Alumna Honored For Fighting Global Trafficking
SHSU Media Contact: Hannah Haney
Sam Houston State University graduate, Special Agent Katherine Langston (’99), and her investigative team at the U.S. Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service (DSS), recently earned the prestigious Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association’s (FLEOA) National Group Achievement Award for their relentless pursuit to secure justice for a victim of labor trafficking.
“It's an incredibly huge honor not only to be recognized by your own agency, but then to have your investigation compared against all investigations, specifically for this case, which was very trying and probably the most difficult I've ever had – is an honor,” Langston said. “I genuinely had a perfect team who were all motivated and dedicated to tackling this unique and interesting case.”
The case, assigned to Langston in September of 2016, involved a young girl who was kidnapped from her village in Guinea, brought to the United States when she was under 10 years old, and then forced to live as a servant with no pay for an affluent Texas family for the next 16 years.
“This girl never went to school, never received medical treatment, was never properly socialized, was very much isolated, and was mentally led to believe that this was her role in this family,” Langston said. “We probably did 20 plus interviews with this victim, covering 16 years of just really horrendous conditions and abuse.”
According to Langston, this case took an emotional toll because of the number of years spent investigating, traveling overseas, following leads, encountering roadblocks, and uncovering evidence.
“For us, this was one of those really bizarre cases. We had endless obstacles. The defendants were from a very affluent and politically connected family and created all kinds of hurdles. We felt like every time we would take steps forward; we would fall backwards a little,” Langston said. “Thankfully, we persevered so that the victim was able to get the justice that she deserved.”
After about two years, the investigative team had a case file demonstrating the wealthy couple had committed forced labor, conspiracy to commit alien harboring, and alien harboring. The couple was eventually sentenced to seven years in prison each and ordered to pay more than $288,000 in restitution to the young woman in 2019.
DSS has the largest global presence of any U.S. law enforcement organization, operating at more than 270 U.S. diplomatic posts in over 170 countries, and in 32 U.S. cities. The organization is responsible for investigating transnational crimes and for protecting State Department facilities, people, and information.
Trafficking in persons, also known as modern slavery or human trafficking, includes both sex trafficking and compelled labor. For more information on the State Department’s work deterring this global crime, please visit https://www.state.gov/what-is-trafficking-in-persons/.
Q&A with Special Agent Kate Langston
Name: Special Agent Katherine (Kate) Langston
Hometown: Kingwood, Texas
Major/Minor while at SHSU: Criminal Justice major, Chemistry minor, Chemistry major, Criminal Justice minor. (’99)
Internship: The first ever internship offered at the Harris County Medical Examiner’s Office.
Today@Sam: Can you tell us about your career trajectory?
Special Agent Katherine Langston: I went to Sam Houston State University for my undergrad and received a degree in chemistry and double majored in criminal justice. Then I had the first internship offered at the Harris County Medical Examiner's Office through an internship with Sam Houston State. I then earned a master’s in forensic chemistry from the University of Alabama Birmingham. I was on my way to being a pathologist and pursuing medical school when I was recruited by the U.S. Secret Service, where I worked for 10 years.
T@S: Can you tell us how your time at SHSU impacted your career?
KL: My degree in criminal justice was absolutely instrumental to my career. What differentiates Sam Houston graduates from some of your bigger universities, is by the time you’re in your junior or senior year, you are already writing papers that are equivalent to students in graduate programs. In addition, the experience and exposure to the equipment and the close interactions you can have with your professors makes your recommendation letters stand out. The professors at SHSU genuinely know their students. The relationships that you get to build with these professors, really help shape your career.
T@S: Can you describe your current role?
KL: With DSS, I'm one of our supervisory special agents in our Houston field office. We work with a nexus to human trafficking investigation. Our agency is also tasked with protecting the Secretary of State and his equivalent when they visit the United States, we are part of that security detail. I manage our entire investigative portfolio in terms of best practices, policies and procedures, and how we execute certain missions and operations and manage that for our whole region.
T@S: How did you get into your current field?
KL: I was recruited out of grad school by the Secret Service. I think one of the things that I tell all students is that it doesn't really matter what your degree is. I think what most enforcement agencies are looking for is just that critical thinking skill - the ability to be an analytical, critical thinker. I think my chemistry degree definitely helped me, since it is similar to casework, you're going to problem solve and test. I had that experience and exposure in my undergrad and graduate degrees and later with the Secret Service. I worked all kinds of financial fraud investigations and worked my way up into network intrusion. Then after about 10 years of doing that, I wanted some more international experience, so I switched over to the State Department. When I first got to Houston in 2011, I worked your typical passport/visa fraud and some of these more complex cases. Now, I manage our whole trafficking portfolio after years of investigating and having successful convictions.
T@S: Can you offer advice if you suspect that someone is a victim of human trafficking?
KL: What we tell everyone is “if you see something, say something.”
The National Human Trafficking Hotline phone number is 888.373.7888, you can make an anonymous tip. We investigate every single allegation that comes in and we tell people we're not asking you to be vigilantes, we're not asking you to go rescue people, we're just asking that when you see something, say something. If you think someone is in an exploitive situation, or you don't think they're getting paid what they should, or you see something off in the environment, like they're in the same clothes all the time or they avoid eye contact, whatever the various red flags are, we just tell people to just call it in and you can be anonymous.
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