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Confronting Transnational Organized Crime and Human Trafficking in a Global Society

On November 5th, Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole addressed the 81st INTERPOL Ministerial and General Assembly meeting in Rome, Italy. This gathering of INTERPOL member countries marked an important opportunity to recognize joint achievements, build relationships, discuss issues critical to our domestic and global security, and develop a path forward on international law enforcement. Deputy Attorney General Cole noted the unprecedented level of cooperation between INTERPOL member countries which has led to the development of critical law enforcement tools of 24/7 communication, information sharing and coordinated responses.  He also emphasized two important areas that would benefit greatly from INTERPOL’s continued leadership and support and member countries’ investment, vigilance and cooperation: Transnational Organized Crime and Human Trafficking.
 “Transnational organized crime poses a significant and growing threat to the security of each of our nations (and citizens) and the international community as a whole.  Not only are criminal networks expanding, but they are also diversifying their activities – with dire implications for public safety, public health, democratic institutions and, in this already tough economic climate, the financial stability of nations across the globe.  The United Nations estimates that, in 2009, transnational organized criminal activities generated $870 billion in illegal proceeds – equivalent to almost 7 percent of world exports.” 
To respond to the threat of transnational organized crime, Deputy Attorney General Cole called for a “whole-of-government approach” focused on coordinating resources and expertise: 
“We realized that law enforcement measures alone would not fully counter the threat of transnational organized crime.  Included in this approach was: the work of our Department of the Treasury to impose financial sanctions on major transnational organized crime groups and individuals; and the work of our Department of State to deny entry to the United States to transnational criminal aliens and others who have been targeted for financial sanctions.  As a direct result of these actions, five transnational organized crime groups that span the globe already have been subjected to these crippling financial sanctions.”
Deputy Attorney General Cole also stressed the need for “enhanced global attention and a unified law enforcement response” to fight against human trafficking:
“One of the greatest horrors of this crime is that traffickers view their victims as nothing more than a commodity, something that can be bought and sold, or simply taken, and eventually discarded… This crime can take many forms. It is the young woman who moves to another country for the promise of a new life – but instead finds herself enslaved and repeatedly sold for sex. Or the child who ran away from home and finds herself in the same situation because, in desperate need, she accepted help from the wrong person.” 
Although the specific details may differ, these heinous crimes often have two common elements.  First, human trafficking  is hidden in plain sight – behind the veil of a prostitution offense, a domestic abuse incident, a physical or sexual assault, a labor dispute, or an immigration crime.  Second, victims are often traumatized, and can be weary of – and reluctant to corporate with – law enforcement officials for fear of repercussions from their captors. This is why educating first responders about the factors that may indicate a potential human trafficking offense is a critical step in improving our ability to identify and help trafficking victims.  In front of an international audience, Deputy Attorney General Cole reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to preventing and fighting human trafficking in all of its forms. Last year, the department set a new record in the number of defendants charged in human trafficking cases. Additionally, over the last three years, there has been a 30 percent increase in the number of forced labor and human trafficking cases charged.  The United States has also partnered with law enforcement officials from Mexico and Ukraine, to Germany and Canada to dismantle sex traffic networks and successfully bring perpetrators behinds these crimes to justice. This work – which showcases the value of engaging in global partnerships to combat human trafficking –sends an unmistakable message: we will relentlessly pursue those who trade in the misery of other human beings and we will rescue their victims and bring the perpetrators to justice. However, these efforts are only the beginning. To successfully combat human trafficking, as Deputy Attorney General said, “prosecution alone is not the answer,” which is why we are bringing a renewed focus to preventative measures like:
  • Prevention through prosecution of trafficking rings before they can ensnare other victims;
  • prevention through deterrence so that our prosecutions dissuade others who may consider engaging in this crime;
  • prevention through public awareness; and, lastly,
  • prevention through the education of potential victims who, driven by fear, poverty, or lack of education, often unwittingly place their lives in the hands of exploitative traffickers.
No single country or law enforcement agency has the power, or the means, to tackle the global criminal enterprises we face.  Only by communicating effectively, sharing intelligence and combining resources – within our own governments and with our law enforcement partners around the globe – can we truly understand current and emerging trends and build effective strategies to anticipate, combat and put an end to these crimes.   
Updated April 7, 2017