end human trafficking, but also address the needs of those victims." 

The investigations and services will be victim-centered and trauma-informed, he said. "We're hoping to create a model for how to handle these cases that can not only be used in the Hartford area, but throughout the state," Griffin said. 

Connecticut has seen some high-profile sex trafficking cases in recent years, including the 2021 arrest of fired CNN producer John Griffin, a former Norwalk and Stamford resident, on federal charges he was luring women and their young daughters to his Vermont ski home for "sexual training." One of his victims is suing on claims he forced her to commit sex acts when she was 9. 

Red flags for human trafficking include the victim has a controlling partner or parent who won't allow them to meet or speak with anyone alone, youths who repeatedly run away, the presence of an older partner or friend, significant changes in behavior or family relationships, a person who participates in commercial sex but is afraid or unable to leave or the person works in a strip club or industry where they feel pressure to perform sex acts for money, according to a flyer the task force plans to distribute. 

Signs of labor trafficking include victims owing money to their employer or are not paid what they were promised, the victim living in isolated or dangerous conditions provided by their employer, the victim being threatened by their employer with deportation or harm, the victim does not have control of or access to identity documents or the person is not allowed adequate breaks while at work. 

It's not just an urban problem, Walcott said. East Hartford had 31 percent of the 61 referrals for services and investigations since the task force officially began work on Jan. 4, she said. Hartford had 28 percent of the referrals, Manchester and West Hartford each had 10 percent and Bloomfield had 5 percent, she said. 

The eight police departments, Hartford, East Hartford, Manchester, West Hartford, Glastonbury, Windsor, South Windsor and Bloomfield, each will provide a detective who can seek the help of other detectives in the group while investigating sex or labor trafficking in their community. 

CCA, a non-profit dedicated to ending child abuse, was heavily involved in creating the task force and will provide guidance to law enforcement and services, Rich said. There will be two tracks for investigations — the first would involve police "extracting" a victim from a dangerous situation and the second would be to provide services. 

Not every case would involve prosecution, but there would be a greater emphasis on shared and collected data, cooperation across jurisdictions, since the crime often spans multiple communities and increased training to recognize the signs of sex or labor trafficking, the group said. There will also be input from federal authorities and a task force coordinator paid through a federal grant. 

The task force will accept referrals from law enforcement, service providers and community members who have concerns that someone is being trafficked. 

"It's one of the most vile crimes there is, and it exists," Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin said. The task force will allow more people to learn the signs and allow detectives to follow up on suspected cases, he said. "As horrific as the crime of human trafficking is, we sometimes miss it," Bronin said. 

The problem is that up until this point, there has been a lack of funding to provide services to victims who are disproportionately young women and children of color, Walcott and Rich said.

"When we do identify a victim, there isn't housing or food to meet their needs, especially if it's a 12:30 or 1 a.m.," Walcott said. 

Police chiefs across the board said they recognize a regional model with everyone working together is likely the best way to address the issue.

"This problem exists," Manchester Police Chief William Darby said. "It's very underreported, with everyone working together, it's going to be more successful." 

Anyone who has a concern about human trafficking can contact the Regionalized Human Trafficking Recovery Task Force at DCJ.RHTRTaskforce@ct.gov or 860-951-9407. If the situation is an emergency, call 911.