Department of Justice Seal

Prepared Remarks of Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales
at the 2006 National Conference on Human Trafficking

New Orleans, Louisiana
October 3, 2006

Good morning. It is important to me to be here in New Orleans, with all of you, to discuss the fight against the crime of human trafficking.

Human trafficking is a violation of the human body, mind and spirit. For this vile practice to be taking place in a country that the world looks to as a beacon of freedom… is a terrible irony and an utter tragedy.

Every person in this room today, I know, shares that view. We also share a passion for protecting victims and eradicating the practice of enslaving human beings. We work and hope for a world in which there will be no more testimonials from victims like this one, where a young woman brought into this country on false promises eventually told prosecutors: “I was sold from L.A. to Dallas just like a cargo package… I wish there won’t be any more slaves because of the money.”

Those words should never need to be spoken or written in a modern society. And everyone here works for the day when they won’t.

I want each of you to know how much the President and I appreciate your tireless devotion to the victims of this heinous international crime, and I’m pleased to announce that the Department of Justice will be providing almost $8 million in additional funding to create ten new Anti-Trafficking Task Forces. This funding, which will help cement partnerships between law enforcement agencies and victims’-services organizations, will enable the Task Forces’ work of identifying and assisting victims of human trafficking as well as apprehending and prosecuting the perpetrators of these unconscionable crimes.

For example, one of the grants will go to the Louisiana Commission on Law Enforcement to work with the state sheriffs’ association in fighting trafficking along the I-10 corridor. That corridor has become a magnet for human traffickers looking to take advantage of the labor needs in hurricane-damaged areas of the state. The task force will use regional response teams to identify and rescue victims in targeted areas and put a stop to the exploitation and abuse of laborers.

In these task forces, service providers and law enforcement rescue victims and help restore their human dignity. Working together, we can help them re-enter a world that seems newly welcoming and dangerous at the same time. We can help cultivate the extraordinary courage these victims need to confront their traffickers face-to-face and re-open emotional memories during trials and hearings.

We must work together – we must intensify our efforts – because as we speak, a married couple could be bringing an unsuspecting young Filipino girl to America with the promise of schooling and safety – only to keep her locked away as a domestic servant.

As we speak, an American girl could be falling for the wiles of a pimp – only to be forced into inherently dehumanizing prostitution.

As we speak, 20, or 50, or 100 victims could be locked behind the walls of an otherwise nondescript building, working for pennies and hoping for freedom—any kind of relief from their hard, forced labor.

I’d like to commend this group, and everyone engaged in this struggle, for seeing both sides of the equation – help for victims and justice for criminals – as indispensible in the overall fight for human justice. I think you also acknowledge that the expertise in each area often comes from different groups.

So while each of us may have come to this conference from a variety of backgrounds and professions – law enforcement and victims’ advocates, non-profit groups, academics and government employees – I am proud to note that we gather today, side by side, shoulder to shoulder and work for a common cause every day, as a unified team.

In fact, among those engaged in this cause, there can be only two teams, two sides – us, and the traffickers.

I encourage you all to use this conference as a time to make new connections and solidify ties with the other groups who fight for justice on this issue. Because partnerships, information-sharing and cooperation cannot be underestimated when it comes to fighting a crime like human trafficking – an act that is sinister to the point of feeling overwhelming at times.

If we stick together, back each other up and keep the lines of communication open, we won’t be overwhelmed by these criminals and their selfish, inhumane intentions. Our partnership will instead prevail, and victims will be spared. It is, of course, a terrible shame that we even need to have a conference like this. After all, most Americans think that our country resolved the question of slavery with our Civil War. But freedom is guaranteed only with vigilance. And while ensuring freedom is the goal of our fight, that fight can never really end until we are sure that no one is denied freedom. So this conference and the work it represents are crucial. And I am delighted that we are meeting in New Orleans, a city which has suffered so greatly. Its music, art, and culture are the embodiment of what the human spirit can create when it is truly free. It heritage and its future brightness even amidst the struggles of the past year are an inspiration for us.

The victims of human trafficking are often lured to this country with the promise that they will enjoy the great gifts of liberty. This is an insult to our country, and it is personally disappointing because my own family came here from Mexico to find a better life. The thirst for freedom and opportunity is part of the human spirit and is very strong in this world – to offer it as a lure for purposes of a crime is unconscionable.

So those of us who fight on behalf of human trafficking’s victims are determined to finally deliver that promise of freedom to brutalized victims… while also bringing their abusers to justice.

I believe that another critical part of our duty is to speak out about this criminal practice, to educate the world about these victims, to enlist soldiers in the “Armies of Compassion” that will rise up and defeat the practice of enslaving human beings. And we should let our words be blunt, let the stories of victims be vivid. Because while few people would dispute the fact that human trafficking is one of the world’s most depraved criminal practices, what they might not know is how frequently it happens – including right here in America.

An estimated 17,500 people – most of whom are women and children – are forced into prostitution, sweatshops and domestic servitude every year.

It is shocking, and difficult for people to accept, but it happens, here in America, every day.

It was happening, in one case, in my home state of Texas, at a Dallas nightclub called “Club Wa,” until a Good Samaritan’s shelter and the power of law enforcement led to the eventual arrest and sentencing of the perpetrators.

In this case, a Korean businessman named Sung Bum Chang was essentially importing and collecting women from South Korea to be trapped in servitude at his club in Dallas.

Chang paid others to smuggle these women into the U.S. where they were then required to work at Club Wa under terrible conditions of fear and violence.

The victims came to the United States because of the promise of a better life and the opportunity to live the American dream. When they got here, however, their dreams were quickly turned into nightmares. The club owner forced them into labor and restricted their movement to the point where their home was more like a prison. The women were made to work six or seven days a week until they paid off their debt of passage into this country to Chang. Of course, he also charged the women for their food and lodging, adding to their amount of overall debt to him while they struggled to pay.

Chang used various forms of physical restraint and abuse to force the women to work for him. He held his victims’ passports, restricted their movements and social contact, and monitored their every movement with surveillance cameras. The young women were fined for violating strict rules of behavior, and also endured physical beatings. The violence was conducted in the presence of other victims to ensure an environment of constant fear. At one point, Chang threatened to sell one of his victims to another bar owner with even harsher working conditions if the young woman did not work harder.

One of the victims came from a deeply religious upbringing as a member of a Korean Christian church. Her desire to leave her prison-like home to attend religious services – something which was forbidden by the rules of behavior – was her breaking point. She jumped from a second-story window, ran away and found help from the pastor of her church in March of last year.

Today, the man who enslaved her faces a maximum statutory sentence of 25 years imprisonment, a $500,000 fine and restitution. He will be sentenced on October 16th. Justice will be served.

It is hard to estimate accurately the number of trafficking victims worldwide, or even the number that are enslaved each year here in the United States. We do know that programs funded by the Justice Department have served more than 1,500 victims in the past three years. And, as Regina mentioned, through the Department’s research and data-gathering functions, we’re working to gain a fuller understanding of the extent of the problem. But one thing is clear – even one single victim is too many. As President Bush has said, “Human life is the gift of our Creator – and it should never be for sale.”

Our progress in fighting the criminals is somewhat more easily measured. For example, since 2001 the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and U.S. Attorneys’ offices have prosecuted over 300 human trafficking defendants, secured over 200 convictions and guilty pleas and opened nearly 650 new investigations.

And our Innocence Lost Initiative, spearheaded by the Criminal Division, has resulted in 543 arrests and 94 convictions in both the federal and state systems of pimps who prey on children, often US Citizens who have succumbed to their charms. We have 16 Innocence Lost Initiative task forces around the country and are working to establish more. I encourage close cooperation between those working groups and our anti-trafficking task forces, to ensure that no victims fall between the cracks, and no traffickers escape justice.

In each of these areas, our numbers have doubled or even tripled over the record of the previous five years due to an increased focus on the issue and a truly effective partnership among government and non-profit groups.

As you know, we’ve also developed a model state law that has been endorsed by the U.S. Senate and sent to state governors and legislative leaders. In 2004, only four states had laws against trafficking. Today, more than two dozen have enacted tough anti-trafficking laws that reflect the principles of the Department’s model criminal statute…and I encourage every state to follow suit.

I am proud to be working with all of you in this historic effort, an aggressive, proactive, and victim-centered approach to prevention, investigations and prosecutions. Together, we’ve deployed a truly comprehensive strategy and it is working.

As you engage in the work of this conference and go back to your homes and jobs later in the week, I encourage you to remember that you and your work are the light of hope for every victim of human trafficking and slavery.

You rescue victims and help restore their human dignity. Your devotion is to cause of freedom itself. You hold up the Thirteenth Amendment of our constitution – a lasting promise of freedom for all innocent people within our borders. Your efforts make the dream of freedom a reality for these victims, not just a promise.

Your service is noble, and it is appreciated.

Thank you for having me here this morning; I hope you have a productive and rewarding conference.

May God bless you and your important work, and may he continue to bless the United States of America.