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Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke for Civil Rights Delivers Remarks at OVC's Anti-Trafficking Commemorative Event


Washington, DC
United States

Remarks as Delivered

Good afternoon. And welcome to Members of Congress, including Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, Attorney General Garland, Associate Attorney General Gupta, all of our esteemed guests. I am honored to join you in celebrating OVC’s tremendous achievements over the past two decades.

Human trafficking is often described as a form of modern-day slavery because of the ways it degrades human dignity, erodes inalienable rights and subjects other human beings to a state of servitude. While slaveholders in the 18th and 19th centuries used whips, chains and physical restraints, contemporary trafficking crimes often rely on invisible schemes of deception, debts, threats and insidious forms of psychological manipulation to bind victims to perpetrators.  Traffickers target people of color, people who are experiencing homelessness or are facing substance abuse. They target those who are experiencing trauma from sexual or physical abuse, young people thrown out of their families for identifying as LGBTQ+. Traffickers manipulate individuals with cognitive disabilities, and they prey on persons with limited English proficiency or little access to education, or those who lack of immigration status, who are often unaware of the laws that protect them.

Since the Civil Rights Division’s founding 65 years ago, enforcing these prohibitions against involuntary servitude have been a cornerstone of our mission as we’ve worked to uphold otherwise elusive Constitutional promises of freedom and equality. And after the passage of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 expanded the statutory prohibitions and the tools available to the department, the division established a dedicated Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit to consolidate specialized anti-trafficking expertise. The unit has since been widely recognized, both nationally and globally, for advancing victim-centered, trauma-informed anti-trafficking strategies and for leading interagency enforcement initiatives to bring high-impact trafficking prosecutions, in partnership with our U.S. Attorneys’ Offices nationwide, in partnership with OVC and with other key anti-trafficking partners throughout the department and beyond. 

Just to underscore the urgency of this important work to bring traffickers to justice, earlier this week, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia sentenced three defendants to serve time in federal prison for conspiracy to commit forced labor for compelling the domestic labor of a Pakistani woman for 12 years. The defendants compelled the victim to serve the family as a domestic servant, using physical and verbal abuse, restricting her communication with her family back in her home country, confiscating her immigration documents, confiscating her money, threatening to separate her from her children by deporting her to Pakistan and more. They slapped, kicked and pushed the victim, even beat her with wooden board, and on one occasion hog-tied her hands and feet and dragged her down the stairs in front of her children. Last week, in an indictment that was unsealed in the Western District of Wisconsin, we charged a Wisconsin man with one count of labor trafficking for using force, threats of force and coercion to cause an adult woman to engage in forced labor for nearly two years.

From the time of OVC’s formation, the division has worked hand-in-hand with OVC and other key partners to seek justice for human trafficking victims. Our work alongside OVC on behalf of trafficking victims and survivors is a natural extension of the division’s core mission of abolishing the legacy of slavery and servitude; upholding the Constitution; and vindicating the rights of the most vulnerable. As we emphasized many years ago when announcing the formation of the Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit,

“Since the inception of the Civil Rights Division, [it] has led the fight against crimes that perpetuate a legacy of slavery and servitude. Whether these crimes took the form of lynchings and cross-burnings by night, or compelled servitude and bondage by day, they all entrenched a legacy of oppression against vulnerable members of our society. Modern-day slavery has taken on new forms … but the struggle remains the same – to vindicate the rights of marginalized members of our society who would otherwise have no voice, and who would otherwise be denied the guarantees of freedom and liberty that form the core of our Constitution.”

Our close collaboration with OVC reflects the recognition that the three pillars of global anti-trafficking efforts — protecting victims, prosecuting perpetrators and preventing proliferation — are inseparable from each other and are all essential to our fight against human trafficking. In order to bring traffickers to justice, we must provide victims the protections they need to safely come forward and speak out against their traffickers. And in order to provide victims and other vulnerable people meaningful protection from trafficking threats, we must not only provide them assistance as they work to reclaim and rebuild their lives; we must also hold the perpetrators accountable for their crimes and dismantle trafficking enterprises so they cannot revert to victimizing others.

To give an example of what such accountability looks like, in December, a federal judge sentenced an Alabama trafficker to 60 years in prison and ordered him to pay almost a million dollars in restitution to five victims in a case prosecuted by the department. The trafficker targeted women struggling with substance abuse issues and preyed upon them by increasing their heroin use. Then the trafficker withheld opioids from the victims to induce extremely painful withdrawal sickness and compel them to engage in commercial sex. He beat the women and threatened to send sexually explicit images of them to their families. At trial, the victims testified courageously against the trafficker. The victims remain in recovery to this today, and they are now on the road to reclaiming their lives – thanks in part to the services and support they received. One now works for the organization that helped her, working to aid other victims. And that is the lasting impact of collaboration.

So, this work requires strong partnerships, and OVC’s work in funding victim service providers and training task force partners has proven vital to identifying, stabilizing and supporting more survivors than ever before. OVC’s efforts, in collaboration with victim service grantees — including some who are here today — are essential to empowering survivors to speak out against their traffickers, often enabling them to testify as witnesses in criminal cases.

In recent years, we’ve also worked closely with OVC to amplify the voices of survivors and incorporate the survivor expertise into our work and into ability to detect, investigate, and prosecute these cases. And we’re grateful for OVC’s role in expanding the ongoing dialogue among survivor-experts, victim specialists and law enforcement as we work to strengthen our collective anti-trafficking work.

We know from experience that this collaboration has made a profound difference on victims’ lives. As one survivor said about the experience of working with the department and when writing her victim impact statement, “I thank God that there were noble people like you guys to see that justice is served and there to help us and value us, and thanks to you, I had the strength to write this statement.”

We’re honored to take a part in this celebration of OVC, its work and its accomplishments over the past two decades and look forward to building on this partnership and continuing the fight in the road ahead as we work to pursue justice for victims and survivors of human trafficking.

Thank you so much.

Human Trafficking
Updated January 26, 2023