Human Trafficking Training Pays Off
02/10/2011 - BALTIMORE, Md. - An environmental specialist in the Planning Division never expected the Department of Defense training in "Recognizing Human Trafficking" to affect her personally.
However, after hearing a longtime friend talk about the strange things he had observed at his new job, she became suspicious that it was all a front for human trafficking.
Gina Bergner was recently in California for a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers conference when she reconnected with a friend who works as an accountant for a refugee assistance program.
He had recently been hired to resolve various contracting and financial matters for the nonprofit organization, and had become suspicious of its labor practices and accounting methods.
"My friend didn't know if it was incompetence or malfeasance, but within a few months, he knew something was not quite right," she said.
The organization assists refugees from disaster zones and war-torn areas in the Middle East, Africa and Southeast Asia.
The refugees are given a variety of assistance, including job and language training, medical care and housing. The agency receives both public and private funding, and its staff includes an international collection of refugee relocation experts, social and health workers, and support personnel.
In conversation, Bergner's friend mentioned a number of "red flags" from the training.
All of the refugees were women and children. All of them were from desperately impoverished and war-torn regions of the world. And all of them were completely dependent on the organization for relocation assistance.
One manager drove very expensive cars, and after working hours, he was routinely accompanied by groups of young refugee women. Another manager seemed to spend most of his time arranging to move women and girls between housing, but none of the expenses were noted in the organization's paperwork.
"At first, my friend was concerned about the organization's potential financial improprieties," Bergner said. "He didn't want any part of that. But after we talked a bit, a lot of things started falling in place, and it seemed like there was more going on than shady contracts and fraudulent billing."
Having recently taken the human trafficking training online, Bergner decided that this sounded like a "perfect set-up" for human trafficking. With this in mind, she went to a computer search engine and typed "how to report human trafficking."
In just a few clicks, she arrived at the website to report human trafficking and other crimes to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. She filled in what she recalled from her conversations with her friend.
An FBI agent contacted her the next business day.
"I didn't know if anyone would take any interest in my report," she said, "so I was pleasantly reassured when I got a call back within about 12 hours. That's how it's supposed to work."
Her friend, now more aware of the issue, is providing information to the FBI and has decided to stay on at the job in the hopes of helping law enforcement get to the bottom of it all.
"I never, in my wildest dreams, thought I would recognize a possible human trafficking situation," Bergner said. "I thought that training was for personnel on R&R overseas, but you never know. The number of people required to take the DoD training should help get the message to all the dark corners of the world - including some in our own country."
The training link is accessed via Army Knowledge Online at https://www.us.army.mil/. In the search dialog box, type "Combating Trafficking in Persons" and select the briefing at the next screen.
Annual human trafficking training pays off
Artice from the web site of the Baltimore District, US Army Corps of Engineers
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