“When Annika and I train law enforcement officers, our hope and main goal is always to equip officers to both recognize victims of sexual exploitation and know how to engage with them in the best ways possible,” declared Kylla Lanier, TAT deputy director. “We don’t always get to hear how our training plays out in the field, so hearing how Trooper Heard employed the victim-centered approach with victims after detecting that something was off and became an advocate for them -- there is really nothing better. He, and other law enforcement officers who risk their lives daily to make our nation safer, inspire us in our work; and we know victims have the chance to become survivors and overcomers because of them.”

The two incidents below involve Illinois State Police (ISP) Trooper Zachary Heard. The first one occurred this year and the second one last year:

On a routine traffic stop in Illinois, a 10-year-old boy was taken into protective custody and a middle-aged man was arrested for sexual assault. Through personal experience and training he received through the TAT law enforcement training, ISP Trooper Zach Heard was able to legally build a case for prosecution. “TAT’s law enforcement training pulls the curtain back on a reclusive black market, with insight and details that can only be provided by survivors of the industry,” he stated.

In 2019, Trooper Heard was involved in another interdiction involving trafficking where TAT training came into play. He pulled over a pickup on a traffic violation with a male driver and a female passenger. The passenger appeared trying to make herself small, as if she were distancing herself from the truck and driver. During his conversation with the driver, Trooper Heard noticed some drug paraphernalia and proceeded to search the vehicle, where he discovered a large quantity of narcotics. He called in the narcotics detectives, who took over the arrest and the search and confiscation of the vehicle.

Trooper Heard then spoke with the adult female, who had a large tattoo in Spanish covering her forearm. While Trooper Heard spoke Spanish, he discovered the victim did not. She tried to explain away the tattoo with a convoluted explanation, which led Trooper Heard to suspect human trafficking. He continued to speak with her in a very non-judgmental way, using a victim-centered approach and offering to help her and connect her with resources. While she broke down crying a couple times, she refused services.

Trooper Heard offered her a ride somewhere. She asked to go to an ATM and then to a hotel for the night before figuring out her way home. He continued to talk with her, expressing concern and offering services. They exchanged numbers, and he told her to call if she needed anything or if she wanted to testify against the driver she’d been with.

TAT Deputy Director Kylla Lanier said Trooper Heard called TAT a couple days later saying he believed the woman was very close to accepting help and “wondered if we could speak with her.” Lanier asked Trooper Heard to call this young woman back and ask her if she would be willing to have her number shared with Annika Huff, TAT training specialist and survivor-advocate. “Not only did she answer the phone when Trooper Heard called, revealing that he’d established rapport and trust,” related Lanier, “but she agreed to speak with Annika once he explained who she was. Annika and the young woman talked, and, at the conclusion of the call, she asked Annika to find out resource providers in her home state. Annika was able to do that, and they had another conversation when she passed on the service providers in that area.”