Full Access to Alia El-Sawi

Episode 25

Full Access to Alia El-Sawi
Episode Summary

One of the biggest challenges in helping victims of human trafficking is reiterating the importance of a victim-centered approach. When law enforcement agents are new to human trafficking, they must remember that someone is not in a sex-trafficking position because they want to be. A lot of manipulation is behind the situation, along with prior trauma that may have led that individual to their awful situation. 

These cases differ from other investigations, such as drugs, guns, and gangs. They affect human lives, and these individuals will be the key to making the case. When working with these human trafficking cases, there needs to be an element of compassion while also being careful about removing biases.

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Show Notes

[01:09] Profile of this episode’s guest: Alia El-Sawi – Victim Assistance Specialist at Homeland Security Investigations

  • Alia has been a Victim Assistance Specialist with Homeland Security Investigations since 2010.
  • Before her work with HSI, she served as the Anti-Human Trafficking Program Coordinator for a nonprofit organization called Tapestri.
  • She has received many awards and recognitions, including Georgia Trend’s “Top 40 Under 40” Georgians, Islamic Speakers Bureau of Atlanta’s “Top 40 under 40”, and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Directors Award. 


[02:29] What is human trafficking?

  • While human trafficking and human smuggling can be related, they are different. Both may involve movement of some sort. However, smuggling generally is done with the goal of the person having a better quality of life. Human trafficking consists of an ulterior motive by the trafficker to exploit the individual.
  • With human trafficking, the individual may not understand or fully know they’re being brought somewhere for an exploitative purpose. They may have been promised a job, but that job ends up looking very different.
  • Labor trafficking is a form of human trafficking that uses force, fraud, or coercion to recruit individuals for some particular employment where the individuals end up in servitude.
  • Sex trafficking involves commercial sex, where an individual is forced into what some refer to as forced prostitution.


[11:25] Alia’s role at Tapestri and journey to Homeland Security Investigations

  • Alia started working in the anti-human trafficking field with Tapestri, a nonprofit, nongovernmental organization based in Atlanta, Georgia.
  • At Tapestri, Alia provided direct services for survivors of both labor trafficking and sex trafficking of juveniles and adults, specifically within the various immigrant and refugee communities.
  • Because of her work with Tapestri, Alia spent a lot of time building connections with local, state, and federal law enforcement. She referred case after case that agents could successfully present to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, which successfully prosecuted.
  • When the role of Victim Assistance Specialist opened in Atlanta, the supervisor and Assistant Special Agent in Charge approached Alia about the position.


[19:00] Services available to those who have been victims of human trafficking

  • Most of the time, Alia relies on the networks and resources she’s built over the years that continue with the nonprofit world, direct service providers, child advocacy centers, and expands into the medical realm.
  • Alia works with many medical professionals, such as behavioral health and substance abuse facilities. 
  • Many faith-based communities are willing and eager to help the efforts by providing volunteers.
  • Sometimes services look like anything from food banks to language access through English as a second language classes for an individual.

[26:35] Staying motivated in difficult cases

  • People ask Alia how she keeps from being depressed about such a heavy topic. She hangs on to the success stories because she knows people can escape their darkest days and walk into the light.
  • There was one case that followed Alia as she moved from Tapestri to HSI. She saw the young lady go through the process and get the resources she needed to grow into a young lady doing exceptionally well.


[30:03] The role of mobile forensics in human trafficking cases

  • With the internet, there is, unfortunately, easier access to a variety of people. Many are recruited online through various means of social media.
  • Social media with messaging, video, or photo capabilities are a breeding ground for trafficking and create an easier way for traffickers to infiltrate and start casual conversations with both adults and juveniles.
  • Cell phones are a vital component of human trafficking investigations. Having the information on cell phones is the easiest way to unveil more of what’s happening.


[37:23] The future of fighting human trafficking

  • Continue to raise awareness. As a country, the U.S. has come a long way in building awareness. Even globally, many strides have been taken to advance the fight.
  • All sorts of legislation are being passed that help provide additional resources for the victims. 
  • Dispelling human trafficking myths will help accurately detect what human trafficking is so more people can know what some of the red flags are and refer cases to help provide victims with the help they need.

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