Thank you, Elizabeth, for that warm introduction. And thank you to the American Gaming Association, the National Indian Gaming Association, and the National Indian Gaming Commission for hosting this important event. It is an honor to be here.
I’d also like to thank the many current and former state, local, tribal and federal law enforcement officials who have joined us today. Thank you for your service and the work you do every day in your communities.
We are gathered today in a community that is reeling from the deadliest mass shooting in our memory. Dozens of families are mourning the sudden loss of a loved one, and hundreds more are at the bedsides of the wounded.
We cannot imagine what they are going through. We cannot imagine what would lead someone to commit this “act of pure evil,” as the President called it. But we can and will come together to support the victims and their families in every possible way. I hold them in my prayers and ask God to grant them strength and comfort.
We are all deeply grateful to the local officers who heroically responded to the shooting and assisted the victims. Their quick and decisive action likely saved the lives of many. They continue to work around the clock as the investigation unfolds.
The Justice Department is working closely with state and local law enforcement. The Attorney General spoke with Sheriff Lombardo yesterday morning and committed our full support to the investigation. I spoke to the FBI this morning and was updated on their work supporting the LVPD and Sheriff’s Office with victim–witness assistance, crime scene processing, and other forensic work. As the investigation moves forward, we will continue to support local authorities and the people of Las Vegas with all of our resources.
Turning to the subject of today’s summit, I’d like to thank you again for inviting me to speak about this critical issue. Human trafficking has become a civil rights crisis that we cannot ignore.
It has been called modern-day slavery because it turns human beings into profit centers against their will. Traffickers view their victims as commodities – commodities that can be sold not just once, but over, and over, and over.
Combatting this evil is one of the Justice Department’s top priorities. We are bringing all of our law enforcement authorities to bear as we fight it, and I will talk more about those efforts in a moment.
But the Justice Department cannot win this fight alone. The efforts of all federal law enforcement agencies combined will not be enough. We need partners in state and local government, non-profit organizations, and industry. We also need the eyes and ears of the public.
Awareness and education is critical. If first responders, child protective services agencies, clergy, hotel and casino workers, physicians, and even ordinary citizens learn to spot human trafficking, we will identify more victims and bring more traffickers to justice.
This is why I, and others at the Department of Justice, will talk about human trafficking at every opportunity. I applaud you for highlighting this issue at this conference.
Part of the solution is rebutting some common misconceptions about human trafficking. For example, I have noticed that it is often confused with prostitution. Although sex trafficking victims are forced to engage in prostitution, trafficking is not just commercial sex. Human trafficking involves coercion or deceit. This can take many different forms. It could involve physical violence, with victims imprisoned against their will and forced into sex, sometimes many times a day. Or it could involve subtler forms of coercion, such as forced drug dependency.
Another misconception is that human trafficking primarily involves foreign victims. It often does, and the Department has prosecuted cases of women brought into this country against their will and forced into prostitution. But victims are just as often young girls from foster homes, runaway youth, or adults vulnerable due to disability, drug dependency, or a prior history of abuse.
This is not a crime that affects just one region of the country or that stays within rural or urban bounds. It is a nationwide problem. Its victims are everywhere: along the highways, in the city, in economically depressed rural areas, and in high-end suburbs. Trafficking could happen in a motel in the Midwest or in a glitzy casino on the Strip.
Traffickers will move from place to place – taking their victims with them to wherever they expect to find customers. This could be a major sporting event, or even a construction boom following a natural disaster – anywhere a trafficker believes he can sell his “product.”
They do this because trafficking is big business. By one estimate, human trafficking in the United States generates over $9.5 billion annually.
Trafficking takes many forms, including sex trafficking, labor trafficking, and domestic servitude, and the Department of Justice prosecutes all of these. But my remarks today focus on sex trafficking in particular.
As I mentioned, there is a misconception that sex trafficking is a problem that originates overseas, with poor victims smuggled into the United States from Asia or Eastern Europe. And that is certainly part of the problem. The State Department estimates that thousands of women are trafficked across our borders every year.
As disturbing as these numbers are, however, the vast majority of trafficking victims come from our own communities. I’ll use Las Vegas to illustrate the point. From 1994 to 2012, over 2,100 child sex-trafficking victims were rescued in this city alone. According to one expert, nearly 75% of juvenile victims of trafficking in Nevada come from within the state.
The criminals who exploit these victims are smart. The targets of child traffickers are often girls between the ages of 12 and 14 who have an absent or abusive father. Unmet needs for emotional validation and security are exploited. What may start as a flirtatious exchange on social media can quickly progress to the promise of a glamorous life and an invitation to meet in person.
The trafficker’s goal is to deceive the victim long enough to gain her trust. Then, through violence, drugs, or emotional control, the trafficker creates an environment of fear and dependence that makes her feel hopeless and trapped. Before long, she becomes a sex trafficking victim.
One of the keys to preventing and stopping human trafficking is learning to recognize it. We are working to educate law enforcement and the public about the signs of trafficking. They could include, for example, an older man traveling with young girls not related to him, or a young woman carrying many hotel keys.
If law enforcement officers know what to look for and know what questions to ask potential victims, they are more likely to spot a victim during a traffic stop or when responding to a domestic violence call at a hotel.
The Department funds training for local law enforcement officers, prosecutors, and judges in how to identify trafficking victims. We are also developing grants to educate hotel and casino employees on the signs of human trafficking.
This type of training works. Last year, a Georgia State Patrol Officer rescued a sex trafficking victim during a routine traffic stop. The officer had received Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children Training. During the traffic stop, the officer noticed that a 17-year-old passenger had no knowledge where she stayed the night before and would not make eye contact with the male driver. Recognizing these warning signs, the officer took appropriate action, resulting in a recused victim and a human trafficking charge against the driver.
Knowing where victims are likely to be found is also critical. Airports, bus stops, hotels, and casinos are all target-rich environments for sex traffickers.
Because of the prevalence of gaming establishments in Las Vegas, this city was identified by a Justice Department risk analysis study as one of 17 cities nationwide most likely to be a destination for victims of trafficking.
But as I mentioned a moment ago, human trafficking is a nationwide problem. The National Human Trafficking Hotline receives reports of cases in all 50 states. And the FBI has open trafficking investigations in every one of its 56 field offices. The FBI has also established 78 Child Exploitation Task Forces and 15 Human Trafficking Task Forces throughout the country.
Here in Las Vegas, the FBI’s trafficking task force partners with LVPD, the Nevada Attorney General’s Office, and the IRS. These partnerships act as a force multiplier and are critical to our success.
On the prosecution side, every U.S. Attorney’s Office across the country prosecutes human trafficking cases, and every Office has a human trafficking liaison and a victim services coordinator. In Washington, we have a specialized human trafficking prosecutions unit and a separate a group of prosecutors with special expertise in prosecuting sex crimes against child victims.
One of our recent successes was a prosecution of eight members of a Mexican sex trafficking enterprise. They pled guilty to forcing young women and girls from Latin America into prostitution. In another recent case, a federal judge sentenced a Norfolk man to 18 years for coercing trafficking victims to engage in prostitution.
In addition to investigating and prosecuting cases, we provide grants to organizations that support the Department’s mission. Last year, the Justice Department awarded over $49 million in human trafficking grants to hundreds of organizations and agencies around the country.
I’ve already mentioned our law enforcement training grants. Just as important are our grants to victim service providers who assist with everything from emergency shelter to drug rehabilitation to employment assistance.
Local non-profits who serve trafficking victims here and elsewhere are indispensable partners in bringing traffickers to justice. When a victim is rescued from trafficking, she likely needs somewhere to stay and may have a long road of recovery ahead. Providing for those needs is not just the right thing to do; a safe and stable victim can be key to a successful prosecution. We view victim assistance as vital to our work at the Department, which is why it is a focus of our grant funding.
Participation by industry is also critical to the fight against human trafficking. For example, ARIA’s Security Department recently established a human trafficking awareness training course. This project was recognized earlier this year by the FBI and received the prestigious Director’s Community Leadership Award. To date, ARIA has trained more than 600 security officers to identify potential trafficking victims.
The FBI also announced a partnership with Clear Channel Communications, which agreed to display billboards in several languages around Las Vegas to raise awareness and offer victim assistance.
Participation by many other industries is also critical to overall success—hotels, hospitals, trucking companies, sports leagues, airlines, and commercial buses. I am glad to see that some of these industries are represented here today. We applaud them for stepping up and taking a stand against human trafficking. We will continue to expand and develop partnerships with these and other industries.
All of us can do something to fight human trafficking. The Department of Justice and our partners in law enforcement are working every day to bring sex traffickers to justice and rescue victims. I want to thank everyone who is here today for being part of the solution. To those of you in industry--as good corporate citizens, I hope you will do everything you can. Be on the lookout for warning signs. Educate your employees. Contact law enforcement if you see something suspicious. Only by working together will we ultimately abolish the plague of human trafficking.
Thank you for having me here today.