Officer Jacobs, a key figure in rescuing victims of human trafficking in Cape Town, will provide insight into the lives of these victims and the measures being taken by law enforcement to combat human trafficking in the city. Join us as we delve into this important issue.
Listen on your favorite platform:
Interview with Phinius Sebatsane and Officer Jacobs
Interviewee: Officer Jacobs, Law Enforcement
Interviewer: Phinius Sebatsane
List of Acronyms: PS = Phinius Sebatsane, OJ =Officer Jacobs
Intro: Welcome to the Free to Fly Podcast, where we discuss important issues related to human trafficking and healing from trauma. In this episode, we’re excited to introduce our host, Phinius, who leads ‘Rea Thusana’, an organization that provides support to homeless individuals. We also have a special guest, Officer Jacobs, who has dedicated his career to fighting human trafficking and has rescued numerous victims, including minors. They will be sharing their experiences and insights with us, so sit back, relax, and let’s get started
PS: How are you sir? Thank you for making the time to chat with us this afternoon. Can you just briefly introduce yourself?
OJ: Good afternoon every one. I am a Law Enforcement Officer of the City of Cape Town in South Africa. I specialise in prostitution and human trafficking amongst other aspects of Law Enforcement.
PS: You mention human trafficking. How did you get involved in helping or rescuing young girls who are in human trafficking or prostitution?
OJ: In the City of Cape Town we have a unit called the Vice Unit that deals with street prostitution. This is where your problem arises. We have a street and public places bylaw in terms of prostitution on street level. And then secondly, those unit members undergo training in terms of human trafficking. So amongst those people that you find on the street selling their bodies for money, they are working for other people in terms of pimps. That is where human trafficking plays a big role.
PS: Is prostitution legal or illegal in South Africa and how is it connected to human trafficking?
OJ: To start off, – in terms of the Sexual Offences Act, to sell sex, or prostitution, is illegal in South Africa.
PS: How does prostitution connect with human trafficking?
OJ: The criminal elements, called syndicates, go to the rural areas – very poor areas – and make women and parents of young girls think there is a great opportunity in terms of job prospects in bigger cities. These ‘recruiters’ go to very small towns and lie to people that there is a job prospect – maybe in Cape Town – and then sometimes parents give permission to those recruiters to take the girls down to Cape Town for the job they promise to the parents. So, when it comes to human trafficking, there are certain elements that you have to look at before you can establish a human trafficking case. Such as: 1) Recruitment;
2) Transportation; 3) Harbouring/housing the women; 4) How they are exploited. These are the 4 elements of human trafficking. So when you see the human trafficking case, where you interview the girls on the street, and ask, why are you doing this, they say: “I am working for Paul” (for example). Then he is standing across the road, so all the money they make on the street by selling their bodies goes to Paul. And in return he gives them drugs
PS: You reminded me of a situation with homeless people – have you heard of ‘forced begging’, which is another form of human trafficking. Have you ever come across situations like that where people are forced to be on the street and to beg and once they get money, they take that money and give it to a gang leader or a pimp?
OJ: Ja – In Cape town, about 2010, our big gangs were very much involved in sending girls to sell their bodies – whereby the money must come to them. This is when some foreigners that are in Cape Town in South Africa recruit these girls for their own benefit. When these girls are living with the pimp inside a place, they are being given a target to reach. Maybe – ‘I have 6 girls working for me on the street, tomorrow morning each girl must bring in R1000. If they don’t reach the target of R1000 by tomorrow morning then they can’t wash, they can’t eat, they don’t sleep. So they are forced again by themselves back to the street to go get the amount of money that is short to make up the R1000.
PS: Do they control them with drugs because what I’ve seen is that the pimps, the gang leaders, control these women with drugs. Is that the exchange: we give you drugs and then you give us money and we put you out there to sell your body.
OJ: That is correct – not all the girls that landed on the street are drug users, but they are forced to do drugs in order to keep them obedient. My youngest human trafficking victim was I think, 11 or 13 years old. That was back in 2012 in Cape Town. Our Vice Unit operation found this very skinny little girl on the street in Cape Town. We went up to her and asked where are you from? “Sir, I’m from Johannesburg”. So we asked her: “How did you end up in Cape Town?” – “I was approached by another black women in the park where I was playing with my friends. She asked me if I had ever seen Cape Town. I told her I had never seen Cape Town. So, the woman told her – today’s your opportunity to see Cape Town.” So, she took the opportunity. Now she was a young girl – she should have permission from her parents to go to Cape Town. The woman that recruited her told her – you don’t need any clothes, we will pay your transport and give you shelter where you can sleep for a couple of weeks and then you will come back. So, when she arrived in Cape Town, she was taken to a place where she was sexually abused by some of the pimps. At the same time she was given drugs to use and after that she was told, – listen here my girl, you owe us money. She asked – What do you mean I owe you money, They told her – You need to pay for your transport from Johannesburg to Cape Town – that is R500 and for the two weeks you lived with us, you owe us that money, also the water that you used, so it adds up to R20000.00
PS: This sounds like the same method gang leaders use. So, what’s running the streets these days is sex, drugs and money. What are your interventions when it comes to rescuing these girls from human trafficking? Is there a place you can put them? Are there any interventions when it comes to counselling, and psychological help?
OJ: Ja, – I work very closely with good safe houses where the young ladies receive psychological help and intervention from social workers when they are under age. There is a programme that the safe haven runs in terms of getting them back on track: to refresh their mind and to bring them back to reality.
PS: In your past years of working in this field what are some of the crazy stories you’ve had to deal with – how many girls have you rescued from human trafficking and are most of them South Africans or are most of them foreigners?
OJ: Most of the girls are South African girls from rural areas and other cities and towns – I can only speak for Cape Town. Many of the ladies and girls that are here in Cape Town are from outside Cape Town – from small towns and bigger cities for better work prospects as they were promised by their recruiters.
. . . That night in Cape Town I shed some tears because when I looked at this girl – she was just a child – she was so scared. When she looked in the direction of the pimp, she didn’t want to speak a word. So, we had to put her in our patrol vehicle, which is a mini bus where we could speak to her freely – without fear. That night we took her off the street and placed her in a safe haven until the case appeared in the sexual offences court.
PS: How did you personally deal with the situation because I know it can be traumatising as a father who probably has a daughter?
OJ: Exactly. For me as a parent it was traumatic because I am also raising a daughter. I see many other small young girls – it can happen to them. With human trafficking – when it comes to other ladies and girls – it’s not, -no, I don’t know them. I take it that it can happen to my family, it can happen to your family, anyone’s family – nobody wants to be in that situation against their will.
PS: What motivates you to be in this field?Some people would say it is very dangerous, – I can’t get involved in a situation like this. You deal with gang leaders, with people who have a lot of money and influence. What gives you the courage to do the work you doing without fear?
OJ: Firstly, I am a Law Enforcer – my job is to save people and to protect them. So I’ll put my life at risk in order to save other people. People are my passion – I have a love for people, no matter who you are, – your background, your culture, your belief. I met a lot of people, and I like to understand where they come from and what they do on a daily basis. So for me, to save the life of people is the first thing.
PS: What would you say is some of the signs that people in the community need to look out for to spot human trafficking – because some people think that if you are trafficked, you must be somebody coming from Zimbabwe or Europe or somewhere very far away, and they don’t think that human trafficking is happening right next door. So what are some of the signs of human trafficking that you can educate us about?
OJ: First of all I’m going to give you a real life scenario. In 2012 there was a house somewhere in Kenilworth, and some Chinese foreign nationals had been living in the house for about 6 months. The neighbours were never aware of the brothel right next to them. The saw the influx of vehicles coming and leaving the property – only males coming to the house. Eventually the neighbours made a call to our (Vice Unit) call centre to say they suspect other activities there because there is a lot of vehicles moving in and out and they spend a certain time at the property and then leave. So we went to the property and found the Chinese nationals in the property had created a brothel. In 2010 also – with the world cup in South Africa – in Cape Town, there were claims about two Chinese females who were kept in a house in Goodwood for sex experimentation. They were brought from China by their own people for the purposes of prostitution.
PS: And you managed to get involved in some interventions to rescue these girls from having been trafficked?
OJ: I intervene when I know of a situation like that. Not many people are aware of trafficking – they think it only happens in the movies.
PS: What are the motivations to encourage human trafficking? Does poverty play a role? Does unemployment play a role? What are some of the factors that play into human trafficking?
OJ: Some of the factors are poverty and unemployment, but also when a girl – or even a young boy – has no faith in his family or community. So if someone has been kicked out of the community, it drives them in that direction. I have spoken to many girls about why they do this: They say, I don’t have a life anymore. I have been abused by my step father; I have been abused by an uncle – I told Mommy and Daddy and they would not believe me. That’s why I am doing what I am doing.
PS: A question I would like to ask you on that is, – someone listening in to this right now, – who is aware of a situation happening in a community and wants to know who to call, who to talk to – for their own protection – some people are afraid to report cases like this, they are afraid of being exposed. What can the community do to report cases like this and still be protected at the same time?
OJ: Ok. I would say that every living person has an obligation to report crime. So if they do want to report crime, we have a call centre, 24/7: 021 480 7700. They don’t have to give a name or an address. They can just give the address where they think the problem is.
PS: If a woman or young girl is rescued from human trafficking, do you work with safe houses, or safe places where you send these women to?
OJ: Yes, there are places – I work with organisations and our local safe havens and NGOs . Then we also have the Organised Crime Units – the Hawks – there is an elite unit that deals with prostitution.
PS: Are there any contact details for that, or where can one find that information?
OJ: They can go through the number I provided: 021 480 7700
PS: Thank you. Are there any last words you would like to add?
OJ: Yes. I have a strong message for parents: look after your children, – boys or girls, make sure you know where they are off to, and make sure you know their friends, because sometimes, a friend sells a friend – for money. So parents must learn to know their children’s friends. That is my point to parents out there.
End: Dear friends and key stakeholders, thank you for joining us on today’s podcast. Our aim and heart for these podcasts is to raise awareness about human trafficking and to highlight the atrocity that this crime is to humanity. A reminder that human trafficking is a multi-billion-dollar industry, which is sadly the fastest growing worldwide and second biggest crime after drugs. It is far more organized than many care to believe.
We invite you to join hands in fighting against human trafficking, follow us on our social media pages: @freetofly.org.za on Instagram and on Facebook, /FreeToFlyZa. Do check out our website, www.freetofly.org.za, to sign up to be a volunteer or donate towards the building and running of our safe house for children who have come out of human trafficking.
For those of you who do not know, Free To Fly is an organization that is currently starting up the first safe house in South Africa for children who have been rescued from human trafficking. Our heart is to run a holistic, trauma-informed, survivor informed programme that will facilitate this journey of healing. Please follow our journey on our website.
Till next time, take care and be sure to share and listen out for the next podcast. Thanks, friends!
Free to Fly can’t be held liable about the content of our podcast guests.