On October 12, 2021, a human trafficking victim filed a lawsuit under pseudonym Jane Doe against two police officers in Fairfax, Virginia. Jane Doe came to the United States from Costa Rica in 2010 when she was approached by Hazel Marie Sanchez Cerdas and her husband about a job as an escort. However, when Doe arrived in Fairfax, she was trafficked under the threat that Cerdas would harm her family in Costa Rica. While Doe was being trafficked, she claimed that two police officers were involved. The officers would allegedly warn Cerdas when the Fairfax Police Department would do sex trafficking stings and searches of Backpage.com or Eros.com. Doe further alleges that the officers participated in Cerdas’ sex trafficking operation by raping Doe and other victims. It was not until 2015 that Doe was able to escape her trafficker, and she reported Cerdas to law enforcement. In February of 2019, Cerdas was indicted for human trafficking and other related charges. She was eventually sentenced to thirty months imprisonment for trafficking offenses in August 2019. Notably, the Fairfax police officers were not charged, despite an FBI Public Corruptions Division investigation into their actions.
While some news sources have claimed that the officers were “complicit in protecting the human trafficking ring,” it should be made clear that the alleged actions of the Fairfax police officers constitutes human trafficking. The Virginia criminal statute includes encouraging unlawful sexual intercourse in the act of human trafficking. Therefore, when the officers allegedly warned Cerdas about trafficking stings, they actively encouraged a human trafficking ring, which makes them guilty of human trafficking themselves. Understanding the definition of human trafficking is vital when reporting on such issues, because downplaying a human trafficker’s actions misrepresents the severity of the crime.
This case also illustrates the need to address a police officer’s role in human trafficking cases. All too often, a victim’s interaction with the police is harmful. In Oklahoma, Officer Daniel Holtzclaw was sentenced to 263 years in prison after being convicted of 18 counts of sexual assault and/or rape. Sexual violence is the second most common type of violence reported to be committed by police officers, second only to excessive force. In fact, a law enforcement official is caught in an instance of sexual misconduct every five days. Sexual violence perpetrated by law enforcement can take many shapes, including encouraging sexual encounters with undercover police officers, to sexual violence against people in custody. Police sexual violence is often targeted at a more vulnerable class of victims such as people in prostitution and those who are victims of human trafficking.
Police involvement in human trafficking rings is evidence of how pervasive sexual exploitation is. Police sexual violence is especially abhorrent because of the power imbalance between perpetrator and victim. Police often prey on victims who are especially vulnerable because they are facing arrest and criminal charges. Law enforcement should not be a tool for further traumatization. The CSE Institute supports and commends survivors seeking to hold their exploiters, no matter who they are, accountable in both the criminal and civil courts.