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Criminal Justice Update

Linda Powers Q&A

Linda Majeska Powers took over as legal director of the Attorney General’s Human Trafficking Initiative in November. She sat down with On The Job to explain the scope of the initiative and her role in it.

What does your job entail?
HTI works to end labor and sex trafficking in Ohio by building awareness, empowering Ohioans to act in their communities, helping victims leave human trafficking, and ensuring that traffickers and johns are brought to justice. My position focuses on providing education and assisting task forces and prosecutors with best practices in investigating and prosecuting human trafficking cases. HTI is a small but mighty unit. Its success is due to the commitment of Ohio Attorney General Yost and the hard work of his team.

What is your vision for the Human Trafficking Initiative?
The impunity of human trafficking perpetrators persists, and the number of prosecutions and convictions of traffickers remains low, making trafficking a low-risk, high-profit crime. It is imperative that the Human Trafficking Initiative continues to work with local, state and federal partners to educate, prosecute and eradicate this modern form of slavery. As in all human trafficking, profit is the motiving factor in sex trafficking. Akin to any legal business, the illegal business of human sexual trafficking has a supply chain. The trafficker is the distributor, the survivor is the supplier, and the john is the demand side of that chain. Placing a greater emphasis on demand reduction would result in less distribution and supply as the profit from demand would decrease.

What are your major goals?
Human Trafficking cases take an inordinate amount of time to investigate and prosecute because of the level of trust that must be built with a human trafficking survivor. Training and education are key in that many individuals still believe the myths that revolve around human trafficking, myths like human trafficking is always a violent crime; all human trafficking involves sex; traffickers target victims they do not know; only undocumented foreign nationals are trafficked; victims and survivors are only women and girls; and trafficking only happens in underground industries. One myth that still confounds is the belief that many victims and survivors of human trafficking consented or chose to be in their situation. It is imperative that people understand that literally no individual would consent or choose to become a trafficked individual.

Additionally, it is essential when implementing policy measures and budgets aimed at investigation, prosecution, prevention and victim assistance that government entities understand the magnitude of the human trafficking problem as well as trafficking patterns and trends. There are inherent issues in overcoming the challenges to accurately measure the human trafficking problem. Data on human trafficking is lagging because statistics may be reported and collected on an ad hoc basis or for different purposes. A personal goal for the Human Trafficking Initiative is to establish some consistent data linkage with Ohio partners with respect to prosecution of traffickers and the processing of trafficked cases. On many occasions, human trafficking cases are dismissed or pleaded down from human trafficking to some other crime. It is important to consistently link arrest data with prosecutions, actual convictions and sentences, or numbers will not accurately reflect the magnitude of the problem. 

How has your experience prepared you for this position?
In college I interned as a victim advocate in Michigan’s first victim/witness unit, in the office of the Ingham County prosecutor. While in law school, the Michigan Constitution was amended to mandate that all county prosecutors’ offices have some form of victim advocacy. I was approached by the Eaton County prosecutor at the time to create a unit within his office. Based upon those early experiences, I take a victim-centered approach to prosecution.

I spent approximately 14 years as a local prosecutor before joining the Economic Crimes Unit of the AG’s Office. As a special prosecutor with the Economic Crimes Unit, I specialized in the financial exploitation of the elderly and disabled. Victims and survivors of elderly financial exploitation have similar experiences as human trafficking survivors: Perpetrators exploit their vulnerabilities and often groom them, so that what appears to be consent is actually undue influence. In both cases, profit is the motivation. 

What first got you interested in a career in criminal justice?
I come from a long line of law enforcement officers on my mother’s side, including a Wayne County, Michigan, sheriff; a metro Detroit narcotics detective; and individuals who have served in a law enforcement capacity with the U.S. government. So I guess you can say that in becoming a lifelong prosecutor, I am a true blue blood