Remarks as prepared for delivery.
Thank you, Jessica, for that introduction, and thank you to the audience for being here.
It’s an honor for me to be here with Deputy Director Gordon and Secretary Wilson – two strong leaders in this Administration’s efforts to defend national security and homeland security.
My focus today will be on another type of security – Americans’ safety from crime and violence. Like national security, public safety is necessary to our ability to enjoy economic prosperity and all the freedoms we have as Americans.
Under the President’s leadership, the Department of Justice is working with our partners in state and local police forces to keep Americans safe from all types of crime.
In the brief time that I have today, I will focus on just three areas.
Taking criminals off our streets
First, we are committing to reversing the tide of violent crime that has hit many of our cities. In both 2015 and 2016, homicide and violent crime rates increased pretty dramatically. The Attorney General came into office determined to reverse that trend. The numbers for 2017 are not yet final, but preliminary indications are that the crime rate has stopped its increase and may be beginning to decrease. We’re working hard to make sure it does.
Part of this is sending a message that we stand with state and local police officers who are working to keep us safe around the country. The Attorney General has made clear that we will work alongside them to take individual criminals and gangs off the streets and to increase their resources wherever we can.
We know that a few of the worst offenders commit a disproportionate percentage of all violent crimes, and if we focus our law enforcement resources on them, we can make a big difference for communities terrorized by street violence. And so the Attorney General ordered our federal prosecutors to work with local police to do just that. We have 94 United States Attorneys’ Offices around the country, which gives us a nationwide presence and an ability to deploy our resources where they are needed most.
In our effort to get the worst offenders off the street, we’re especially focused on gangs such as MS-13. This is an incredibly brutal street gang that often forces teenagers into the gang with threats of violence. It prides itself on using the most brutal tactics in committing murder and other crimes. It’s a drug trafficking enterprise and has also branched out into other types of crime, including sex trafficking of girls.
To give you an idea of MS-13’s tactics, last spring we charged six members of MS-13 with the murders of two girls on Long Island. Nisa Mickens was found beaten to death the day before her 16th birthday. She had been beaten so badly that she was barely recognizable. The next day, her friend Kayla Cuevas, age 16, was found beaten to death, too.
This heartbreaking case is unfortunately just one example of what this gang is capable of.
The Attorney General has directed our U.S. Attorneys to bring all their resources to bear against MS-13 and similar gangs. This past year, we filed charges in more violent crime cases than we had in decades and secured convictions of more than 1,200 gang members.
I mentioned a moment ago that MS-13 has begun to traffick girls for sex, and that is the next subject I’ll discuss.
Combatting human trafficking
Combatting human trafficking, and sex trafficking in particular, is one of my top priorities. I call it a civil rights crisis. Others have called it modern-day slavery because it turns human beings into profit centers against their will. Traffickers view their victims as commodities – commodities that – unlike drugs - can be sold over, and over, and over.
Many people are surprised to learn that sex trafficking is a nationwide problem. We hear about cases from our federal prosecutors and from state and local police all across the country. Its victims are everywhere: at truck stops, in the city, in economically depressed rural areas, and in high-end suburbs.
We’re tackling this problem in a number of ways.
One is public awareness – if everyone from flight attendants to hotel clerks to ER doctors know how to spot the signs of trafficking, we’ll rescue more victims. We’re training law enforcement too, and we know of specific stories where local police who had received this training spotted and rescued sex trafficking victims.
Another is funding both law enforcement and victim services providers. Sex trafficking victims have a long and hard road to recovery. Funding those services is not just the right thing to do, it also helps law enforcement by making it more likely the victim will be able to testify against the trafficker. DOJ has dedicated over $47 million in grants to service providers and law enforcement this year to address human trafficking.
Finally, we use all of our tools to prosecute the traffickers. For example, last fall the FBI arrested 120 traffickers and rescued 84 minors in a major nationwide operation. The youngest victim the FBI rescued was three months old.
Stopping sexual assault
The last issue I want to mention is another type of sexual exploitation – sexual harassment in the housing industry.
The term “sexual harassment” doesn’t fully capture what we’re talking about here. This ranges from landlords forcing a woman to choose between providing sexual favors and being evicted to a landlord letting himself into a woman’s apartment and assaulting her.
Like human trafficking, many people are surprised to hear how prevalent a problem this is. They may also be surprised to know that it’s illegal under the federal Fair Housing Act.
We want women – and men – to know that if this happens to them, there is someone they can call. No one should have to choose between sexual abuse and losing the roof over her head.
And so in October, we announced a new Sexual Harassment in Housing Initiative in two cities and established a dedicated hotline and website where victims can make complaints. When those complaints come in, the Department can file a suit on behalf of the victim, with the money recovered from the abuser going to the victim.
In 2017 alone, we brought cases on behalf of more than 40 victims and secured more than $1 million in relief for those victims.
We look forward to expanding this project to more cities, and we hope you will help us get the word out about the problem and where victims can go to get help.
Thanks again for being here.