Remarks As Prepared For Delivery
Thank you, Curt, for that kind introduction. I commend each one of you for being here today, and for being a force for good to combat the scourge of human trafficking that is gripping the nation.
Make no mistake about it: human trafficking is a civil rights and public health crisis in this country. It is often referred to as modern-day slavery. Human trafficking victims are denied their freedom. They are forced to live at the mercy of their traffickers. They endure horrific psychological and physical abuse, including violence, sexual abuse, substance abuse, mental abuse, malnutrition, and neglect.
It is hard to comprehend this kind of cruelty – and shocking to contemplate its scope. The FBI estimated at one point that human trafficking is the third-largest criminal activity in the world after drugs and counterfeiting. And there are signs that the problem is getting even worse. From 2010 to 2015, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children reported a nine-fold increase in reports of suspected child sex trafficking, an increase largely believed to be related to use of the internet.
It is no exaggeration to say that human trafficking is everywhere: in the hospitals where we receive care; in the hotels where we stay; in the restaurants where we eat; in the airports, bus stations, and train stations where we travel; in the truck stops we drive past; in cities large and small; in neighborhoods poor and prosperous; and, of course, online.
But whatever its causes, whatever its scope, and whatever its form, we at the Department of Justice are resolutely committed to doing everything we can to defeat this evil. Fighting human trafficking is one of the top priorities of the Department and the Attorney General.
The Department’s human trafficking prosecution work is divided among two major components: the Criminal Division, which prosecutes child sex trafficking through its Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section, and the Civil Rights Division, where I am privileged to work, which prosecutes all other forms of human trafficking, including labor trafficking and adult and international sex trafficking. Moreover, every one of the 94 U.S. Attorney’s Offices across the country now has a designated human trafficking coordinator, and those coordinators have developed anti-trafficking initiatives for their districts.
2017 was a record-setting year for the Department’s human trafficking efforts. We charged more than 550 defendants with human trafficking offenses in 2017, the most ever in a single year. We secured convictions of nearly 500 human traffickers.
These results reflect years of hard work by our dedicated teams of prosecutors, investigators, and victim and witness coordinators. The Civil Rights Division began bringing increased focus and priority to human trafficking in 2007. That year, it formed a specialized Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit to consolidate its anti-trafficking expertise. Before the Unit was formed, the Division was prosecuting about 32 cases of labor trafficking or international or adult sex trafficking each year. Last year, we more than tripled that number and brought 100 cases. In just the last five years, the Unit has increased the number of defendants charged by 86% and the number of defendants convicted by 128%. All told, in its ten years in existence, the Unit has brought over 700 cases against 1,600 defendants and secured more than 1,200 convictions in labor and adult or international sex trafficking cases.
Our human trafficking efforts are increasingly taking on an international dimension. By far our strongest and most important international ally in the fight against human trafficking is Mexico. Mexico is the largest source country for human trafficking victims entering the United States. In 2009, the Department of Justice, the Department of Homeland Security, and Mexican authorities entered into the U.S.-Mexico Bilateral Human Trafficking Enforcement Initiative. That initiative has enhanced collaboration on both sides of the border to strengthen investigations and prosecutions, restore victims, recover victims’ children, and dismantle trafficking networks. The initiative has achieved significant results and will continue to be an integral part of our fight against human trafficking.
The Department is not limiting itself to these crucial law-enforcement efforts. The Department provides anti-trafficking grant funding to the 85 percent of law-enforcement officers who serve at the state, local, and tribal levels. In 2017, the Department provided more than $47 million in grant funding in the human trafficking arena. Much of that funding goes to law-enforcement officers, and much of it funds services that help human trafficking survivors on their long road to recovery.
On February 2 of this year, the Department, under the Attorney General’s leadership, convened a Human Trafficking Summit that brought together stakeholders from across the country. The goal of that summit was to strengthen our partnerships with the great people and organizations who have taken on the fight against human trafficking. It is not enough for law enforcement to do its important work. We need the support of all Americans, including informed private institutions and individuals, to be our eyes and ears to detect trafficking and to help us serve and uplift the survivors.
In all of our human trafficking work, the Department of Justice strives to be survivor-centered and trauma-informed. That is the approach Congress has directed in the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, and it is the right thing to do. Our country has a long and proud tradition of helping the most vulnerable improve their lives and their conditions. The TVPA builds on that tradition by codifying crucial legal protections for human trafficking survivors.
The Department is fortunate to have a dedicated team of Victim and Witness Coordinators, who work tirelessly to help the survivors of human trafficking piece their lives back together. These coordinators help survivors obtain access to crucial and essential services, such as housing, medical care, counseling, and immigration assistance. Human traffickers prey upon and exploit the most vulnerable people in our society, and the Department of Justice helps put those vulnerable survivors on the path toward happy, productive lives.
The Department is proud of its work to combat human trafficking and to serve its survivors, and we recognize that even more is possible. Increased collaboration and communication between the Department and other groups will magnify all of our efforts to eradicate human trafficking and to uplift its survivors. That is why I was particularly excited to be invited here today to strengthen our partnership with AHA and its members.
I am asking for your help. There are two things that I hope hospitals will do to assist the Department in our law-enforcement efforts.
First, to borrow a phrase from the Washington, D.C. Metro system, “if you see something, say something.” We need your help to identify suspected human trafficking. Imagine if everyone in the hospital setting – from receptionists and custodians and maintenance people to nurses and doctors and administrators – were on the lookout for the victims of human trafficking. We would be able to rescue far more victims and bring far more traffickers to justice. So if you see something, say something. Call the hotline, call a tip line, tell a local police officer. Just say something to someone.
Second, work with us to serve the vulnerable survivors of human trafficking. Work with us to provide them the support and services they need to recover from the horrors and trauma of this malicious crime.
We look forward to strengthening our partnerships with all of you today and beyond. Together, we can bring an end to human trafficking and change the lives of survivors and their families forever. Thank you.