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Alumnus seeks justice as he fights on front lines of human trafficking with Department of Homeland Security

Through his work at the Department of Homeland Security, Liberty University alumnus Dr. Doug Gilmer (’90) combats human trafficking and the illegal drug trade firsthand. He spoke about the growing challenges in these areas during lectures in Helms School of Government classes on Nov. 16 and 17 when he took annual leave from his job to visit Liberty as a guest of the school along with other distinguished alumni during Military Appreciation Month.

Gilmer serves as Resident Special Agent in Charge, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), working daily to protect American citizens and serve the best interests of the country.

Dr. Doug Gilmer visited several Helms School of Government classes to discuss his work in Homeland Security Investigations. (Photo by Titus Pettman)

Due to the broad nature of his department, which he said can be called on to investigate any federal crime, Gilmer often finds his work involving several different areas at once. Human trafficking, the illegal drug trade, money laundering, and terrorism are some of the common crimes and issues that he faces.

He said the driving passion for his work is seeking justice. Proverbs 21:15 is tattooed on the inside of his arm: “When justice is done, it is a joy to the righteous but terror to evildoers.”

“That’s been my battle cry,” Gilmer said. “Justice comes in all forms. It’s not just justice for the perpetrators, but justice also applies to the victims. Victims need to see justice for the acts that were committed against them, and perpetrators need to face justice for the crimes they have committed. When justice is done, it is always a good day.”

Human trafficking is a notoriously difficult crime to prevent because of a number of factors, including victims not willing or unable to appear in court to testify against their abusers. Law enforcement and prosecutors often aim to bring other charges against the defendants as well to help ensure the defendants spend time in prison, regardless of whether they are ultimately charged or convicted of human trafficking.

While prosecutions don’t always go as we hope or plan, the most important aspect of this work is the fact that victims are rescued or recovered out of exploitative situations and hopefully help provide them the restorative care and assistance they need.

“Our agency takes a victim first approach that recognizes prosecution on human trafficking charges can be difficult and instead says, the recovery or rescue of a human trafficking victim is just as important and valued as a prosecution. Gilmer said. “Getting the same credit and recognition for efforts to rescue a victim as for making a prosecution not only adds value to the work one does but it also assigns greater value to the victims in these cases who through their exploitation have been repeatedly devalued as people.”

As Gilmer works to combat threats both international and domestic, he keeps his focus on making a positive impact on individuals.

“I think I’d rather be remembered not for what I’ve done but for who I’ve helped,” he said. “I think a lot of people in the agency have that same mindset. It’s not a lot of grandstanding. It’s really about doing what’s best for the communities that we serve and I’m proud of the organization that I work for and for what we do keeping communities safe and providing services to victims of crime.”

Gilmer earned a bachelor’s degree in Interdisciplinary Studies from Liberty, focusing on criminal justice and cross-cultural communications, before going on to complete two graduate degrees and his Ph.D. He has spent about 34 years in law enforcement with 24 of those years at the federal level.

After studying at Liberty, Gilmer became a local officer and served in Charlotte, N.C. Fulfilling a childhood dream to serve in law enforcement, Gilmer saw the benefit these individuals provided to the community and wanted to contribute.

“I just knew that I always wanted to help people,” he said. “Everybody gets into law enforcement and says, ‘I want to do this job because I want to help people,’ but I truly wanted to help people.”

Following his time in local law enforcement, Gilmer was hired as a special agent for the Immigration and Naturalization Service, a subsection of the Department of Justice, and remained with the agency until 2003, when INS was absorbed into the newly founded Department of Homeland Security.

Gilmer said he relies on his faith to guide him in how to respond to those who are suffering from these crimes.

“I don’t know how a person can effectively do this job without some kind of faith background,” Gilmer said. “That’s not to say that everyone’s got to believe the same way I believe, or you believe. But I think a faith background is absolutely essential in sometimes helping to make sense of what’s going on.”

Gilmer has also served his country in the Coast Guard Reserves. He first enlisted after graduating from Liberty, left the military for a few years, and then reenlisted in 1998 and remained with the Coast Guard until retiring in 2019.

In addition to working for the federal government and the military, Gilmer has worked as an adjunct professor for Liberty. As an alumnus, he said he has continued to stay connected with his alma mater because it holds true to the same mission he knew as a student.

“I think that culture of excitement that I saw 30 years ago continues amongst a lot of the students today,” he said. “I see a level of engagement among students on issues this world is facing and a passion to make a real difference. That’s unique.”

The Helms School of Government regularly hosts guest speakers, including many alumni who are working in our nation’s capital and serving God and their country. Earlier this month, the school hosted Lt. Grace Tinkey, a Liberty alumna who serves in the Air Force. Liberty is celebrating Military Appreciation Month in November, offering many opportunities for the Liberty community to honor the sacrifices made by our nation’s heroes.

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