Meet Teresa Jauregui, Legal Director, for the National Child Protection Task Force, NCPTF.
Brittany: Hi Teresa. Thank you for taking the time to talk and to share more information about NCPTF, your work, and your vision for fighting human trafficking.
Teresa: Hi Brittany. Thank you for having me and for highlighting NCPTF and our current efforts to fight human trafficking.
Brittany: I want to start this interview off with questions concerning your background. Do you think your experience as an intern for the Economic Crime Squad with the FBI helped to prepare you for your work with NCPTF given that human trafficking is a financial crime?
Absolutely. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) estimates that human trafficking moves approximately $30 billion around the world, and “more than 75 percent come from the sexual exploitation of women and children.” Individuals who are trafficked often are involved in other illegal activities, including money laundering. The Economic Crime Squad taught me how to identify various patterns of suspicious financial activity – I’m forever grateful for the opportunities there.
Brittany: How was interning at the US Attorney’s Office vs your later experience as a prosecutor?
Teresa: Working with the Cyber Crime Division of the US Attorney’s Office was where I learned the importance of explaining technology in clear, plain language. One of the very first assignments was creating a chalk (aka a demonstrative exhibit) explaining how a modem worked. The number of variations it took to convey how a modem connected a home to the Internet… let’s say it took a fair bit of time to create something a non-tech savvy person would understand. However, my supervisors at the USAO reinforced the importance of conveying complex issues in ways that everyone could understand.
Brittany: What's the hardest part of being a prosecutor as it relates to crimes against children?
Teresa: There is the obvious – children are such a vulnerable group and to have their childhood marred by trauma is incredibly difficult. For me, however, it is when I had to prepare children for testifying at trial. Preparing any survivor of a violent or sexual crime is difficult. You need to ask invasive, probing questions in order to prove to the jury that the crime was committed beyond a reasonable doubt. When doing that, you are having the survivor relive their trauma.
When the survivor is an adult, prosecutors/victim-witness coordinators can talk them through their emotions, help them with coping skills, and we can refer them to therapists who specialize in the area. With children, however, it is much more difficult. Most children lack the skills to process the abuses they suffered and there aren’t as many child therapists who specialize in this area. Their caregivers also struggle with supporting them, and it becomes even more difficult when we ask the parents not to discuss the underlying facts of the case with their children. We do this because defense attorneys will argue that the child was coached at trial. This often leaves children, even the ones who have a significant support system and a loving home, with feelings they cannot process. When I am asking a child to talk about the abuses perpetrated on them, it scars them. There is no other way to describe it. There were a few times when I would have children completely break down – they would go catatonic or start sobbing uncontrollably – during prep. I cannot convey how devastating it is.
Brittany: Is there anything you think Prosecutors struggle with when it comes to working with Investigators?
Teresa: There major issues I see between prosecutors and investigators boil down to insufficient communication between the two. I frequently see a disconnect between investigators/police officers regarding decisions in cases (e.g., why a search warrant is needed, why certain charges are approved while others are dismissed, plea offers, etc.). It is on the prosecutor to communicate why we make the decisions we do and educate our investigators on various legal requirements. For example, if the state Supreme Court issues a decision that affects traffic stops, it is the obligation of the prosecutors to convey that information to investigators so as not to run afoul of the law rather than tell them “oh you made a bad stop, so I’m dismissing the case” without elaborating further. That is a disservice to both the investigators and the community as a whole.
Brittany: What was your driving force(s) for joining NCPTF? (Why make the switch from prosecution to advocacy?)
Teresa: Simply, I want to raise the bar for law enforcement and prosecutors. Almost every office I’ve worked in has dubbed me “the tech person.” I’ve been compared with the NCIS character Abby Scuito on more than one occasion. This resulted in me receiving the bulk of computer/Internet crimes. As such, my career allowed me to develop a specialization in digital evidence and OSINT that is uncommon for prosecutors. However, given that every crime committed nowadays has some digital component, I feel thatprosecutors and police officers can no longer have a superficial knowledge of digital devices or the Internet. Furthermore, as the courts and legislators catch up with technological advances, there is a myriad of pitfalls regarding digital devices and the 4th Amendment. Law enforcement owes it to the communities they serve to be knowledgeable about these areas.
In its overarching mission of protecting children, NCPTF wants to share the years of expertise with every officer and prosecutor we can. We have no desire to hoard it; we want to share the wealth. By sharing our knowledge with others, we hope to shore up investigations. We teach folks how to have airtight investigations and prosecutions, which means we also instruct how to find exculpatory evidence. The passion, the drive of all NCPTF volunteers to make the world a safer place while also educating made the decision to switch a no-brainer.
Brittany: What tools or resources do you think law enforcement organizations should focus on for human trafficking investigations?
Teresa: Social media. While the dark web has been the focus for law enforcement for years, so much occurs on major social media platforms like Instagram and Snapchat. When a suspect is caught grooming one person via social media, you can guarantee they are grooming dozens of others. If there was a follow-up on each of those grooming attempts in proactive investigations, it would severely undercut trafficking operations.
Brittany: How do you think that the public’s awareness of human trafficking has changed over time and has this impacted NCPTF’s mission at all?
Teresa: It absolutely has. Within the United States, the public is now aware that human trafficking can happen everywhere. However, that’s proven to be a double-edged sword. In the last few years, human trafficking conspiracies have made it infinitely more difficult for law enforcement to tackle real instances of human trafficking. The Wayfair conspiracy, the conspiracy of zip ties on cars in the Target parking lot, Pizzagate, and so many more have resulted in such massive disinformation that the public is focused once again on the “stranger danger” narrative pushed in the ’80s and ’90s. The influx of calls regarding human trafficking conspiracy theories is overloading the human trafficking hotline.
NCPTF now spends as much time dispelling disinformation with the public as we do education. We reiterate that victims of trafficking, specifically sex trafficking, are must more likely to be exploited by someone they know: a loved one or family member. In some ways, this is a more difficult pill to swallow for the public. It’s much easier to believe in some boogieman luring people off the street than a child being trafficked by their parents.
Brittany: How do you think human trafficking investigations will change in 2022?
Teresa: In the last few months of 2021, we saw an increase in federal indictments involving labor trafficking. There was also a labor trafficking civil suit filed against the Eastern Pennsylvania Mennonite Church. Law enforcement is becoming more adept at labor trafficking investigations, and advocacy groups for labor trafficking survivors are starting to gain more traction. Similar to the public realizing that sex trafficking is present within the United States, hopefully, we will run into a similar awakening regarding labor trafficking.
Brittany: Do you feel that there should be more non-profit organizations dedicated to the cause?
Teresa: There are hundreds of non-profits dedicated to eradicating human trafficking. Many serve specific regions or industries. While there is a lot of work to be done, I think it would promote the cause better if there was more information and skill-sharing with established groups and newer organizations.
Brittany: Can you tell me more about the volunteer drive that NCPTF is currently accepting applications for?
Teresa: NCPTF is an all-volunteer organization. We depend on individuals from all skill sets who share the same goal that we do: working so that every child can go to bed safe and look forward to a better tomorrow. In 2021, we had more requests from law enforcement than ever. In order to continue to support our mission, we are looking to grow our ranks.
Brittany: What type of volunteers/skill sets is NCPTF looking to recruit for?
Teresa: We are always looking for those who are interested in assisting with investigations. Those individuals should have a background in OSINT, photo analysis, geolocation, financial fraud, and the like. We also definitely need those with legal skills, such as prosecutors, paralegals, and law students to stay up to date on the latest court decisions and laws that could affect investigation strategies. However, we are also looking for those in IT, fundraisers, and content creators who can also help us!
Brittany: Do you have any upcoming conferences, training, or events that you will be participating in?
Teresa: We have a number of things in the works at the moment, but the next conference that we are participating in will be the Cybersecurity & Fintech Conference co-hosted by the FBI Association of Intelligence Analysts and Duke University. We also plan to announce NCPTF’s Annual Conference shortly.
Brittany: Are there any books or publications you’ve read in your field recently that you would recommend to others?
Teresa: Last year, Professor Orin Kerr published “The Fourth Amendment Limits of Internet Content Preservation” in the Saint Louis University Law Journal, Volume 65 No. 4. Professor Kerr is my (and many jurists’) go-to for applying the latest technological advances within our existing legal framework.
Brittany: What do you like to do for fun?
Teresa: I enjoy weightlifting. Prior to the pandemic, I competed quite a bit in strongman competitions. I also like to decompress by cooking, reading, or playing video games.
Brittany: Do you have a favorite Netflix show or podcast binge?
Teresa: Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries – it’s a period piece set in Melbourne, Australia during the 1920s. It focuses on Phryne Fisher, a private detective. It’s a very different take on the police procedural. The biggest shame is that there are only 3 seasons.
Brittany: Thank you for your time Teresa and for all that you do with NCPTF and have done over the course of your career.