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Fighting Human Trafficking Requires A Coordinated Effort

September 21, 2011
This post is based on the written testimony of Mary Lou Leary, Prinicipal Deputy Assistant Attorney, in DOJ’s Office of Justice Programs, about the reauthorization of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act passed in 2000.  Ms. Leary appeared before the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary on September 14, 2011.  Human trafficking is modern-day slavery.  Trafficking victims are viewed as property.  They exist in every corner of our society, working long hours for little or no pay.   We may see them every day, but never know what’s truly going on beneath the surface.  Some work in elegant restaurants and high-end hotels.  Others live in the murky shadows of nondescript neighborhoods and the gloomy light of urban nightclubs.  Fighting human trafficking and serving trafficking victims are among the most difficult challenges facing law enforcement and victim services today.  One element of this crime that makes it so challenging to address is that trafficking victims are often hidden from society and prevented from contacting people who might help them.  Traffickers control victims through physical, psychological, emotional, familial and economic forms of coercion.  They also exploit a trafficking victim’s fear of deportation and use threats of reprisals against loved ones in the home country to further coerce and control a victim.  Because of the secrecy surrounding this crime, it’s very difficult to determine the number of victims or the number of perpetrators.   The Justice Department’s Office of Justice Programs (OJP), through its Office for Victims of Crime (OVC) and Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), supports 42 human trafficking task forces operating across the country.  These task forces proactively investigate cases of minor and adult trafficking and support successful prosecutions of traffickers.  They raise community awareness of the dangers of trafficking and the plights of its victims.  And they provide critical services to these victims, including case management, food, shelter, transportation, counseling and medical care.  Between January 2008 and June 2010, these task forces investigated 2,515 suspected incidents of human trafficking.  Over this same period, the task forces arrested 144 suspected traffickers.  Collectively, these task forces have trained more than 205,000 federal, state, tribal, and local criminal justice and victim service professionals. OJP emphasizes a multidisciplinary approach to human trafficking and encourages close partnerships among federal prosecutors, state and local law enforcement, victim service providers, and other federal partners, including the FBI, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), U.S. Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, and the Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor, and State.   Experience demonstrates that effective law enforcement in trafficking cases and effective victim services go hand-in-hand.  Victim service providers may be able to identify some victims of a particular trafficker, but they often will need effective law enforcement to reach the trafficker’s other victims, who are usually very frightened and unable to come forward on their own.  Law enforcement, in turn, needs victim service providers to help work with the victims to collect the critical information.  In addition, victims who receive immediate physical, mental, and emotional support will be much more able and willing to participate in the investigation and prosecution of their traffickers.  As Attorney General Holder said at the DOJ 2010 National Conference on Human Trafficking:
“Those of us here today are bound together by an unrelenting commitment to eradicate the scourge of human suffering and involuntary servitude.   And we are united in the recognition that there isn’t a second to lose.   We must seize the opportunity to be a leader in the global fight against human trafficking, and to ensure that the nation we love remains a beacon of freedom for all humankind.”

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