D.C. Task Force fights trafficking in own backyard
February is Black History Month. We are focusing our blog this month on issues related to the African American community, including child sex trafficking in Washington, D.C., a city with a 50 percent African-American population.
Ari Redbord is the Assistant United States Attorney for the District of Columbia. The United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia serves as both the local and federal prosecutor for the nation’s capital. On the local side, prosecutions extend from misdemeanor drug possession cases to murders. On the federal side, prosecutions extend from child pornography to terrorism.
In May 2011, Robert Brathwaite, a 35-year-old trafficker also known as “Smoke,” first encountered his victim, a 14-year-old runaway. The child, who had run away from home in another state, was living in an apartment in Washington, D.C. Braithwaite and a companion transported the victim to various places in Washington, D.C. and Maryland for purposes of sex.
As a prosecutor at the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia, I have had the ability to focus on crimes involving child exploitation. Through that lens I have seen some of the darkest corners of our city and of the human spirit. This is perhaps most true in cases involving the trafficking of minors. Traffickers feed off of the insecurities and a lack of the most basic human needs – food, shelter and love – to prey on our community’s most vulnerable victims.
Since its inception in 2004, the D.C. Human Trafficking Task Force has been recognized by the Department of Justice as one of the most active, aggressive and productive human trafficking task forces in the nation. It is a national model for investigating and prosecuting cases of domestic sex trafficking involving the commercial exploitation of children.
Joining forces in victim-centered response
The D.C. Task Force has become a national leader in organizing a collaborative effort to strengthen criminal investigations and prosecutions of human traffickers with a victim-centered approach. The D.C. Task Force, one of the largest anti-human trafficking organizations in the world, has a membership of over 20 government agencies and 35 non-governmental organizations.
One of those members is the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department. On May 31, 2011, the victim being trafficked by Robert Brathwaite was picked up by astute D.C. Metropolitan Police officers for truancy when they identified the victim as too young to be walking the streets late at night. An investigation led police to Brathwaite, who was located close to where the child was. Brathwaite was arrested and plead guilty to federal charges of sex trafficking of children, transportation of a minor for the purpose of prostitution and possession of a firearm.
This is just one example of the steps our members take to protect these child victims and get those exploiting them off the streets.
As Coordinator of the D.C. Task Force, it is my job to bring together law enforcement and non-governmental entities to combat this scourge and serve victims of human trafficking.
Organizations like the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children shine a light on the danger to these vulnerable victims. Specifically, NCMEC is rightfully focused on the most vulnerable victims – those relegated to foster care, runaway and throwaway youth.
Learn more about the D.C. Human Trafficking Task Force, their members and the work they do to keep children safe on their website.