Tempe adds advocate, detective to enhance support for trafficking survivors

CARE 7 Victim Services Coordinator Anastasia Stinchfield leads Tempe’s Victim Services team, which is expanding with the addition of a specialized human trafficking advocate. (Photo courtesy of the city of Tempe)

TEMPE – The city of Tempe is bolstering its fight against human trafficking with the introduction of two new positions: a trafficking victim advocate and a specialized detective.

These roles, made possible by a three-year federal grant, will work to strengthen the city’s efforts to combat human trafficking and provide comprehensive support to trafficking victims and survivors.

“Human trafficking is an epidemic that can affect anyone regardless of age, class, race or gender,” Community Health and Human Services Director Tim Burch said in the city’s January news release. “By enhancing our services here in Tempe, we are helping strengthen a statewide initiative to ensure the most vulnerable residents are supported with advocacy and resources on their paths to a better future.”

Human trafficking, including both forced-labor and sex trafficking, impacts an estimated 25 million people globally. In 2021, the National Human Trafficking Hotline received 651 reports from Arizona.

The victim advocate joined the CARE 7 team last month. CARE 7 is a 24-hour crisis response team that works in conjunction with the Tempe Police Department to provide comprehensive assistance to those experiencing traumatic situations such as domestic violence, and sexual and physical assaults through on-scene assistance, social work services and follow-up counseling and support.

The CARE 7 team is housed in Tempe’s Family Advocacy Center, which opened last year in collaboration with Arizona State University as a confidential, centralized place for victims of crime to find immediate and long-term solutions. Both new positions will have an office within the center, according to CARE 7 Manager Kristen Scharlau.

Scharlau said that these two positions will work in tandem to ensure that the process for reporting trafficking and seeking mental or physical help is as easy as possible for victims and survivors to navigate.

“We all work together,” Scharlau said. “And the part that I like about that is when a victim reports … if they decide they want to do that, we’re there with them every step of the way because it’s scary. It can be really scary to be in court with the judge. … We’re just trying to make it as easy as we can in a really difficult situation.”

The new victim advocate will work closely with the specialized detective to raise awareness about human trafficking and spread the word on resources available to victims and survivors.

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“One of their responsibilities is bringing awareness to the community, through not only helping the community understand the signs and symptoms of somebody who may be trafficked so that they can report, but also to recognize how human trafficking starts with our young people especially,” Scharlau said. “The advocate’s going to be working along with youth specialists and the SROs (school resource officers) to do presentations to young people.”

TheTempe Police Department added the specialized detective position last December with the mission of combating human trafficking by enhancing the department’s capacity to identify victims and make arrests in cases involving adults and children.

The position will also allow for more collaboration between Tempe police and community partners such as the Arizona Anti-Trafficking Network, Tempe Public Information Officer Kayla Gneck-Smith said.

“By strengthening this initiative and partnerships, we’re ensuring that the vulnerable residents are given the support that they need, through advocacy and resources so that they could build a better future and path for themselves,” Gneck-Smith said. “Ultimately, this partnership, in addition to community partnerships, is what is going to truly help with the identification, education and awareness of human and sex trafficking.”

Gneck-Smith said an essential component of being proactive in the fight against human trafficking is targeting operations toward vulnerable populations such as unsheltered individuals and youth. The CARE 7 team is working on visiting homeless shelters and schools in the city to make its presence known, increase awareness of the issue and share available resources.

Arizona youth are a particularly targeted population. The average age of youth victims of sex trafficking in the state is 13, Gneck-Smith said, compared to 17 nationally.

“That’s a huge difference, and it’s very disheartening,” she said. “The youth is a vulnerable community. And we’re using additional resources such as our school resource officers to kind of help educate and bring that awareness to these children and these vulnerable communities and populations.”

Tempe’s decision to expand its services comes after the city’s Human Relations Commission, which advises the city council on numerous issues, recommended Tempe become a CEASE (Cities Empowered Against Sexual Exploitation) City and train its workforce on how to stop human trafficking. In 2023, Tempe achieved a CEASE City designation and trained 86% of all employees, surpassing the required 75%, according to a city press release.

In 2023, Tempe police made 52 arrests related to sex trafficking. The city was also part of a Super Bowl Operations Task Force that made 90 arrests.

In adding these positions, Tempe looks to increase its efforts in addressing trafficking and providing comprehensive assistance to victims and survivors.

“Oftentimes, when somebody has isolated you, you have no more relationships with your friends or family, and you are completely and totally dependent upon your trafficker. It feels like you don’t have any choice,” Scharlau said. “And we have to always remind people that you do have a choice and we are here to help you. We’re not going anywhere.”

To contact Tempe police regarding human trafficking, call the non-emergency number at 480-350-8311 or the Arizona Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-877-4AZ-TIPS (1-877-429-8477). To contact the CARE 7 team, call the CARE & HOPE Line at 480-350-8004.

Sadie Buggle(she/her/hers)
News Reporter, Phoenix

Sadie Buggle expects to graduate in May 2024 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communication. She works as the managing editor of Arizona State University’s independent news organization, The State Press.