Remarks as prepared for delivery
Thank you, Director Comey, for your leadership in combating human trafficking. So much of what we are here to talk about today could not have been realized without the FBI’s commitment to bringing to justice the perpetrators of these horrific crimes.
This is my first opportunity to speak in the Great Hall of Justice. And it couldn’t be more meaningful to me that this opportunity comes as we are focused on the department’s commitment to combat human trafficking. While I am new to the Deputy Attorney General’s office -- I have been on the job for a little over two weeks -- human trafficking has been squarely in my focus for quite some time now. That’s unfortunate because Atlanta, where I served as an Assistant U.S. Attorney for a number of years and as U.S. Attorney for the last 6 years, has been an epicenter for human trafficking, and particularly child sex trafficking. There are varying reports, some identifying Atlanta as the number one city for child sex trafficking, others ranking it somewhat lower. I think that it’s actually hard to quantify those numbers, but it is clear that whatever the number, it is way too high.
So, in Atlanta, as is happening all over the country, we built a robust human trafficking program that included not only aggressive prosecution, but importantly community engagement, law enforcement training and work with the victims of human trafficking crimes to assist them on the road from being victims to survivors. All of this requires strong partnerships, with the law enforcement community, with Main Justice -- the Civil Rights Division and the Child Exploitation section -- and with members of our community. I have witnessed first-hand what happens when we coordinate our efforts. Atlanta was chosen as one of six national Anti-Trafficking Coordination Teams, or ACTeams, to take advantage of the resources and expertise throughout the federal government. As a result of this coordinated effort, each site achieved significant results. In ACTeam districts, the number of defendants charged increased by 114%, and in Atlanta, during the initial stages of the ACTeam, we sent 26 defendants to prison for trafficking young women and children.
But we also know that as important as vigorous prosecution is, it’s not a complete solution. It’s important that we train law enforcement to deal with some of the unique issues in human trafficking cases and that we engage with our community. For example, we found that often street cops, those who are most likely to encounter victims of human trafficking, didn’t recognize them to be victims but instead treated them as willing prostitution defendants. So in Georgia, there was a concerted effort to train local officers of some of the signs of trafficking. And that training pays dividends. Shortly after one of those trainings, a local sheriff’s deputy in Greene County, Georgia, stopped a motorist for speeding. The 29-year-old driver was riding in the vehicle with a 17-year-old girl. Ordinarily, the deputy would have ticketed the driver, and sent them on their way. But that deputy had recently received training and as a result, noticed telltale signs of trafficking. The girl appeared frightened of the driver, and he had learned that it was important that he interview them separately. When he talked with the teenager, he learned that she had been trafficked for three years, since she was 14, and that she had been moved around from state to state by the pimp. After her rescue, she told investigators that she had prayed to be rescued and that she believed the sheriff’s deputy to be an answer to her prayers. Not only were her prayers answered, but the pimp was sentenced to 11 years in prison.
This story is just one of many where victims of sex trafficking have been identified, rescued, and have come through as survivors. Our communities can play a role in this process, and I believe that there are many out there who are so troubled by the horrors of human trafficking that they are hungry to do something about it. A few years ago, I spoke to Downtown Rotary, a group of Atlanta’s movers and shakers. I told them about a number of law enforcement challenges that we face in Atlanta that they were unlikely to have encountered in their own lives, including human trafficking. To say that they were shocked is an understatement. But rather than just walking away and saying that’s an awful problem, they wanted to help. And they asked what they could do. In Atlanta, as in many communities across our country, we lacked sufficient facilities to house and provide services to trafficking victims. Juveniles were often placed in foster care, where their foster families, though well-intentioned, lack the expertise to deal with the significant issues these victims faced. And we found that the victims often ran away, leaving them to be victimized again. So to their great credit, Atlanta Rotary raised over $5 million to expand a local facility for homeless juveniles, and they built a 60,000 square foot facility that now houses 100 kids, including many human trafficking victims where they are receiving the critical services and counseling they need. That’s just one example of the kind of partnership that can literally change lives.
As important as the work is that all of us do to combat human trafficking, and as important as law enforcement and community partnerships are, that work pales in comparison the courage, grit and tenacity of women who are subjected to these unspeakable crimes, and come through the other side as survivors, two of whom we will be honored to hear from this afternoon.
Now, it is my distinct honor to introduce the Attorney General. As you all know, Attorney General Holder set as one of the Department’s key priorities the protection of vulnerable populations. There certainly couldn’t be a more vulnerable population than those who are victims of human trafficking - those children and young women who are forced into sexual slavery, or workers who come to our country under false pretenses and find themselves in horrific forced labor conditions. The successes that are being recognized today are a direct result of Attorney General Holder’s leadership and his unwavering commitment to seek justice. Without further ado, the Attorney General of the United States, Eric Holder.