Stephany Powell and Eleanor Gaetan

Recorded April 14, 2021 Archived April 13, 2021 36:36 minutes
0:00 / 0:00
Id: ddv000656


Friends and colleagues Stephany Powell (64) and Eleanor Gaetan (60) talk about their respective roles in anti-trafficking work. Stephany reflects on how she came to understand trafficking during her time in the LAPD, and Eleanor discusses the increasing prevalence of human trafficking online as technology continues to advance.

Subject Log / Time Code

Stephany reflects on how she came to understand what human trafficking is during her time in the LAPD.
Eleanor talks about the Trafficking Victims Protection Act and the common misconceptions about where human trafficking does or does not happen.
Stephany talks about retiring from the LAPD and becoming an advocate in the field of human trafficking. She reflects on her realization that human trafficking is not something that "could be arrested away."
Stephany talks about the time period where she was making arrests in cases of human trafficking.
Eleanor discusses some of the disconnects in how human trafficking is viewed and handled by both the. government and law enforcement.
Stephany and Eleanor discuss criminalization of prostitution and share their fears about the implications of full decriminalization.
Eleanor explains how online trafficking is monitored and how, often, online trafficking exposes more traffickers than other methods.
Stephany talks about the need for federal support in cases of human trafficking, and Eleanor expands on the prevalence of online trafficking as technology continues to advance.


  • Stephany Powell
  • Eleanor Gaetan

Partnership Type

Fee for Service



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00:01 I'm Eleanor Kennelly, guyatone at the national Center on sexual exploitation. I'm 60. And today is dated. What is Wednesday, April 14th 2021. I'm in Washington DC and I'm recording with Stephanie. Powell was a colleague.

00:16 And my name is Stephanie, Powell. I am 64 years old. I'm older than Eleanor. Today's date is Wednesday, April 14th, 2021. I am in Los Angeles, California. And my recording partner is Eleanor kid time, and that's it.

00:44 Stephany, I admire you for so many reasons, but one is that you were on the Los Angeles Police Department. So I want to know what it was like to police the crime of human trafficking in the Arts like 2005 s.

01:02 Well, so, you know, interesting enough and, you know, I'll although I hate to admit it because of what I know now, but it also gives me a historical perspective of a human trafficking in law enforcement is that I just thought of it as your pimping in, in in prostitution. And that's kind of how it was looked upon. And so, in my, in my around that time in 05, I was in charge of training for all of the San Fernando Valley divisions in other places, they call the precinct. And like I said, like I said in in conversations that you and I have had before, if I had known, then what I know. Now, I would have really pushed that we have a full understanding of human trafficking domestically, I think law enforcement as well as myself, just understood a thought of human trafficking is being that thing that was happening overseas.

02:02 So if you didn't come over in a cargo ship, you know, all the bowels of some ship or in the back of some truck. You know, that wasn't human trafficking. If you were walking a prostitution track that definitely wasn't human trafficking. As a matter of fact, it was a crime. It was a crime of prostitution, something where people needed to be arrested. So, you know, that just kind of gives you a layout and we've talked before of where I've come from and where I am now,

02:39 See you had a daily experience or or weekly experience of sex trafficking. Did you run into labor trafficking in LAPD?

02:49 I'm not laughing because it's funny, Ha-Ha. But oh my God, I think about this story once I realized. So I became the sergeant in charge of a vice unit in 2013. And I remember this is so crazy. Now that I think about it, you know, we work on your cover when we working by and we saw the fire department and they were putting out a fire in this, you know, you have those those shopping, the small shopping centers.

03:25 And so there was a small fire wasn't like a blaze. And what we're seeing these people, fall out of this this business. Now keep in mind. It's midnight.

03:37 And so when and I to Blanchette Park right now, I mean they had like they had a duffel bags and but you could tell they were moving their personal stuff, but there was like 15 of them and they were Mexican Nationals, right? And so I asked the guy from the fire department today, like what happened here? And he said, well, they were all living in the Attic of this business right now. Sergeant in charge of buy-side, Ben invites for about 2 years and I'm going well, that sounds kind of odd and I'm thinking possibly

04:25 Labor related.

04:28 But didn't know exactly what you do with it because I had no training on labor. And you know what? We just watched those people walk down the street and disappear. I know now, I'm horrified because what happened to those people. If I had the training and end known the resource of food, all I would have done that. So it wasn't even a thought in a my, my team. And I are looking at each other go online.

05:01 This doesn't feel right, but we do know what to do. And the rest was not even a topic within that conversation with us. The conversation was more of. I don't even know how to help these people. So I think about that story and I think about, you know, then that's why I'm so invested in police training with a victim centered approach because that story, it really haunts me to this day. Nobody spoke English. I had Spanish speakers on my team that talk to them, but that's great to talk somebody. You don't know the right questions to ask Natalie. So, you know, so that I that would probably one that I

05:47 Man, that was horrible. What were they doing in that business?

05:53 It was cuz I can't I can't remember now. I don't remember. It was like a furniture store, whatever kind of business. It was. It wouldn't make sense for somebody to be living there. Like I said, there was no connection between them and that business per se which is even worse because now that you asked me that question those people could have been. Oh my God, those people could have been

06:20 Forced to stay there because they were about to be moved somewhere else. You've no idea. You didn't ask the, right questions. Didn't know. Didn't ask the right questions. We said, bye-bye. It was like 12:30 almost 1 in the morning, fire department, didn't ask any questions. They just send them on their way. Put out the fire and that was it. So again, I'm not laughing, because it's funny because it's not, I'm laughing, because I'm not laughing, but it's more of a nervous, kind of like, oh my God, right? So yeah.

06:58 It reminds me of something that was sort of a wild fact about the human trafficking issue. Congress passed an excellent Landmark bill in 2019, victims protection act.

07:13 And it was inspired by things.

07:17 Ngos World Vision Christian organizations. Feminists were seeing around the world, especially in the former Soviet Union. They were seeing promises made to people who knew didn't know enough to be skeptical and they were sort of Lord, to other countries with Promises of babysitting jobs, or or restaurant work or elder care, and it kept being something different. It kept being exploited of abusive very often in the commercial, sex trade in Western Europe or turkey. So these stories were brought back to Congress and Congress acted on tails.

07:56 Of exploitation abroad with very little basically. No thought that this could be a domestic problem. So I worked at the state department in the human trafficking office and every now and then we would get the question in 2003 or 2004 has happened here at home.

08:12 And I I remember my boss Ambassador John Miller saying we heard about a case of a young woman. She was going to do karaoke and Japan and so she liked traveled from the Midwest to Japan to do karaoke, but she got pulled into this whole brothel situation. So she was thinking of, if it could be American problem. It had to be girls being traffic abroad from the US. And just we did not have a sense of the domestic nature or or American demographics of human trafficking. Really since 2005 and say, Carolyn Maloney the New York congresswoman who is very passionate about this issue. She added a title to the TV, PA in 2005 is that this is a domestic problem.

09:03 Well, keep in mind. I didn't know anything about the TV PA, honestly.

09:11 Until I started it a journey out. So that would have been about 2013-2014.

09:19 Okay, that's part of your bio such a fasting part of your bio. You left LAPD and you could have done anything in the world and you decided to take charge of an NGO Journey out helping mostly women were exiting prostitution. What made you decide to?

09:40 Take such a task on.

09:43 Wow, you know it was

09:47 So you're asking me that question, so many faces of people pop in my head of those that you know, I arrested the youngest one that I ever arrested was 12 years old. It wasn't anything for us to rest of 12 13, 14 year old and drop them right off at you at juvenile hall. We look to see if they were missing if there was a missing report on them and there was no missing report on them, you know, again not knowing what services were available, the only service we knew it was against the law and then go to juvenile hall.

10:29 You know? And and that was it, I think for me and I think I told you this story before, was the area that I was in charge of was San Fernando Valley, which is a pretty predominantly predominantly white and Hispanic some blacks, but they're in the minority, the majority of African-Americans live in South Central, LA, which is where I'm from the majority of the women that we were resting from South Central LA, even though they were in the San Fernando Valley, which is conceivably 30 to 40 minutes away. And keep in mind they didn't have cars so that that they were being dropped off their right. And so I would have these conversations with them because

11:23 You know, I never meet a stranger and I probably have talked people to death on their way to jail.

11:35 Get me. There are people like, you know, and not, and not in a judgmental scolding way, but just, I think from me, I wanted people to feel. This might sound weird, feel comfortable going to jail, like, right? Like I wanted to take away that Fear Factor from them. I wanted them. I didn't want them to be afraid if it's out of, that makes it. So, therefore, I would engage them in conversation and I kind of want to know about them, and then I didn't mind telling him a little bit about me. So resting, again, like I said, we're from South Central LA and because I would talk to them, I realized that this was not an issue that could be arrested away, because then I started finding out the circumstances basically of why they were even in it. And keep in mind, when I first headed to spice unit. It was my assumption that everybody, that was walking that street because the blade.

12:35 Anybody that was walking the blade, they were there by choice. They want to be there and you break the law. We are rescue.

12:43 Quickly, I realized that there were other reasons why they were out on the blade. And those reasons were anything from being driven from property and are being in love with your pimp and being placed out there. Right? So they were so many other factors and arrest, wasn't the key answer. And so many of them didn't want to do what they would do. If that was very clear it, even if they didn't speak it, it was clear in their their tone or just through our conversation. And so that's when I started kind of seeking out.

13:20 Ways to be able to put the two and two together and see, I was a schoolteacher before. I was a cop.

13:26 So, it always and listen, this is crazy. I always wanted to be a social worker. My frame of comfort to be able to have this interaction with with people that I was arresting. So, the organization Journey out. You should call the Mary Magdalene project in and so I use them as a resource and sometimes if I didn't have to make an arrest I didn't I will call them to either get them back home or, you know, damn maybe have them come pick them up. Now. Keep in mind. This is like around while this is I got the journey out in 2013. So this before 2013 between 2008 and 2013. So this was at a time where law enforcement wasn't working with nonprofits in this capacity, right? So this is

14:26 Really, now that I look back on it, people aren't really doing this. Well, I wasn't doing it for the reason to be recognized for doing it. I was doing it because I saw that, I don't want to leave a girl in a hotel room with no money and everybody else baby getting arrested and I just leave her there and she's from out of town. So it was great to be able to call somebody for a resource. So I think for that reason and and knowing that there were so many girls that look like me, that that were becoming victims of this thing.

15:03 It is something that has never left me since it's just wanting to really do that awareness. Prevention piece to make sure that nobody else gets caught up in this whole victimization of of human trafficking cell.

15:22 Good night. I'm putting the girls away and not the, not the not the John although I although I made sure that, you know, everybody went to jail, so nice, we would just do, we would just do John's the customers, some nice. We would just do the girls. Some days. We would hit the the passage there listed massage establishment. So we would, you know what? I make sure we switched it around because there was like a part of me even though I didn't really fully understand again, no training, but there was something about me, a boy, like you would keep it all week. She will rest in the girls. With these guys are the ones that need to go to jail. And then, let me tell you.

16:08 If you are customer John in my area you were getting but you didn't get like a stick, it and be on your way you were getting booked and and your car was getting impounded and we made sure we sent a letter home.

16:27 Saying that your car got impounded because you got arrested for solicitation of prostitution. So I got I got all the in Illinois was crazy. My team was like and they were all into it cuz I could have picked but people and we all thought alike but yet we were all different. We are all different. Ethnically. We were different in ages but we had in common, although we knew that this was a crime. We also knew that there was some victimization involved in it as well.

17:03 To you, wanted to see that accountability.

17:08 Yeah, that was important to me know you guys seen on your level.

17:15 So in about 2010,

17:18 Of course, the US established leadership around the world in framing. The problem of human trafficking as something that required the so-called three Pieris Ponce, you got to prosecute, you got to protect and you have to prevent

17:34 And we were pressing that on Nations across the world and the trafficking and victims office, wrote a tip report trafficking in persons report worldwide. Meanwhile, back at the ranch. We weren't judging the US wasn't like the US was on the list. I think that's something Secretary of State Hillary Clinton introduced. That she said you asked should be judged as well as other country. So that was that was the point of improvement. I'm just fascinated though. My fear is that the federal government has been has taken great leadership worldwide. And in many ways domestically, once we saw that, the elements of coercion and fraud and 4th r at work. So often, especially in the commercial sex trade, we began

18:32 Identifying sex trafficking as an American phenomenon, but what happened is this communication between the federal level and doj, you know down here on the mall and where the rubber meets the road where the local cops are seeing this problem on the ground. I'll never forget an FBI agent, telling me he could pick up many miners every night, Las Vegas, if there was even one bed in Las Vegas. And that was about 2008. So so we were getting FBI agents, who were very educated.

19:08 But they had no place to put somebody. You've been beat up by her pimp, you know, until incarceration was being used.

19:18 As for service provision, I hear you have somebody has been badly treated and they end up in jail because there's no place else to go. I'll never forget what someone said, they're far more shelters for dogs, then beds for people who've been exploited in the commercial sex, right? Because honestly, just right now, when you were talking, the, the light bulb went on, when you were talking about Hillary Clinton because that field in the Gap, that filled in the gaps, for me to understand why I did not know. So this, this law had been around for what you're saying and and the United States was like here, that's what those people are doing over there. So we're going to regulate them. She says, do we need to regulate us five years after this thing was first started, right?

20:19 Now, I understand why I didn't know, because what was the, the feeling of is this is kind of vessel in the human trafficking. That's why d o j at FBI is not LAPD. So for it to be human trafficking, it would have to be this huge big taste as opposed to what I was seeing on the local level every day. And that's where the disconnect comes in for local law enforcement. Because when V get in that means, is that this is a big deal. No, I actually seen this every day on the blade, and I need to remember that story. That was told you about watch saying, bye-bye and watch what you can put down the street.

21:10 Is this one of those human trafficking now?

21:22 Where I think is so important. Like you were saying and we said before, there's got to be this connection where it's not the feds up here. This is their issue and people that are a little town. I'll just a little town in America, will never see it because if this thing is so grandiose as opposed to seeing it, as this is how we every day everywhere and you don't have to be an expert to touch it because that's the other thing that happens in law enforcement, you know, we're expected to fix all the problems in the end. You know, I've said this before you were expected to fix all the problems and we think of things in terms of black and white, no Shades of Gray, so it's either legal.

22:06 Or is it, is it has criminal or civil don't know much about what to do with civil but not a whole lot about what to do with criminal and if it falls in between, I don't know what to do it all. And in some cases it becomes because I don't know what to do at all. I won't do anything. So it's not so much and some people perceive that as not caring.

22:31 Is quite the opposite, is because I care so much and I don't know what to do.

22:37 If I go into denial, I won't feel as bad about not doing anything.

22:44 And if that makes sense, it makes sense that the Contemporary very hot issue right now. So we have around the country jurisdictions that

22:56 They want to change the way policing is done and one really recent idea has been. Okay, let's stop arresting people around minor offenses. Like prostitution. What do you think of that initiative? Which received that between Baltimore Baltimore and I think la

23:23 What?

23:25 Is that a good response to the lot of us feel like we need less incarceration as a society. And that incarceration is to filter is to race.

23:37 So while we can all agree on that, what do you think will be the impact on sex-trafficking, for example, of the attitude, prostitution is a victimless crime.

23:49 So I don't think prostitution, is it is a victimless crime, of course, to me. And in this way. I love to frame it. This way is that it's a human rights issue because there is violence involved, this kidnapping, there's murder that's all Incorporated, not only with prostitution but within human trafficking as well ride, and it's only people who said you can't have one without the other

24:21 Although in in in law enforcement counterparts will say the same thing. Okay, if if I have to live with not arresting prostitute of people there, they're good with that. The problem is it. So then, you know, it becomes like but then how do we identify them? Because quite often and I'll put on my nonprofit had just for a minute, we had to drop Inn Center. We hardly had anybody coming to the drop-in center because so often human trafficking victims, don't self-identify how you ended up. Finding them is when you do a sting which I know people hate hearing that but also I've had survivors, they had I not been arrested. I never would have gotten the help and services that I need it ride. So it has two couple. So the problem for me is that when I think that there would be no. I told her the criminalization where the the Champs on going to jail the customer.

25:21 Nobody's going to jail. It's just legal.

25:25 I think when that happens, we all know that there's illegal stuff that happens under a legal umbrella. I mean look at the D, the idea of it. I'll take La for instance, LA County. So marijuana is legal here, right? Yes. Where the finding homicides and problem is those those. The Grove places will do by a peaceful man and just start illegal growing, you got the cartel that's involved in that and and people are dying. So going back to human trafficking.

26:00 Law enforcement, a competition to something that's illegal. So that means conceivably, you're also putting at risk minors that are being trafficked, because how are you going to find them? Because they're definitely not going to self-identify there. Definitely are going to be afraid, to go to the police. Would you going to tell them their older counterparts in the stable with them? I mean,

26:29 I just I just fear this thing going underground and unable to find the victims, and it's not just me because only way that you're going to find those victims being identified is unfortunately if they dead if they're dead or they end up in the hospital somewhere.

26:46 So that that's kind of by my biggest fear. What becomes the answer? I think law enforcement at best kid agree, with not arresting The Prostitute a person because I, at least keep your fingers somewhere on the pulse of what's going on with this thing. So, you know, it's not an easy. It's not an easy answer, you know, someone might argue too with my, I was reading a statistic word said that those that have been arrested for for trafficking meaning, The Pimps 63% of those were African-American males, right? So as when United States, when there is a problem,

27:31 That we hate most like human trafficking and prostitution, the drug wars that idea. The short-term idea is we start to over-policed. We put people in jail looking back at what happened with narcotics and mass incarceration.

27:50 I fear that if we don't come up with some type of preventive awareness piece to keep boys for becoming traffickers. We're going to look back on this and see the same thing because you can get you can get less time murdering. Somebody? Did you do for trap? Can a minor be traffic a minor you're looking at a license?

28:16 And so you sitting in when you couple that with that high percentage just from not being the next mass incarceration issue.

28:26 I completely agree. I read something, super interesting. And that was that.

28:34 With law enforcement online, for example, efforts to catch the criminals who are doing online child, exploitation producing child, pronography child, sexual abuse material. That when stings are online targeting the criminals, or producing an and trading, child sexual abuse material.

29:00 Are the Jordan fenders Ry by far?

29:06 One theory on why that is, is because it's race-blind the effort to police online, child, pronography.

29:17 These no color and therefore, who is getting picked up ends up? Being much more representative of the demographics of the jurisdiction as interesting as really interested in something like that. That's so out of control. They can't even keep up with it. It's so out of control and talkin about, which is scary, right? Child sexual abuse. Material is so off the hook that law enforcement officials said. Okay. So let's zero in on the very young ones. No d. I cast the internet law enforcement across the country. They are prioritizing.

30:04 Infants and toddlers about their trying to stop the rape of children changing table, but they cannot they have no bandwidth to pay attention to kids 10, 12, 14, or being abused online. Absolutely. It's an explosive issue and online trafficking in. These are instances of of human trafficking online, right? Cuz it gets commercialized. So as soon as you monetize videos,

30:35 Sexual exploitation.

30:39 That's human trafficking and it seems like law is not there.

30:46 Seems like things that are illegal for any of us to do in the real world, is suddenly hands-off online. What's going on? Stephanie and goes back with again. We need leadership for the federal government, that not only that this is important, but giving the from the from the very small police departments to the largest police departments monetary resources that they need in order to do this because if you only have one person that is it's in that unit. You're not going to get as much as if you put several people on it, right? So, there needs to be money coming from the feds for law enforcement to do this. And there needs to be a message of how important this is. And so you would you talk about how important this is. Not only is it important but we're giving money to you so that you can put together a sizable unit 2.

31:46 What this problem and that the amount of people in this unit are going to match the problem in your area that you've got to give them the tools. If you give them the tools, you give him the tools. In the training law enforcement is is going to be on. It's going to be in the hard to do it. Yeah, I would add. We also have to increase the liability so that these digital platforms are getting away with murder your right now, they're protected by immunity through the communications decency. Act section 230 that made sense with the internet was a baby but the internet's no baby anymore. All in all it's doing is like making a ton of money and look in the other way on criminal Behavior. So everybody, this, when they asked me about that part of the situation and I go like, let me explain it to you in this. What you told me, if I send sexually explicit pictures of

32:46 Shout out to you. I'm going to get in trouble for having it. You're going to be in trouble. I'm going to be in trouble for sending it to you. You're going to be in trouble for having it. However, Twitter and these in these social media Google, all these places. They don't get in trouble because they are protected by law. When you say it in those plain terms. That's crazy to me.

33:09 It is crazy to me that it's being allowed to happen. But what's even crazier think about this? That there's a market for it.

33:21 Yeah, where's that coming? So, what's the, what's the answer? What do you think? The answer is out of all the stuff that we discuss Eleanor. So, extremely Brighton and public policy. And women in human trafficking is moved online. Most of the, most of the most cases are now online, right? For in sex trafficking and

33:44 Policing is paralyzed currently online. So we do have to change laws and we do need Federal guidance to say as you say go after him.

33:59 You know, you was your tools online, but I do think a first step is we need to reform CDA 2:30. We need to revoke the immunity currently existing for for child sexual abuse material online to start. Because as we started this conversation, we were talking about where I was where law enforcement wasn't early 2000 where law enforcement is right now in 2021. Is it anything else? They understand that, especially they get the miners that they are victims of human trafficking. That they're not child prostitutes. They understand that they have to pair with a nonprofit organization. So there's this paradigm shift as it pertains to a victim centered approach. What this is the best time.

34:53 To Institute all the things that you're saying, because given those tools long forces going to do what they're supposed to do.

35:02 Without having to be pushed in it cuz they already know.

35:07 They just need to know what direction do. I need to go in in order to help people and make this stop? And how do I put the bad guy in jail? Because you do a lot for law enforcement is, how do I put the bad guy? When you give him a tools to, to put the bad guy in jail with proper understanding of who the bad guy really is? And it's not the victim. I'm telling you. It's going to be it's going to push us into the right direction and then we have to add in and thought in in adding into what you're saying. We've got to add in the awareness.

35:43 And prevention, peace. So that people not only become victims. They stop becoming victims. People will stop buying because they understand that it's a human rights issue and it's not right to object. If I people are coming out of that people can be bought, right? And then it also, it will teach people that you can't sell others.

36:09 Right, so, that education pieces is important.

36:15 Hundred percent. You're amazing. Eleanor. I love you Stephanie. I love you, too. Thank you for inviting me to this with pleasure. Let's do it over beers next time. Absolutely.

36:31 Okay, Leah. Thank you.