Anton Salomon, Investigation Specialist Officer

Welcome everyone, to another enlightening episode of the Free to Fly podcast! If this is your first time tuning in, welcome to our incredible community. 

Free To Fly isn’t just a podcast; we are a counter child trafficking organization based in South Africa. 

Embark on a riveting journey with Anton Salomon, a distinguished Investigation Specialist Officer, as he immerses you through the realm of frontline workers dedicated to delivering justice against perpetrators of human trafficking. Anton will shed light on a few human trafficking cases, discuss the factors causing delays in justice, and analyse the significant influence of the digital landscape on this pressing issue. This podcast is your ultimate resource for gaining insights into, preventing, and combating online human trafficking.

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AM:  Good morning.  Welcome to our Free to Fly Podcast.  Free to Fly is an Anti-Human Trafficking Organisation – we combat child trafficking.  If you would like to know more about what we do, go to our Website –  You can also check our Instagram and Facebook pages.  Our guest today is Antonio Solomon who will tell us who he is and how he came to be involved.


AS:  Good morning.  Thank you for having me.  I served in both the South African governments – more specifically, the police for over a decade and was an intelligence officer and segue my way into the US State Department for over 12 years and my specific interest was Diplomatic Security as a criminal fraud investigator and my duties basically were programme management, crisis management, physical technical security, and counter-terrorism, threat analysis and mitigation, to give you some sort of idea as to my background.  Obviously, with the police, it was trans-national organised crime, personal protection and national security coupled with foreign policy and law That’s basically a synopsis of me, and now – the floor is yours.


AM:  Can you please share some of your experiences with investigating child trafficking cases and what it is that motivated you to work in this field.


AS:  I was still a child when this particular matter happened – sometime between 1988 and 1989.  I was about 11 and the case really gripped South Africa as a whole.  It is still one of the biggest mysteries to date.  The Gert van Rooyen case – he was identified as a South Africa paedophile who abducted and sexually assaulted and murdered about 6 young girls between 1988 and 1989.  I was fascinated by that case from the start – I loved to read as a child, and I followed the case through the years, the early 1990’s and until he was caught by the police.  Before he was caught, he killed himself and his accomplice, in a murder/suicide for lack of a better term.  Despite the evidence against him, the 2 were obviously never charged due to their deaths and the bodies of the alleged victims were never found and that to me is still a mystery today.  Probably one of the biggest cases and I wish we could all get together and solve that matter – even up to today, so many years later, that case still fascinates me.  That’s why I eventually got involved in similar, or related, matters.


AM:  So, this case fascinated you so much you wanted to be in this field to possibly solve similar cases and help bring justice to families who have lost their loved ones.


AS:  In essence yes.  My primary focus was to create a safe environment for our communities to conduct our business.  Subsequently too, an organised crime environment.  You know, a lot of matters are inter-linked across multiple other forms of organised crime.  Sometimes its inter-linked because the motivating factor is of course economic.  In a multi-dimensional organised crime environment, you get different types of crime that are inter-linked.  In my case and in my experience, this happened across international borders, trans-national borders, and during my 23 years of investigative experience, it seemed to happen a lot.


AM:  Speaking of inter-linked crimes, can you provide an overview of various ways that children are trafficked and exploited and how these crimes may be inter-linked.


AS:  I think the main drive for any organised crime enterprise is economic drive and financial gain.  In my review experience of children that are trafficked, not only, as we may all think, is it sexual exploitation, but one in four is labour exploitation especially if you look at the national context.  In addition to sexual and labour exploitation, you have to enable adoption and related activities especially in the context of civil services.  Then you also have what we call forced marriages – the local term is Ukuthwala- and it is just a form of abduction which involves some form of kidnapping of a girl, or a young woman.  A man and his friends with his friends or peers with the intention of compelling the girl or the young woman’ family to endorse marriage and negotiations.  Other examples might be, when you look at domestic slavery: cleaning, cooking, childcare – and by minors, in fact.  And one that I touched on earlier, probably the biggest one, is forced labour in factories or in the agricultural sector.  Other petty crimes – I won’t say petty crimes because children are involved: committing crimes like begging, theft, working on farms, moving drugs.  And these crimes are inter-linked together with organ trafficking.  And there’s the dark web and more sophisticated methods of criminal enterprises that are fuelled by economic drive.  So those are some of the various ways that children are trafficked.  One case that I can highlight, recently in the Free State, in the Botshabelo region, where 2 individuals were arrested by Law Enforcement when they tried to do late registrations of children at the age of 5 and 15.  Again, this was for the purposes of adoption for benefits. Obviously, it raised a red flag when after 5 years and even 15 years, they want to register a child for the first time, it just didn’t make any sense, even if you live in a rural area.  Kudos to those officials who saw those red flags.  And that is basically a huge red flag indicator – late birth registrations.  I think a lot of times families either consent or sell their children for financial benefits and obviously make use of illegal adoptions.  So well done to the Department of Home Affairs and police who intervened and successfully arrested a 35 and 51 year old Lesotho and South African citizen.


AM:  Speaking of cases and red flags, what are some of the common indicators that Law Enforcement look for when identifying potential child trafficking situations.


AS:  That’s a very hard question and it always depends – you know, something can seemingly look OK, or not out of the ordinary, and common.  Whereas, if you know what to look for, you will be able to identify certain things. With specific reference to trafficking, and with the emphasis on kids, when they do appear malnourished, untreated medical problems, they have an unkempt appearance – those are indicators that something is out of the ordinary – it tells you something is not OK, things don’t look OK here.  I have experience in interviewing and interrogation, and when you have that you have to interrogate yourself and interrogate the situation and ask yourself, ‘Why do I get this feeling?’ When kids avoid eye contact, or social interaction – that’s out of the ordinary.  Children love to speak, children love to interact.  You can almost sense, in a situation, when they are under control of a guardian – or someone else, an adult – when they have been instructed by someone what to say and won’t necessarily engage in certain conversations, and you can sense they’ve been coerced into doing something, or they have to respond in a certain way, they will act out of the ordinary when they are being monitored and obviously, also, especially, if you are at borders, or ports of entry, or airports, when you travel, you must have at least some sort of luggage and if it appears they have no luggage, that’s another indicator.  Sometimes, in my experience working at ports and borders, when you ask certain questions, they always seek the permission of

the guardian or the adult to first get their consent.  Those are the common red flags -usually distrustful of authorities, which is not a normal occurrence.  Children that appear to be overly fearful, being submissive, tense, or even, in extreme cases, paranoid.  Those are various red flags that I have seen in my experience when interviewing suspected human traffickers at the various ports.  Now segue into other areas – might be clothing that is inappropriate: that is sexual, or not suitable under the weather conditions; they don’t necessarily have their documents with them.  This is more, referring to I would say, to under 18s – still a minor, but they don’t have control of documents; their freedom is somehow restricted; also, where they live, and their living conditions.  This now, obviously, is getting way ahead of ourselves in terms of interviewing, but if you observe those kind of things within a sitting of a human trafficking volunteer, or Law Enforcement or border policing, that is enough reason for us to interrogate the matter further to establish whether you have a bona fide traveller or not – whether it is trafficking within borders doesn’t necessarily make a difference because trafficking id trafficking,  whether its across borders, or inside provincial borders.  So that’s as much as I can elaborate on the red flag indicators.


AM:  As somebody who has worked at the border and at the port, how do you collaborate with other agencies or organisations to combat child trafficking.


AS:  You know, government is very bureaucratic and there’s a lot of red tape, but I think it’s important to know the standard operating procedures of various organisations.  A lot of times that’s developed by Law Enforcement – in our social services, the prosecution and I think where there is improved co-ordination in management  I suppose not only major cases.  I am talking about single cases of trafficking.  You have to know where to go and who to contact in terms of specific cases and when there is major case management required.  You have to know that there are international stakeholders, and their engagement through strategic partners, such as United Nations, other inter-agency co-ordinations groups such as Trafficking Persons and, – there’s a whole host of international partners that you might need in specific cases.  Some you might need for other types of cases.  But I think that what is important, is the international community, especially the United Nations, International Criminal Investigative Training Assistance Programs, commonly known as ICITAP,  Europol, Interpol, the Department of Social Development, the NPA in the local context, private organisations  and yours, and Freedom Network, as you would know.  And then also, other international partners such as the European Union, Council of the Baltic Sea States, the development community, countries focus groups specifically designed for human trafficking, Department of Health, Tourism – locally and internationally, and those are all imbedded in certain task teams.  What I can highlight is the task team in Kwa Zulu Natal as a benchmark for cross border child trafficking cases has been really successful for the last few years.


AM:  Could you share a particularly challenging or impactful case that you’ve come across in the past related to child trafficking and what were the key factors that contributed to its resolution.


AS:  I’ve worked behind the scenes in a case that was highly publicised: in Cape Town there was a creche in Melkbosstrand, and this case file came across my desk after there was no movement in the case for quite some time.  Based on my designation at the time in the state department, we used diplomacy to bring some traction on this case:  there was a creche involved by the name of  Babbel & Krabbel :  a 63 year-old and a 69 year-old couple were allegedly involved in paedophilia – there were allegations that at break time, kids, especially boys – and also girls, would be transported to the house  . . . close to the school and became victims of abuse.  The details of those instances were unearthed after a long, long period, and researching the affidavits, the forensic reports, the medical evaluations, presented. It really hit the core of my entire existence that there was no traction on this case and that there were possible new victims all the time.  This case stemmed from, – it was over a period of almost 10 years.  So those allegations, and the case, was eventually brought to the public and the community – I think it was some time in 2011 if I’m not mistaken,  over about 7 cases dockets were opened on the same allegations of sexual assault, and rape, by the alleged perpetrator made it to the police, made it to the prosecution office and unfortunately those  cases were not prosecuted because there was no reasonable successful prosecution according to the authorities.  We used that sort of incident to gain traction on the case – in the working mechanisms of the police, people get transferred, cases get re-assigned, and those are the challenges that were faced by the victim and the community. We eventually gained some traction the community gets involved in specific cases like that – it affects the entire community.  And that is the type of response – sometimes prosecutions – they do an amazing work – they face different challenges, the police themselves faced different challenges, but at least it gained traction and there was a movement on the cases.  Although, not the desired outcome, but still, I think, when you move the ball forward in specific cases, it’s always a good thing that there’s progress on a case, that’s positive.


AM:  How would you encourage the community to get more involved in these kind of cases so that they are trialled and sentenced and there is no interference in terms of the investigation, and letting the police do their work.  Because, sometimes in our communities, you do have people who just want to take justice into their own hands, and sometimes that does hinder the cases.  How would you approach communities and tell them how they should approach these cases in such a way that allows Law Enforcement to come in and do their job.


AS:  As citizens, we are always impatient:  the wheel of justice is slow as we all know and I think it’s just to know the signs and is important, and to give the police and authorities time to investigate the matter.  Sometimes, yes, we all know – that resources are limited, things do not always progress as we want it to, at the pace that we want, but it is important to allow investigations to take its course and justice to take its course.  Eventually these cases go to court and get prosecuted.  I also think that we have to know the signs of human trafficking.  We’ve talked about the red flag indicators and common myths about trafficking and its facts.  Encourage the community to just simply report the tip, spread the word, look beneath the surface of things.  Let’s all get together and campaign for awareness and also know that resources are limited – let everyone know that there is a Natiuonal Human Trafficking Hotline, and they are very capable staff that are able to help.  They will record the necessary data and align that information with the appropriate authorities.  It does take time, but it is important to report the matter and then, once you report it, spread the word – tell your community, tell your friends, this is what you’ve seen, this is out of the ordinary.  In my experience over decades, the staff at the National Human Trafficking Hotline are exceptional and they do fantastic work. but I can grantee that information that is recorded, or the tips that are recorded, it gets passed on to the relevant authorities.  And again, I say, sometimes we want action immediately, whereas you have to give the authorities time and space to execute their mandate.


AM:  So, what are the right steps that someone could take if their family member or friend is kidnapped?  What are the right steps for them to take in order for them to get the right kind of support that they need at that moment.


AS:  I think your first call is the police – your local police not an entity. So, report the tip, report it to the National Human Trafficking Hotline.  What people sometimes forget is, be persistent.  Sometimes the police are overburdened – they’re overwhelmed.  Sometimes they are uneducated in terms of if there are trafficking indicators.  Again, just be consistent in reporting the tip – if there’s no action, report it again.  I would almost say, harass the police with the same information until you get the help that you need.  Do not wait 24 hours – that’s a myth again about trafficking, or missing persons, – report the matter immediately to the relevant authorities, and tell your friends about it.  That’s a most import thing, to campaign and awareness for the matter that you reported and follow it up.  Definitely, in my experience, that information will be followed up by the relevant authorities, or, passed on to the applicable unit which has a mandate to investigate.  Trafficking can take many forms; it will most likely go to the specific unit within the police.


AM:  As someone who has worked in this industry for a very long time, can you comment on how child trafficking has evolved over the years – the biggest change being technology.  What are the emerging trends and challenges in this field and how has technology changed trafficking.


AS:  We are in a technology-driven era, and sometimes, methodologies don’t necessarily change, it only gets refined, with the help of technological advancements.  On this side of the spectrum, we look for the human trafficking organisation and law enforcement. This software collects real time data, on events, locations, actives, fatalities, types of incidents, whether its political violence, protests, trafficking, kidnapping.  Then there are multiple technological platforms that support huge data input and can collate that information into actionable intel and information that can be used by Law Enforcement or civil organisations such as NGOs and the likes of us.  It gives us an indication of intelligence and information that can be collated into evidence and comprises proactive information to then strategize in terms of how we want to deal with certain matters and develop a more cohesive approach to anti-trafficking strategies.  So that’s one end of the spectrum and of course you know, multiple technology platforms dictate that it can be tailored for a specific purpose.  But the challenge is, again, we are working in a compartmentalised system – it’s not going to make a big difference. But if we share crucial information, that will enable, ultimately to address the challenge, or the threat, that’s the key to all of this.  In the past, each department, government especially, stakeholders, – they keep their information for themselves, and it goes nowhere, and it’s not actioned.  So, sitting with the information is good, and having knowledge of it, but we have to action that ultimately.  I think through shared partnerships that the newly-formed Border Management Agency is intending to do, that will be a big positive in using technology as a resource, and that’s inevitably the way the world is heading.  So, a centralised hub for optimisation is key in addressing systematic issues and especially those that affect our communities and country as a whole – and with reference to trafficking persons, of course.  That is on the one spectrum if that answers your question.


AM:  Yes, it does.  Can you please share insights on the importance of international co-operation and intelligence sharing in tracking child trafficking cases especially in your experience as a member of the intelligence community.


AS:  That’s so important. You know international co-operation is key to solving these cases, or at least making inroads on.  As I’ve previously mentioned, the methodologies sometimes remain the same, you have your romance scams, false job advertisements, lies about educational travel opportunities, foreign contracts.  In poorer countries such as Lesotho, we have the sale of children by poor families.  Recruitment, obviously, in a lot of cases, is through someone who is known within the community, on the left; on the right you have religious cults that’s breeding ground for trafficking as well, abduction in plain sight, you have forced pregnancies, the sale of the babies.  Sometimes, – it is not commonly known, but refugee camps are almost always targeted by traffickers, because those experiencing poor living conditions – a promise of a job and a home/house – it just seems a no-brainer.  The use of online media platforms has made it easier for traffickers to lure victims.  If you look at how the world became a smaller place with the internet – we look at Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, all these dating sites, Tinder, You Tube.  In the international context we look at other platforms such as, what we mostly use – Whatsapp, Grinder, Tinder Fish, Tinder  all those types of sites, it is breeding ground for possible trafficking of persons and really get into the world.  During covid 19 I attended a webinar through Ikmek and during that time, like any other time in history, there was an increase of internet usage and child sexual abuse material: the production of it, the distribution and visual depictions of children being sexually assaulted and exploited as never before – during covid 19.  So that lockdown, in effect, increased the number of cases that were seen across the world.  And significantly, alarmingly so, India was one of the countries that had the biggest spike in those sort of cases.  So international co-operation is important – the buzz word these days is ‘OSINT’ – open source investigations techniques.  Something that I’ve been trained on, and its not only applicable to Law Enforcement but it’s also important that we know that to foster professional network partners within the anti-human trafficking environment will go a long way.  I’ve mentioned , with most governments, stakeholders, business, civil society and emerging organisations.  They are key in addressing specific cases and  we have to develop some sort of human terrain with key contacts and role players and identify strategic partners, both locally and internationally.  So, as I mentioned, some organisations, such as the UN, and within the UN there’s a myriad of agencies that can assist – especially with international co-operation with the ICC, the whole mechanism. If I have to mention all those agencies, it will take the rest of the afternoon.  That’s just a broad overview – you’ve got to know where to go, who to contact in terms of an international intelligence community.  Also, not all cases will involve the same actors.  So, different jurisdictions, different playbooks almost.  So, yes, it’s important to have a professional network that you have to cultivate over years and years – it is just not established overnight.   I think the Freedom Network in South Africa, that’s a key ingredient of international co-operation.  I know that they work with international partners.


AM:  Yes, so what you are saying is community involvement – we have to, as a community, want to know about this and we always have to keep ourselves updated because these circumstances are always changing.  So, we encourage you, our listeners, please be involved, wherever you are in the world, in South Africa, please be involved in your local community.  Educate yourself about such things, and these red flags and help to identify them, because human trafficking is not a crime that pops out and says here I am being trafficked – it is such a subtle crime that we need to look for it.  In order to look for it, you need to be educated about this crime, and you need to know what to look for – which is the importance of education.

AS:  Absolutely, yes.


AM:  So lastly, what gives you hope in this challenging work that you do.  What can our listeners and the public do to support professionals like you in an effort to combat child trafficking.


AS:  Human Trafficking is an evil practice and we don’t always have all the answers, but once in my lifetime, I heard the following phrase:  Where there is life, there is hope.  And I think each child that live in our space – you have to allow that child to become the best version of themselves, even with a glimmer of hope.  Each year, millions of children, women and men from all regions, from all over the world, are trafficked.  Their hope is stolen.  When we play a part in rescuing and saving 1 child, it makes a difference.  Our efforts are not in vain – its worth hoping for more – humanity owes any child the best it has to give.  Again, when we save 1 child, we have done the Lord’s work.  And with that, I will always remain hopeful.  We are living in a beautiful amazing world, and I know I’ll fight against this evil practice – it will become more challenging, but I also know our successes will increase with partnerships and co-operation of everyone involved.  That gives me hope.


AM:  Yes, I’m grateful that you said that because helping 1 child makes a huge difference, like you said.  Thank you, Mr. Antonio for allowing us to interview you.  Thank you for your knowledge, your input and your expertise.  I’m hopeful that some of our listeners have learnt something from you today.  Thank you very much for your valuable input.


AS:  I’m happy to have been part of your program – until next time God bless you.