The Human Side of Human Trafficking

Thank you so much for all the positive responses to our weekly Master Officer series.  This week’s article has a more serious side than past articles, but it demonstrates the compassion of one of SMPD’s finest in his efforts to help the victims of this epidemic.

The San Mateo Police Department Master Officer Program identifies an elite group of officers within our department who have earned the title “Master Officer” based not only on their yearly performance evaluations, but also on their years of experience and various expertise.  SMPD is lucky to recognize our largest number of Master Officers ever in 2016, each of whom will be submitting a personal article on a topic of their choice, allowing our community the rare chance of getting to know the people behind the SMPD badge…

The Human side of Human Trafficking – What to Look For

By SMPD Master Officer Brendan Bartholomew

A 20-year old woman from Virginia answers an advertisement to come to California to work, all expenses paid by her new employer.  When she arrives here all of her personal belongings including her identification and banking information is taken from her and kept at the employer’s home.  The woman is first encouraged, then forced, to commit acts of prostitution to repay her “debts” to the employer; often having sex with different men for up to 12-hours a day.  The employer collects money from the woman for the ticket across the country, hotel room rentals, food, and clothes.  The woman from Virginia is only discovered in a San Mateo hotel when SMPD officers assigned to the Crime Reduction Unit conduct a proactive operation focused on finding victims of human trafficking. Part of the investigation includes reuniting the victim with her property, and encouraging the victim to reunite with her family after being offered victim services.

During another operation undertaken by SMPD Crime Reduction Unit officers, two women from China are discovered inside an apartment converted into a massage parlor brothel.  Neither speaks English; the women have no means of communication with anyone except the people arranging for men to come to the brothel for sex; and the women are told that if they attempt to leave or ask for help their families in China are in danger.  The victims are provided services by non-governmental organizations in San Francisco County as part of the investigation.

These are just a few of the instances of victims of human trafficking being discovered here in San Mateo.  Human trafficking is a modern form of slavery and involves the use of force, fraud, or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act. Millions of men, women, and children are trafficked into forced labor situations and into the sex trade worldwide. Many of these victims are lured from their homes with false promises of well-paying jobs; instead, they are forced or coerced into prostitution, domestic servitude, or other types of forced labor. Victims are found in legitimate and illegitimate labor industries, including sweatshops, massage parlors, agricultural fields, restaurants, hotels, and domestic service.

Trafficking is exploitation-based and does not require movement across borders or any type of transportation.  Victims of human trafficking can come from other countries, like the women discovered in the massage parlor brothel, or from other places in the United States, and even be people already here in San Mateo.

Trafficking victims can be any age, race, gender, or nationality. Trafficking victims can be men or women, young or old, American or from abroad.  Traffickers prey on victims with little or no social safety net. They look for victims who are vulnerable because of their immigration status, limited English proficiency, and those who may be in vulnerable situations due to economic hardship, political instability, natural disasters, or other causes.  You can continue to be our most valuable partner in the community by knowing some of the indicators of human trafficking listed below, provided in part, by the Department of Homeland Security ‘s Blue Campaign. Make no mistake about it: these people are victims and they need our help to break the cycle and reunite them with their families. We can help meet that goal together and the first step is teaching our communit partners what to look for.

Behavior or Physical State:

  • Does the victim act fearful, anxious, depressed, submissive, tense, or nervous/paranoid?
  • Does the victim defer to another person to speak for him or her?
  • Does the victim show signs of physical and/or sexual abuse, physical restraint, confinement, or torture?
  • Has the victim been harmed or deprived of food, water, sleep, medical care, or other life necessities?
  • Does the victim have few or no personal possessions?

Social Behavior:

  • Can the victim freely contact friends or family?
  • Is the victim allowed to socialize or attend religious services?
  • Does the victim have freedom of movement?
  • Has the victim or family been threatened with harm if the victim attempts to escape?

Work Conditions and Immigration Status:

  • Does the victim work excessively long and/or unusual hours?
  • Is the victim a juvenile engaged in commercial sex?
  • Was the victim recruited for one purpose and forced to engage in some other job?
  • Is the victim’s salary being garnished to pay off a smuggling fee?
  • Has the victim been forced to perform sexual acts?
  • Has the victim been threatened with deportation or law enforcement action? Is the victim in possession of identification and travel documents; if not, who has control of the documents?

If you believe that a person may be a victim of human trafficking, please contact the San Mateo Police Department’s Crime Reduction Unit or other investigating agencies like the Department of Homeland Security, Homeland Security Investigations.  You can also help by supporting the funding of a non-governmental organization dedicated to assisting the victims of human trafficking occurring here in San Mateo County.  Human trafficking has been referred to as “the silent epidemic,” with your help we can give a voice to these most vulnerable victims.


Officer Brendan Barthlomew is a 4-year veteran of the San Mateo Police Department with more than 10 years of law enforcement experience and expertise.  Brendan and is family are also deeply committed to the Police Activities League, dedicated to keeping kids on track and in school.  In his free time, he is a very talented theatrical set designer, though he will only admit to that in select company…

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