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Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. Delivers Remarks at Justice Department Event Marking National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month


Washington, DC
United States

Remarks as prepared for delivery

Thank you, Sally [Yates], for that introduction – and for your strong leadership of the department’s anti-human trafficking efforts, in Atlanta and far beyond.   It’s a distinct pleasure to officially welcome you, on behalf of our colleagues, as Acting Deputy Attorney General of the United States.  And it’s an honor to join so many outstanding leaders – including Mayors [Kasim] Reed and [William] Bell, former Congressman [Dan] Lungren, and of course Assistant Attorney General [Karol] Mason, FBI Director [James] Comey, and Deputy Director [Kris] Rose – for this important commemoration. 

I’d like to begin today by recognizing Assistant Attorneys General Vanita Gupta, of the Civil Rights Division and Leslie Caldwell, of the Criminal Division, for their dedication to combating the scourge of human trafficking.  Alongside Karol Mason, her colleagues in the Office of Justice Programs, our United States Attorney’s Offices, the Office on Violence Against Women, the FBI, the COPS Office and our law enforcement partners, Vanita and Leslie – and the Divisions they lead ­- stand on the front lines of this critical effort.  The tireless work of all of these committed public servants – here at Main Justice and in offices across the country – has been vital in establishing the record of progress we celebrate today.  And it’s only with their continued leadership that we’ll be able to build on this progress as we look to the future.

I also want to extend a special welcome to the survivors who have come to share their stories with us - and from whom we’ll be hearing in just a few minutes.  You honor us with your presence this afternoon.  Your strength is humbling.  Your courage is inspiring.  And your resolve -to transform experiences of pain and horror into powerful forces for healing – gives hope to countless survivors, advocates, and law enforcement leaders, all of whom are proud to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with you today. 

It is because of these remarkable individuals, and so many others, that we’ve come together to mark this year’s National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month -here in the heart of an institution dedicated to the cause of justice.  Each year, this solemn observance presents an important opportunity to shine a light on the powerful – and promising – work that so many of you are leading.  Even more importantly, it offers a vital chance to rededicate ourselves to the serious and systemic challenges that remain before us – challenges of a scope, and an astonishing global scale, that are almost without rival.  Challenges that demand that we redouble our efforts to reach more and more survivors, millions of whom are in dire need of our assistance right this minute.  Challenges that impel each of us to renew our resolve to bring to justice every perpetrator of forced labor, sex trafficking and other heinous crimes that seek to deny the rights, the freedom, and the basic human dignity of every victim. 

It is abhorrent and almost inconceivable, that today – a century and a half after the Emancipation Proclamation, and more than six decades after the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights – these forms of peonage and bondage endure, both around the world and within our own borders.  It is unacceptable that millions of people toil in the shadows even as we speak – people who are viewed by their traffickers as nothing more than commodities.  People whose enslavement and exploitation feed an illicit economy built on the trade, and the inhuman treatment, of vulnerable human beings.  And people whose lives are subject to the control of cruel captors, and whose desperate plight is a stain on the soul of our civilization. 

The United Nations has rightly described human trafficking as “a crime that shames us all.”  So let us declare today – here and now – that we are determined to stand in shame no longer.

In recent years, people of conscience around the world have increasingly fought back against slavery, bonded labor, and sex trafficking.   And the United States – led by this Department of Justice and our federal agency partners – is helping to lead the way.

The Justice Department’s commitment to this work has never been stronger, nor our strategy more effective.  Our determination to take a zero-tolerance, whole-of-government approach to confronting this problem – and advancing the long struggle for freedom, fairness, and justice – has never been more robust.  And that’s why, with the continued leadership of everyone in this Great Hall, and the engagement of our allies around the world, I’ve never been more confident that we can take this effort to a new level. 

Over the last five years, in conjunction with our U.S. Attorneys nationwide, the Civil Rights Division’s Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit, or HTPU – under the exemplary leadership of Director Hilary Axam – has prosecuted record numbers of labor trafficking, international sex trafficking, and adult sex trafficking cases – 56 percent more than in the previous five years. 

This is outstanding work – and there can be no question that these efforts, combined with the tremendous work of the Criminal Division’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section, are having a tangible, positive impact on the lives of thousands of people on a regular basis.  Yet there remain far too many victims in urgent need of our help.  That’s why the Justice Department is taking new action to support a range of innovative, collaborative efforts to identify and stop traffickers – and to help victims heal and rebuild their lives.  And it’s why we’re doing important work to bring new allies into this fight – and to improve coordination between agencies at every level of government. 

As Sally noted, in 2011, HTPU and the Executive Office for United States Attorneys partnered with the FBI and the Departments of Labor and Homeland Security to launch the Anti-Trafficking Coordination Team – or ACTeam – Initiative.  This has enabled us to streamline working relationships among federal prosecutors and federal investigative agencies, both on the front lines and at the national level. 

Since their inception, our six Phase I Pilot ACTeams have developed significant human trafficking cases.  As Sally saw firsthand in Atlanta, Phase I has proved highly effective.  And based on this demonstrated record of success, I am proud to announce today that the Justice Department and our outstanding partners – in the FBI and the Departments of Homeland Security and Labor – are actively preparing to proceed to Phase II.  We are laying the groundwork for a forthcoming interagency launch, which will begin with a competitive, nationwide selection process to identify Phase II ACTeam sites. 

We’ll also continue to reinforce key relationships both within, and beyond, America’s borders – because it’s only by rallying a broad coalition of international partners that we can combat human trafficking on a truly global scale.  This is the vision behind our collaboration with the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, and our Mexican law enforcement counterparts to ensure that human traffickers are brought to justice.   And these groundbreaking advances have had a significant impact on efforts to dismantle trafficking networks on both sides of the border – and to restore the lives and dignity of victims ravaged by their brutality.

In so many ways, the results we’ve obtained are emblematic of what we can achieve through the type of intensive collaboration that must drive our commitment moving forward.  And they illustrate the power of robust enforcement and victim assistance to improve and even save the lives of those who are rescued when human traffickers are disrupted. 

No one understands this better than the dedicated men and women of the department’s Office for Victims of Crime, whose efforts are in many ways at the heart of this country’s determination not just to stop trafficking, but to support and empower all whose lives have been touched by these appalling crimes.  Under the leadership of Director Joye Frost – who has been a key champion of this work, and who’s here with us today – OVC is helping to drive a victim-centered approach to addressing human trafficking, offering services to survivors, and engaging them as valued leaders in our campaign to reach still more who have been victimized. 

Thanks to OVC’s great work, the Justice Department’s efforts have been indelibly linked to – and strengthened by – the courageous participation and advocacy of survivors.  These brave people come from all backgrounds and walks of life.  They are U.S. citizens and foreign nationals.  They are men, women, and children who were subjected to sex trafficking or forced labor.  And they’re helping us to ensure that every survivor is stabilized, supported, and empowered to participate fully in every step of every process – because nothing is more important than making sure their needs are met, their voices are heard, and their futures belong to them once more.  Going forward, we will continue to draw on the wisdom, strength, and resilience of these survivor advocates to enrich our expertise and redouble our resolve.   For instance, in the lead-up to this administration’s launch of the first-ever government-wide Strategic Action Plan for Services for Victims of Human Trafficking, OVC provided strong leadership on behalf of the Justice Department.  And they worked closely with the Departments of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services to shape a five-year strategy for strengthening capacity – and streamlining collaboration – among federal agencies and key nongovernmental allies.

Now, I believe we can all be proud of everything this department is doing to raise awareness about – and to directly combat – the global crisis of human trafficking.  As our nation’s Attorney General, and as the father of three children, advancing these efforts has been both a personal and professional priority for many years.  From our Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, to the Bureau of Justice Assistance and the National Institute of Justice, I’ve been gratified to see nearly every DOJ office and component take new ownership, and display strong leadership, in some aspect of this important work. 

Together, we are realizing the historic commitment we’ve made – under President Obama’s leadership – to cut down on the illicit trade in innocent human beings.  Thanks to the tireless work of our new Deputy Attorney General – and the determination of the excellent and principled leader who will soon be confirmed as Attorney General of the United States – I am confident that this effort will only grow stronger in the months and years ahead.

But, like all of you, I also recognize that we will never be able to make the progress we need on our own.  We must continue to expand partnerships beyond the halls of government.  We must strive to enlist the American people in identifying victims who are hiding in plain sight.  Above all, we must capitalize on this rare opportunity to build on the work that’s underway – and the momentum we’ve established – by standing together, speaking together, and working together as never before.  By recommitting ourselves to the pursuit of a more perfect Union that must animate this great Department’s efforts.  And by reaffirming our shared destiny – as one nation and one people – dedicated to freedom, and devoted always to the notion that America’s future will be defined by the support we provide to the most vulnerable members of our society.

From this moment on, let this be the creed that pushes us forward.  And let this be the call we answer, and the cause we serve, wherever our individual paths may take us in the months and years to come.

I want to thank you all, once again, for your leadership, your partnership, and your determination to help make the difference we seek.  I will always be honored, and humbled, to count you as colleagues and partners.   And I look forward to everything this department – and this great nation – will achieve in the critical days ahead.

Human Trafficking
Updated December 15, 2015