Asking For A Friend: Matt Stoddard on Sex Trafficking

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Transcript

Jeb Butler:

Today on Asking For a Friend, we’ll talk with my good friend Matt Stoddard. Matt Stoddard is a partner and the founder of the Stoddard Firm. He and I were law school classmates and we’ve gotten the chance to work together on a number of cases over the years because the Stoddard Firm and my firm, Butler Kahn do some similar things. We together recovered $3 million in an apartment negligent security case. And then we also worked together on a recent trial involving product liability, which we recovered, and this from his website, a verdict of $15.95 million. But today we talked with Matt, not about that, but about a specialty that he has in sex trafficking cases. There are not a lot of lawyers out there who do this and very few who do it well, but Matt is one of them and I learned a lot in this conversation with him. Had a great time. I hope you’ll enjoy watching.

Welcome to Asking For a Friend, The Law You Need to Know. We’re here with a long time buddy Matt Stoddard to talk about a really interesting topic. So Matt’s practice is a lot like ours here at Butler Kahn, but he has an interesting specialty in sex trafficking cases. How long have you been work home cases like that?

Matt Stoddard:

I’d say actively working on them probably about two years, but I’d say there was a year and a half period, two year period before that where I spent a lot of time sort of learning how to bring them and learning sort of the landscape and actors that sort of help in our state when there are victims like this.

Jeb Butler:

So lawyers like you and me, everyone, every plaintiff’s lawyer I know says they handle truck cases. But there aren’t that many who do the sex trafficking work. I mean there’s not a lot of law. You’re kind of on the front edge of that.

Matt Stoddard:

I think that’s accurate. Yeah, it’s a federal statute that was passed, I’m not sure when, maybe about 2000. And then there were some changes made in about 2010. But I don’t think anyone was really bringing a TVPRA, stands for Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, claims until probably two or three years ago. To my knowledge, there’s maybe three or four law firms in the state of Georgia that are sort of dipping their toes in that water and I’m one of them.

Jeb Butler:

So Matt and I talked before we turned on the camera about what these cases look like and one of the first things like to do is sort of tell that story of a composite story of the victims that you deal with. How does that start? How does someone end up being a sex trafficking victim?

Matt Stoddard:

That’s a good question. One of the I think misconceptions, or at least it was my misconception, is most people’s experience of something like the movie Taken. That’s what they’re sort of coming from. That’s my frame of reference. And that movie as a very wealthy young girl from very sort of supporting stable family, and that does not seem to be the case here. Almost all of the victims, a lot of times they call themselves survivors that come to us, have had really a sad childhood. Now some of those is just one where maybe usually single parent homes, but where maybe mom or dad didn’t hug them a lot or spend a lot of time giving a lot of attention. That’s some sort of one side. The others were a much worse family life where they were in defects or government care, foster homes, and oftentimes there is some element of sexual abuse or molestation when they’re really young, maybe at somewhere before they’re 10 by some distant relative or something like that.

Jeb Butler:

So you have a typically unhappy childhood, I guess in most of them.

Matt Stoddard:

Yeah, that seems to be accurate. I think I can say that’s accurate in almost every single case we’ve even vetted. We don’t take all the ones that we vet, but usually that’s accurate.

Jeb Butler:

So for an unhappy childhood and unhappier I guess teenage years or adulthood, how does that happen?

Matt Stoddard:

Sure. So usually it happens because there’s typically an older man, but sometimes an older woman, who’s decided to take advantage of this situation. It seems that most of the victims enter this life somewhere between the ages of 15 and 19. And sometimes it comes about through things like Craigslist or Backpages, or Backpages is shut down now, but similar websites that are advertising things like free room or things like modeling, we’re looking for models. Other times-

Jeb Butler:

I feel like if I saw an ad and it said Free Room, I would know this is weird. How do people…

Matt Stoddard:

Yeah. So you got to kind of get yourself into the mind of a lonely 15 year old uneducated girl because I agree with you, if you look at-

Jeb Butler:

Probably doesn’t have any money. She may not have a place to stay.

Matt Stoddard:

That happens a lot of times too. There are certainly circumstances where oftentimes they have a place to stay, but they’ve chosen not to stay there and sometimes for very good reasons. Sometimes they’re running away from foster homes or they just feel like home is not a safe environment. And sometimes they’re on the street or maybe they’re kind of living at home and then kind of spending the night on someone else’s couch and they’re just approached at malls or gas stations or things like that from older persons that fashion themselves pimps.

Jeb Butler:

Yeah. So let’s say you’re a trafficking victim and she’s walking around the mall and old dude walks out, does he say, “I would like to be your pimp. This will be good for you”? Or how does that-

Matt Stoddard:

No, that’s typically not the route. So that it seems like there’s a lot of coercion and sometimes some sort of act of fraud in getting these victims into this life. It usually starts the same way starting with a free place to stay, I’ll buy you lunch. Sometimes there’s a romantic element, sometimes there’s not.

Jeb Butler:

Like maybe I could be your boyfriend. I’ll take care of you.

Matt Stoddard:

Yes, yes. Sometimes it’s just I’ll take care of you. I’ve got a place, I’m a nice guy. So they think the mind of a 15 year old girl. And it’s usually either through the internet or an in-person interaction like that. And very quickly, within a week or two, they’re then told that they’ll be working as prostitute. Sometimes, oftentimes it is to pay me back for the free food and housing and money that you were given. It wasn’t free now. So that often happens with the modeling. Usually the story is something like, well, yeah, you are going to be a model, so we need to take some very racy photographs. And then you’re going to have to do some prostitution in order to get some money to do the modeling. And this is how everybody does. It seems to be a common story to hear too.

Jeb Butler:

Yeah. Okay. So this was sort of moved through, I guess the life cycle of this. Now we’ve got unhappy childhood, has been picked up by someone who wants to be a pimp. And so the pimp says, “Okay, you’re going to be a prostitute.” And why not just run away then go straight to the cops?

Matt Stoddard:

Yeah, well just got to get back into that mind of the 15 year old girl. Sometimes the circumstances are such that that’s a scary thought because typically when that speech is being given, we’re not outdoors anymore in a parking lot. We’re usually in some sort of the pimp’s place. There’s a house or some sort of hotel room or something. Sometimes there’s guns. Sometimes there’s force. Or sometimes there’s sort of subtle threats of force like, “Well, I’ve been to prison.” I mean, is that a threat? I don’t know. But it might be to the mind of a 15 year old.

Jeb Butler:

I think it might be to me.

Matt Stoddard:

So there’s typically that sort of thing is going on. But sometimes it’s more of a coercion than a straight force. Sort of talking them into it, a child would do things like, “Well, if you love me, you’ll do this. We both need this to make money for us.” Sometimes we’ve had some cases that, well, we’ve already taken nude videos of you, and if you don’t do it, we’re going to post them on all your relatives Facebook’s account. We’ve had that happen before. But it is a variety of ways that they’re brought into this. Sometimes it’s show up to the free room and the 15 year old girl thinks through the internet she’s talking to a 22 year old man and shows up to find a 55 year old man and two of his friends. And now she’s at this hotel without transportation because she got dropped off without money, without any way to get back, and there’s all these much older men with her.

Jeb Butler:

Yeah, yeah. She’s not in a good bargaining position.

Matt Stoddard:

A succinct way of saying it, yeah.

Jeb Butler:

So, all right, this has happened and the girl has now been coerced or she’s going to be a prostitute that’s how it’s going to be like. How does that life look?

Matt Stoddard:

So sometimes the time period’s are really short. Some people do tend to get away after two weeks, three weeks, even four or five days. That seems to be more uncommon. And I mean, I’m only getting a flavor of it, right. I’m not out on the street. I’m getting the phone calls, but that does happen.

Jeb Butler:

Yeah. We get called way down the line.

Matt Stoddard:

Yeah, we do. Yes. It’s usually at least a year or two after this has happened, more often, more like five to 10 years after this has happened. We can talk about some of the reasons why later, but your question I think was sort of what’s the next step? So, is that correct?

Jeb Butler:

Yeah, yeah. I want to know as best you can, tell us what it’s like in the day-to-day life of someone who’s been forced into prostitution.

Matt Stoddard:

Got it. So there tends to be a home base or home bases, and they’re usually hotels. That’s who we end up suing oftentimes because it appears that they are making money off it and they clearly know what’s going on. But there’s usually one, two, maybe three different hotels in one area town that seem to be okay with this. And so the pimp has set up shop in these hotels and he’s running his girls or girl through them two weeks at this one, two weeks at that one, two weeks at the next one performing sometimes it’s like four or five sex acts a day, sometimes it’s like 50 a day, and so as much as there is a market for it. Now those are the home bases. And I think the most of it tends to be posted online somewhere. And then there’s texting back and forth and then the Johns show up at the hotel.

Jeb Butler:

So why don’t police just watch the website, used to be Backpages, whatever it’s now. And they say okay, for a good time show up at the, I don’t know what, the Residence Inn and wherever and swarm up police, just show up and bust it.

Matt Stoddard:

Yeah. Well, I know for a fact that sometimes they do. But it appears to be pretty rare and I don’t have a good answer for that. Now our Department of Justice has shut down Backpages for this very reason.

Jeb Butler:

That was the old website.

Matt Stoddard:

Correct. That did a whole bunch of this sort of stuff. And I don’t have a good answer for why it seems to be happening with such impunity, I suppose, nationwide, but it is. One thing maybe that there is a separate federal law, not the TBPRA that says essentially if you’re a website, then you’re just a message board and you’re not liable for what people post on your message board. So it has been very difficult to civilly seek redress from people like Craigslist and Backpages and some of the other websites.

My understanding is that there’s been some limited success with Backpages because the way Backpages was operating is if you as a pimp wrote down something like Young Latina or something that indicated the girl was underage, Backpages would not accept that, but would then suggest alternative wording back to you to post to the website. And so in that circumstance, some crafty lawyers, I think out in California or Washington State, argued that the website is no longer a message board, but is now creating content and as a content creator they could be sued. Now I think that’s really not the right road to take. Backpages is bankrupt, I believe. The Department of Justice has kind of taken all their money. I think that’s a whole, not really the right can of worms to open, but it’s technically possible maybe depending on the circumstances to go after the website.

Jeb Butler:

You mentioned texting back and forth. So if there’s an ad somewhere on the internet for Johns than is to say people who are going to see a prostitute, is it the ad going to give the hotel address or just a number to call in a general area?

Matt Stoddard:

I believe most often that the hotel address is not listed. And the reason I say believe is we certainly try to get the advertisements, but that is pretty difficult to do seven or eight years later. We’ve had some success in cases where the Department of Justice has gone in and gathered evidence for a criminal investigation. But it doesn’t seem to give any addresses. Oftentimes it’s just a phone number. Then the texting is sort of to set up the more concrete details and logistics of how it’s going to work.

Jeb Butler:

So somebody probably buy a single used phone is like, all right, show up at this hotel, go to the room number, whatever.

Matt Stoddard:

Correct. I don’t even know if it is a single use phone. It’s pretty blatant and doesn’t seem like they seem to care, but yeah, that’s right. They just have to go to a certain hotel room.

Jeb Butler:

Okay. So tell us about when somebody gets in touch with the Stoddard Law Firm.

Matt Stoddard:

So sometimes we get phone calls from people that are actively being trafficked or that sometimes what starts out as clear trafficking, they can kind of brainwash. It’s almost like a drug addiction. And sometimes that did happen, but now they’re 30 and it’s like freelance prostitution without a pen. So that happens too. But we often get, I don’t want to say often, we sometimes get phone calls from people that I would say are still more involved in this life than we prefer and haven’t been able to get out. We try to help get them out. I’ve been really fortunate. My office manager, Shauna Thomas, spent a good bit of time prior to working for me on the streets on Fulton industrial side, west side of Atlanta, trying to talk girls out of prostitution and get them into treatment centers.

Jeb Butler:

This is like something she did on the weekends out there.

Matt Stoddard:

That’s right. It was her godmother, I believe, was hired by Paul Howard who used to be the District Attorney for Fulton County to sort of set up an alternative to criminal liability for prostitutes. So people would get arrested for prostitution, and much like we’re starting to see nationwide with drug treatment, they were trying to take these girls and get them out of that life. Instead of putting them in prison, let’s get them treatment and see if we can get the proper foundation so they can be a productive member of our society. And so Shauna spent a lot of her time sort of just helping volunteering because she’s got a good heart, a lot of these girls. And in doing that, she made a lot of contacts with the treatment providers. And so when we get phone calls from people that we call it sort of raw, it’s still kind of happening or recently have been extricated from these situations, Shauna has some contacts where we can sometimes get people into certain treatment programs and get them the help they need.

Unfortunately, Medicaid is not always the partner that we’d like them to be with that. But we have gotten creative and found some ways to help some people. Your question I think was how do they come to us? So that’s sometimes if they come very early on. Other times we’ll get people that have found their own way through it. Either it was brief and they went and got some counseling, three weeks, a month, something like that. Or it wasn’t brief. Maybe it was a year or two, two to three different traffickers. But some way they found a way out.

Sometimes after this lifestyle starts, there’s usually a drug addiction element, not usually, not often a drug addiction element later. So sometimes you have to get drug treatment. Then we need to rebuild our life and it takes a long time. So that’s a preferred case for us. We’re happy to help when we need to, but the preferred case is somebody that has already had some treatment, has a job, has a home, seems to be sort of a productive member of our society, but had just a really sad period that she was able to come through.

Jeb Butler:

So if someone finds our interview and they’re in this life and want out, you going to take their phone call?

Matt Stoddard:

Yeah, I mean, well, we’ll certainly take anybody’s phone call, talk to them usually for 20, 30 minutes. Generally what we’ll do is we’ll have a very short first phone call, then we’ll have an internal meeting, and then we’ll have a longer phone call. And sometimes, unfortunately these cases, six or seven phone calls over a period of months. Because what we’re trying to do is gather information. If you tell us you were arrested twice during this process for prostitution, or maybe your pimp beat you, but the police came and just said it was an assault, we want to get those police reports. If you went to the hospital to, because we’ve had this happen, there was a forced abortion by the pimp and then you went to the hospital. So we want to get all those medical records. What we’re trying to do is rebuild what happened with some fat data points.

And when someone’s been through such significant trauma, sometimes the memories are a little muddled. And it’s very helpful to have those data points. I mean, they can generally tell you where they were and who the trafficker were, but when it gets to real details, well, was that in April or was that in June of 2015 or 2017? Sometimes it’s helpful to have those data points. You know what? I should also mention throughout this interview, I’ve basically been saying she and her the whole time. We have had phone calls from men or boys, typically gay men, that have had this happen to them too. So it is majority of the phone calls are women, but not always.

Jeb Butler:

When you’ve heard [inaudible 00:20:25] Kiana who’s working the camera now, asked you, I can’t remember how she put it, who’s going to pay? So let’s say you take the case. You do civil work like we do. You take the case and you win. I mean, the pimp is going to be some broke moron that doesn’t have anything. How are you going to collect any money for your client?

Matt Stoddard:

Yeah, so that’s usually true. And it’s a great question. We actually do have one case right now where the pimp is a fairly famous musician. So we may actually, we’re looking at whether it’s a go after the actual musician in addition to what I’m about to tell you about. The more common route, so under the TVPRA, a lawsuit can be brought against anyone who knowingly benefited from participating in this even if they didn’t know about the sex trafficking acts. They can have what’s called a constructive knowledge of the trafficking. So typically what we do is we sue the hotels because the hotels knowingly benefited. They got money for the room rentals. And the room itself is part of the sex trafficking venture. You got to have a room for the activities.

Jeb Butler:

And the hotels get paid for it. They’re making money.

Matt Stoddard:

And in most of the circumstances or not, I won’t say that. I say in the cases that we bring, we feel very confident that the hotel at least had constructive knowledge that this was happening. I have a hard time understanding how 10 Johns a day can be coming into a hotel room over a period of months without the hotel at least turning a blind eye towards what’s happening. Particularly generally when we do the intake table, what hotels, when we start looking at it, you go online and start looking at the Google reviews and the Yahoo reviews and the Trip Advisor reviews and they say prostitution all over the place. Then you pull 600 police reports, which is an insane number of police reports for one location. Think about how many if you pulled your house or this law firm. This is a commercial business. How many police reports you have? You pulled my law firm. I think you’d have two, two police reports. It’s 600.

Jeb Butler:

Yeah, I don’t know if there’s one of them. It’s a joke.

Matt Stoddard:

It is minor stuff. So I think we had had a trespassing. Somebody we had to fuss at them and get them off. They wouldn’t leave the property. And that’s going to happen to any commercial business. But 600? 600 reports? And you start reading through them and they start talking about prostitution, not every one, but crack cocaine, murder, rape, prostitution. And you’re going on? Something is not right here. Something’s not right. Sometimes when we talk to the victims, they’ll talk to us about how people that worked at the hotel were actually the Johns. Other times will hear about how-

Jeb Butler:

You mean people who worked there were having sex with, I don’t know, now we’re calling survivors, but the victims or the prostitutes or whoever?

Matt Stoddard:

Yeah, that’s right. Sometimes for free room for the night or something like that. Sometimes because you have to. It would be their attitude. You got to pay for the remaining on this because we’re giving you the venue. Other times what you’re getting is a sort of a lookout. They’ll let the pimp know when the cops are coming,

Jeb Butler:

Who will?

Matt Stoddard:

The hotel. The hotel front desk will call the pimps. Now they might not explicitly know what exactly has happened in that room, although I think they probably do, but they’ve turned a blind eye towards it. But they know what it ain’t. And what it ain’t is somebody visiting Atlanta for the weekend. They know something fishy is happening there and-

Jeb Butler:

A whole bunch of dudes going in and out the room.

Matt Stoddard:

There’ll be complaints. Sometimes what you’ll hear, and I’ve seen text messages. because every now and again we’ll get a cell phone and there’ll be text messages from the front desk, “You’ve got too much foot traffic right now.” Now why does the front desk even have the cell phone numbers that to begin with? But you’ll see a lot of that. And then you think about the amount of towels that something-

Jeb Butler:

Towels?

Matt Stoddard:

Yeah, like the towels. So if there are 10 Johns a day coming through a room, that’s a lot of showering. That’s a lot of towels. The use of the room is different so the garbage and the towel usage is going to be different. Sometimes it’s explicit because there’s scantily clad girls walking around meeting the Johns outside. I’ve never quite understand the distinction between hotel and motel. But many of these facilities are such that you open your door and you see the outside,. You don’t open your door and see a hallway and then walk down to a lobby. So it’s blatant in that anyone in the parking lot can see everything that’s going.

Jeb Butler:

So your job as a victim’s lawyer, you’ve got to collect from a hotel because the John usually doesn’t have any money. And so your job is to show the hotel knew that what was going on was not good.

Matt Stoddard:

That’s right.

Jeb Butler:

Any reasonable hotel owner would’ve suspected this is being used for prostitution.

Matt Stoddard:

That’s right. Knew or should have known is a standard, knew or should have known that this was going on. Now we use that TVPRA. We also use Georgia’s racketeering statute. There’s a racketeering is a sort of complex statutory scheme, but essentially if you’re running a house of prostitution, a racketeering claim can be brought against the hotel. Also, we’ve made the argument that the hotel is pimping. Under the statute for pimping, if you aid and abet a pimp, you are pimping. And I’m butchering the language of the statute. I’m trying to dumb it down to make it easy. But there may be an argument there.

Jeb Butler:

So this is a really interesting point to me. I think in order to show that the hotel knew or should have known that there was sex trafficking going on. You’ve got women not wearing much walking around, escorting dudes in the room. You’ve got a lot of foot traffic. You’ve got sometimes the people who work at the hotel serving as lookouts. The people who work at the hotel serving as the Johns, bunch of towels, bunch of police reports. And the hotel can go on Google same as I can or you can and see the Google reviews. But you also told me, I think about a kind of vending machine.

Matt Stoddard:

So we were talking about that before we went on. So sometimes you’ll see in the lobbies of these CD hotels, they’ll just have vending machines just filled with condoms. That’s a pretty good indication that this is not a normal hotel.

Jeb Butler:

A lot of times people think it’s already something the police can take care of, and that if someone doesn’t go to the police, well then whatever they’re claiming did happen must not have happened. But this is kind of an unusual situation. How do you see interactions between your client and the police?

Matt Stoddard:

First, I think we all have a part to play. Anything that can be done to shut down these sort of actions is a good thing. I think there are good people that work for the police that are trying to do their best to shut down.

Jeb Butler:

Sure.

Matt Stoddard:

You can’t put a corporation in prison. You can put a pimp in prison and they do at times, but you can’t put a corporation in prison. So if we can take away the venue, I mean, these hotels are making money off of this. And if we can take away the venue that they need for the activity to be performed, I think that’s a big benefit to society. Now I’ll put a period there and transfer to a related area, which is something that really surprised me. I don’t know of one of these cases that I have, or even the ones you haven’t brought yet, and I’ve probably got at any time I’ve probably talked to 30, 40 girls about this. I don’t know one of them where that girl went to the police about the trafficking and the guys in jail or in prison because the girl went there. That shocked me.

Jeb Butler:

The victim doesn’t go to the police.

Matt Stoddard:

Yeah, they don’t tend to go to the police. That shocked me at first.

Jeb Butler:

Yeah. Well, why?

Matt Stoddard:

I’ve come around to what’s happening there. We encourage them and have encouraged them to communicate with law enforcement. But an individual police officer, I mean, they’re human. When you tell anyone a story like this, they want to help and you’ve got their attention. But just getting to the right person to tell the story to is a huge problem. One of the issues in my opinion is so normally when this trafficking’s occurring, it’s not just happening in the city of Atlanta or DeKalb County unincorporated, or Fulton County unincorporated or Clayton County. All of these places have different police departments. And what they’re all telling the victims is, “I can only help you for the things that happened in my jurisdiction.” So what that means is this victim is telling the same story over and over. It was a terribly traumatic story. And they get shut down. I have one case where the amount-

Jeb Butler:

You mean the victims get…

Matt Stoddard:

Yeah, they give up on the police. Because what they see is, and I’m not saying I agree with their viewpoint. I think there’s good people in the police departments that want to help. But what they see is that the police don’t give a damn. That the person might-

Jeb Butler:

They’re good people but are an institution.

Matt Stoddard:

The person might. There’s a lot of promises given. In the…

Jeb Butler:

So Matt, before we had a camera issue, you were telling me about some of the difficulties you have with the trafficking events occurring in different jurisdictions like DeKalb, Fulton, city of Atlanta, wherever.

Matt Stoddard:

Sure, yeah. So it’s really a difficulty that I think the victims are having when dealing with the police departments. So each police department is telling the victim, “Well, I only handle my jurisdiction.” So the trafficking doesn’t work that way. There’s a few home bases. I was down in Clay County for a little while, then I was in DeKalb, then I was in the city of Atlanta. And so what ends up happening is the victim has to tell this terribly traumatic story, and they want the life story from the beginning to the end, over and over and over again. And they get deterred from doing that because it feels to them like the police aren’t doing anything. You go walk into a police department and tell a story like this, the first thought might be that you’re crazy, because frankly, some people are crazy and just say wild stuff. And so there’s sort of a filter process that you have to get through it seems to the right person and-

Jeb Butler:

The detective or whatever who handles this kind of case.

Matt Stoddard:

That’s right. And he or she may not be there. So this may take multiple trips to the police station for one police station. And remember you got to go to multiple. And then we had a really just heartbreaking experience. I won’t tell the whole backstory.

Jeb Butler:

Tell us what you want. Tell the whole story.

Matt Stoddard:

We had a victim who had a real hard time with DeKalb County. Her and her mother had gone down there and told the right story to what they thought was the right people. And they were given all these promises. And the girl, the daughter got basically lost in the system. They didn’t know where she was. The detectives didn’t follow up. It was a disaster. But eventually she got to the right guy at DeKalb who gave a damn, who spent a lot of time and effort. He could tell I think that she had been, I want to say wronged by the cops, but maybe they hadn’t put their best foot forward. And he really just did I thought an exceptional job.

And I don’t know that the victim would agree with me mean. She was so irritated. Irritated is wrong word. I mean, just angry at that point. But so DeKalb was going good. And we had told the detective, what about all this stuff in Clayton County? And so you have to go to Clay County for that. And so I said, “All right.” I say, “I got an idea. I’m going to email the captain, the lawyer, and I’ll explain. Maybe I can get her past all of the sort of filtering to the top dogs.” And it looked like it was working. I emailed the captain and I had all this data that the victims don’t normally have because I was like, “Here’s police reports. Here’s medical records. Talk to this other detective.” I talk their language in a way that the victim put it.

So then they said, “Okay, there’s something to this.” So this girl, the victim, she’s still a minor and she’d been through this stuff already so many times, FBI-

Jeb Butler:

She’s already been to DeKalb.

Matt Stoddard:

Yeah. She [inaudible 00:34:21], but she didn’t want to do it. But I talked her into it and we’re going to have this meeting where she’s going to talk to the cops. And she had a few conditions. And one thing I’ve learned about these victims is I think they feel as if all their control has been taken away through the process of the trafficking. And so sometimes they make sort of unusual demands and they refuse to compromise on it. And what I’ve learned is that’s them trying to assert their control. And the best thing you can do, because now they’re in charge, the best thing you can do is to give it to him if you can.

So this victim, she wanted me in the room because she got to where she trusted me during the interview. I didn’t care about being in the room, but I said, “Sure, I’ll be in the room.” And so we had the day set. The victims don’t live in Clay County. I drove 45 minutes. They drove an hour. We went to meet all these police and we showed up for the meeting. And the first thing they told us was that I could not be in the room. So the victim’s losing-

Jeb Butler:

Even though you’d already told them?

Matt Stoddard:

Yes. Yeah. So the victim’s losing it. Her mom’s losing it. We have a sort of a moment. We go outside and talk in the parking lot. I convince them it’s going to be okay. These are the top dogs of the police department. Let’s go forward with this interview. They were wearing special shirts. They had been up all night.

Jeb Butler:

This is the mom and the-

Matt Stoddard:

Yeah, the mom and the daughter, concerned about this interview. And so-

Jeb Butler:

It’s a big deal.

Matt Stoddard:

It’s a big deal to them. And so we go back into the room, they’ve agreed that I don’t have to be there. They’re going to go forward. And then there’s some other regulation that comes up where you need some sort of, I don’t know who it was, some non-cop employee, some sort of social worker type person there. And the one that they had chosen was refusing to do it because she had previously seen the victim in an unrelated incident two years before back when she was in DFCS or something. So then we were told the interview was not going to go forward, never saw the cops the whole day. All we saw was administrative people. And they just lost it. And they haven’t been back.

And they just get disheartened. They give more information and more information and nothing seems to be happening.

Jeb Butler:

The bureaucracy just stalls.

Matt Stoddard:

Yeah. And so I’m hopeful that one of the things that I’m accomplishing is I get to dig up some facts that with permission I can share with the police. And maybe that can help solve the problem too, because the victim is much more motivated to talk to me, frankly. Because one thing at the end of the tunnel, hopefully there’s a recovery. But also the bureaucracy of the Stoddard Firm is pretty small. I mean-

Jeb Butler:

It’s basically Stoddard.

Matt Stoddard:

Yeah. We have I think five or six employees total. I mean, you’re talking to two or three people. I mean, we are not a public agency. I mean, we’re a private company designed to… We’re selective about the cases we’re going to take. But once we’ve decided you’re in our camp, you’re our camp. So we’re there to help.

Jeb Butler:

Yeah. Well, thank you for your great work and thank you for coming in.

Matt Stoddard:

Oh, yes. Enjoyed it.

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