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Robina Conference Mini-Series Number 2: Prosecuting Sex Trafficking: Diverting Victims, Deterring Demand and Targeting Traffickers, Panel 2

Posted: October 13, 2016

Welcome back! This is the second installment of a month-long series presenting the videos from the Robina Conference, held on June 24, 2016 at the Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law. The CSE Institute collaborated with the Robina Institute of Criminal Law and Criminal Justice to host a conference entitled Commercial Sexual Exploitation: Shifting Perspectives and Policing Practices. During the conference, panelists discussed the changing law enforcement practices, policies, and reform strategies for handing cases related to commercial sexual exploitation.

This week, the CSE Institute invites you to watch the second panel, “Prosecuting Sex Trafficking: Diverting Victims, Deterring Demand and Targeting Traffickers.” The panelists include Dalia Racine, the Deputy Chief Assistant District Attorney of the Dekalb County District Attorney’s Office in Decatur, Georgia; Amanda Rodriguez, Chief Program Officer at TurnAround, Inc. in Baltimore, Maryland; and Robert Schopf, Deputy District Attorney of the Lehigh County District Attorney’s Office in Lehigh County, Pennsylvania. Shea Rhodes, Director of the CSE Institute, served as panel moderator. The panelists, each with experience prosecuting cases against traffickers, discussed effective trial strategies and the importance of involving the survivor at every stage of the trial process.

All three panelists speak about the unique challenges associated with prosecuting cases involving commercial sexual exploitation and sex trafficking. Each repeatedly stress the importance of listening to the survivors’ voices throughout the trial process, treating them with dignity and respect. Emphasizing the importance of respecting survivor trauma, panelist Robert Schopf notes, “The single greatest hurdle to prosecuting these cases is cooperative victims” and recommends prosecutors build cases that does not rest solely on survivor testimony. The panelists suggest that prosecutors can build the essential relationship with survivors by clearly communicating with them and recognizing the effect that the trafficker may still have them in the courtroom. Beyond prosecuting the trafficker, the prosecutor can also act a resource for the survivor during their transition out of “the life.”

The traffickers were consistently described as “master manipulators.” For example, when describing cross-examining a trafficker, panelist Amanda Rodriguez, former Baltimore City prosecutor and Chief Program Officer at TurnAround, Inc., stated:

He was a master manipulator—he tried to manipulate every single person. I watched him look very strategically at every single female on the jury panel. Because he knew he just needed one… And so when I got up to cross-examine him… there was no emotion at all except for respect for me because I was the prosecutor. He really thought that by telling me his story, I would come to his side.

Throughout the panel, both of the other panelists echoed this character analysis as well.

The panelists also highlighted the importance of using expert witnesses to “put a face” on trafficking and to educate the jury about what human trafficking really looks like and the trauma that it creates. In prosecutions for other crimes, the victim is typically the first witness called by the prosecution. In contrast, the panelists explained that in trafficking prosecutions they strategically call the expert witness to testify first. For instance, panelist Dalia Racine explained how she likes to “bookend” expert witnesses at trial by presenting expert testimony both before and after the survivor testifies. An expert witness’s testimony can help the jury fully understand the victim’s testimony and explain possible inconsistencies or flat affect that may occur. Panelist Robert Schopf explained that prosecutors can also effectively use expert witnesses to “combat public opinion” about who a trafficking victim actually is –thereby invalidating the misconception that sex trafficking couldn’t happen in the juror’s own community.

By educating the jury about the trauma and psychological damage that affects survivors of human trafficking and working to mitigate the trafficker’s influence on the survivor, the panelists encourage prosecutors to employ these trial tactics in their jurisdictions to increase convictions for traffickers.

Our panel included:

  • Robert Schopf, Deputy District Attorney, Lehigh County District Attorney’s Office (Lehigh County, Pennsylvania)
  • Amanda Rodriguez, Chief Program Officer, TurnAround Inc. (Baltimore, Maryland)
  • Dalia Racine, Deputy Chief Assistant Attorney, Dekalb County District Attorney’s Office (Decatur, Georgia)
  • Moderator: Shea Rhodes, Director, Villanova University Charles Widger Law School’s Institute to Address Commercial Sexual Exploitation

Watch Panel 2, Prosecuting Sex Trafficking: Diverting Victims Deterring Demand and Targeting Traffickers.

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