Remarks as Prepared for Delivery
Good morning, everyone. I am honored to help open this summit on human trafficking. Before I begin though, please join me in giving a hand to those who organized this vital gathering. To all the attendees, thank you for traveling here to Main Justice today. I am especially grateful to the expert survivor leaders from whom you will hear later today. With great courage, they overcame tremendous obstacles and, further, improved our strategies for stamping out the menace of human trafficking. Please join me in thanking them.
Thank you also to our state, local, and tribal partners, to the U.S. Attorneys, and to the members of the Department, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and other U.S. government agencies. We profoundly appreciate your commitment to fighting human trafficking. Through your public service, you have provided justice to innumerable victims and, in turn, brought the subject of this gathering to the attention of our nation and the world. Yet while we have had great success, we know there is a lot more work ahead.
Human trafficking is happening in our cities, our towns, our communities, and it affects the most vulnerable members of society. Short of murder, there is no offense more heinous than sexual abuse. As Chief Justice Warren Burger once stated, “Rape is not a mere physical attack – it is destructive of the human personality.”
Human trafficking is – make no mistake about it – modern-day slavery. It is our generation’s form of physical and psychological captivity that we must confront and defeat. From its sinister core outward, it is a crime of exploitation. This devastation recognizes no single type of victim, and it transcends demographics, geography, and socio-economic condition. Sometimes those who are abused are homeless, they are addicted to drugs, or they are merely under the age of consent. But in every single case, a person in an asymmetrically-powerful position exploits another person’s vulnerabilities for their own gain. These vile acts involve fundamental violations of our natural rights. That is why we rightly identify their perpetrators as predators.
With today’s summit, the United States Department of Justice wishes to reaffirm emphatically that stopping human trafficking is one of its highest priorities. Our guiding Crime Reduction and Public Safety Strategy calls for “aggressive and coordinated” efforts “to deter those who violate our borders and subject others to forced labor, involuntary servitude, sex trafficking and other forms of modern-day slavery.” Pronouncements like this are important because they provide guidance. But action is ultimately what counts, and there we have delivered.
In Fiscal Year 2018, the Department secured a record number of convictions against 526 defendants in federal human-trafficking prosecutions. For example, last year, we took down Backpage.com, the Internet’s leading source of prostitution-related advertisements that resulted in the sex trafficking of minors and adults. The Department obtained guilty pleas from Backpage.com, its chief executive officer, and Marketing Director, and has now seized over $150 million in real and personal property derived from proceeds of their illegal conduct. We have also secured convictions and lengthy sentences against members of extensive transnational trafficking networks.
Determined to do more, the Department has trained human-trafficking coordinators on the Crime Victims’ Rights Act, and we are further looking to revamp the Attorney General’s guidelines to better address victims’ and survivors’ rights. The Department is also assigning more prosecutors to the Civil Rights Division’s Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit and the Criminal Division’s Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section. These prosecutors are scheduled to receive intermediate and advanced training over the next twelve months. And attorneys from the Criminal Division’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section serve as experts in child sex-trafficking crimes.
The Department of Justice continues to distribute more money to combat human trafficking than any other federal agency. In Fiscal Year 2018, the Office of Justice Programs – thanks to the generous support of Congress and the American people – was able to make awards to 17 Enhanced Collaborative Model anti-trafficking task forces across the United States, totaling $23.1 million. In addition, over the same period, the Department made 52 awards to strengthen identification of and assistance to victims, totaling $37 million.
Within the past few years, we have intensified our focus on a key aspect of federal law-enforcement’s approach to fighting human trafficking: reducing demand for commercial sex that leads to sex trafficking. Here, the Department’s Office of Legal Policy has continued to spearhead innovative initiatives. By focusing on demand, we are stepping up our efforts to disrupt the commercial sex markets that place countless victims at risk of sex trafficking and other forms of exploitation. We are taking aim at the sex buyers who drive the market for commercial sex. Demand reduction includes education directed at would-be buyers, to raise awareness about the widespread force, fraud, and coercion and pervasive exploitation of minors that are endemic to the commercial sex trade.
In addition to education aimed at reducing demand for commercial sex, we are committed to prosecuting sex trafficking predators to the fullest extent of the law. By heightened criminal enforcement, we seek to deter those who can be deterred and incapacitate those who cannot be deterred.
In recent years, while the numbers of individual cases may have gone down, we are developing and pursuing larger, more complex and impactful cases, which is exactly what we should be doing in terms of justice outcomes and according to the principle of federalism. We are bringing cases that dismantle transnational trafficking enterprises that are each responsible for trafficking dozens—and sometimes hundreds—of victims. At the same time, we are prosecuting forced labor cases that are difficult to prosecute because victims are so isolated in private homes.
In one such case, United States v. Toure, the defendants brought a young child from her rural village in Guinea, West Africa, and compelled her into domestic servitude in their upscale Texas home for the next 16 years, using beatings, threats, verbal abuse, isolation, and punishments to hold her in their service without pay. Bringing those labor traffickers to justice required an extensive investigation into a 16-year crime that spanned two continents.
In addition, the Department assisted the victim by securing counseling from a therapist trained in trauma, connecting her with an immigration lawyer to address her immigration needs, and linking her to education services to work with her on all of her educational needs. The Department also provided the victim with support during the investigation and trial by helping her through the court process, assisted in and supported her when reunifying her with her mother, and secured a restitution order of over $288,000.
We are unflagging in our commitment to prosecuting these cases, whether on behalf of one victim or on behalf of hundreds, because modern-day slavery has no place in our great nation.
We are equally unflagging in our commitment to working with local, state, and tribal law-enforcement, who are often better suited to handle commercial sex cases involving one victim, or even a small number of victims. However, when criminal activity spans multiple jurisdictions, or when it crosses the line into the slavery and involuntary servitude prohibitions of the Constitution’s Thirteenth Amendment – when the freedom, will, and liberty of individuals are being suppressed through the use of coercion or the exploitation of minors – then such activity becomes an issue of national concern and, thus, federal authority. This is why we need strong partnerships. With robust lines of communications, we can most effectively delegate, investigate, and prosecute human-trafficking cases.
Another significant change in the fight against human-trafficking involves law-enforcement’s interaction with the victims themselves. Together, we have developed a more human-centered, trauma-informed approach to getting people back on their feet, living lives of dignity, and positively contributing to society. This approach is informed by an appreciation of the unique nature of human-trafficking cases.
Unlike certain other types of criminal prosecutions, victims are the key witnesses. As officials, we enter a victim’s life at a particular time, when she may be experiencing trauma, instability, fear of repercussions, and continued effects of trauma-bonding with her abuser. So we must be respectful by meeting survivors where they’re at in the complicated process of recovery.
Being aware of their history means knowing whether they might, for example, require treatment before moving forward with testimony. We must listen to survivors both about how we can improve and how we can empower victims to rebuild their lives. In short, we treat victims like human beings. Our nation’s commitment to freedom, individual rights, and the dignity of all persons compels this approach. This approach is also the one that enables victims to come forward as witnesses so that we can bring an effective prosecution.
As such, intrinsic to human-trafficking cases is a weighty emotional commitment on behalf of the victims as well as those assisting them. Victim assistance experts, both within law enforcement and in non-governmental organizations, play vital roles in addressing victims’ acute and long-term needs for mental-health counseling, substance-abuse treatment, medical care, shelter, and subsistence. To all these law enforcement victim specialists, to all the non-governmental victim assistance organizations, and to all the survivor-experts who help us better stabilize and protect victims, I extend my gratitude.
As you’re aware, this year marks the 20th anniversary of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, known as the TVPA. Anniversaries are meaningful moments in time to survey the past and stockpile knowledge and practices to better wage the battles of the present and to prepare for the trials on the horizon. Since the TVPA’s enactment nearly two decades ago, we have achieved encouraging results in the fight against human trafficking, but new challenges have emerged. Above all, as technology continues to evolve at lightning speed, traffickers and their criminal associates have weaponized technological advances to further their criminal enterprises, shield themselves from detection, and conceal the proceeds of their crimes. Financial transactions and electronic communications are far more sophisticated than they were just a few years ago and the ground continues to shift around us.
The challenges of investigating and prosecuting criminal networks are growing ever more complex as we contend with encrypted digital communications, cryptocurrency, and internet-facilitated recruitment and advertising sites hosted overseas or on the dark web. Traffickers and their criminal associates continue to develop new ways to evade detection and keep their crimes hidden in the shadows. As global transit networks expand, and as transnational trade and supply chains become ever more intertwined, traffickers seize on the new opportunities presented by this fast-paced, technology-enabled, transcontinental economy. As law enforcement, we must work tirelessly to overcome the new legal, logistical, and technological challenges associated with these rapidly evolving threats.
We must work together to ensure that we, as a nation, secure and maintain the tools necessary to address these challenges. As we face new obstacles in detecting and countering human trafficking threats, we must take an all-hands-on-deck approach to staying one step ahead of the traffickers and the criminal networks that enable them. This will require that law enforcement, government agencies, lawmakers, non-governmental organizations, technology companies, the financial sector, and all of civil society are united in recognizing that we must find solutions to this problem of traffickers and other criminal enterprises hiding behind impenetrable cloaks of technological invisibility. We have made great strides in bringing private-sector partners together with law enforcement to take on the threats that traffickers pose to vulnerable victims and to the safety of our communities, and we will not relent until we have resolved these recurring challenges.
Throughout the rest of the day, you will learn about Department resources, initiatives, and other pertinent subject matter. The agenda features sessions on state and local efforts, innovations in victims’ services, demand reduction, transnational activity, and the business community. We hope these sessions will serve not only as forums for discussion, but also as jumping off points for deepened daily cooperation and collaboration in the field.
Again, the Department of Justice is fully committed to investigating and prosecuting human-trafficking cases. It is one of our top priorities, as it is also one of the Trump administration’s top priorities. To this end, we are supporting survivors by providing services to them, actively training prosecutors, and shoring up our obligations to victims under the Crime Victims’ Rights Act.
With that, allow me to close. While the challenges we face are substantial, I am confident that together we can overcome them. There is a reason the Department of Justice leads the fight against human trafficking, and it is because we have all of you as invaluable partners.
Thank you for your time. I appreciate your dedication, I’m proud to work with you, and I pledge that I will do everything in my power to marshal the resources that you need to continue bringing human traffickers to justice.