Remarks as prepared for delivery
Thank you, U.S. Attorney [Thomas] Walker, for that kind introduction; for your outstanding leadership as U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina; and for extending such a warm welcome for the first of what I hope will be many returns to my home state as Attorney General. It’s a pleasure to be in Raleigh this morning and a privilege to join so many inspiring civic leaders, dedicated professionals and good friends as we discuss the critical efforts underway here and throughout the country to eradicate human trafficking and support its survivors. I realize this is such a grassroots effort that it is difficult to single out individuals, but I do want to recognize Kiricka Yarbough-Smith, who leads this coalition and also Chief Cassandra Deck-Brown from the Raleigh Police Department, who is a staunch supporter and partner in this work.
Human traffickers prey on some of the most vulnerable members of our society to exploit them for labor, for sex and for servitude of all kinds. Their crimes, appropriately described as modern-day slavery, have no place in this nation. One of my top priorities as Attorney General is to bring human traffickers to justice, assist trafficking survivors and secure the rights and dignity of anyone unable to do so for themselves. But as the people in this room are all too aware, responding to a crime as complex and as devastating as human trafficking is neither easy nor straightforward. Such crimes must be fought persistently and aggressively, while drawing on ingenuity and collaboration across many disciplines, organizations and professions.
The efforts you’re leading in North Carolina exemplify that cooperative and innovative approach – and illustrate its vast potential. By bringing together state and local leaders, law enforcement officials and legal and social services organizations, this coalition has made its members more effective in performing a variety of important activities – from raising awareness about trafficking in North Carolina, to identifying and assisting trafficking victims, to obtaining convictions against those who did them harm. Through your Rapid Response Teams, you are reinforcing the lesson that when law enforcement is able to team up with direct service agencies and emergency responders, we are better equipped to provide trafficking victims with the recovery and rehabilitation support they need and deserve. With your innovative efforts and unwavering commitment, you are demonstrating the power of working together, across traditional professional lines, to bring a comprehensive approach to a daunting and urgent challenge.
We have already seen the fruits of these critical partnerships, and of the strong commitment of leaders like U.S. Attorney Walker who have given extra attention and placed special emphasis on rooting out human trafficking in their districts and far beyond. Here in the Eastern District in May, the Wake County Violent Crime Task Force brought together federal, state and local law enforcement officials to execute a two-night undercover anti-trafficking operation that led to multiple arrests and the release of several minors who were victims of sex trafficking. This office also obtained a 45-year sentence against Christopher Jason Williams, who forced two teenage girls to provide sexual services to paying customers. And in the Western District in November, Juan Gray-Sommerville was sentenced to more than 18 years in prison after a jury convicted him of sex trafficking of a minor. I want to applaud the U.S. Attorney’s Offices across North Carolina for their work, in these and ongoing cases. But as a former U.S. Attorney myself, I know that these are shared victories, made possible by your spirit of collaboration.
The Department of Justice is committed to supporting your work and advancing this fight in every way we can. Through our Office for Victims of Crime, we have been proud to help fund the essential work of many victims’ services organizations, including the Salvation Army’s Project FIGHT, Legal Aid of North Carolina’s Battered Immigrant Project and the North Carolina Victims’ Assistance Network – all of which are represented here today. We are also expanding a vital interagency initiative – known as the Anti-Trafficking Coordination Team Initiative, or ACTeam Initiative – that coordinates, streamlines and enhances anti-trafficking work across the Departments of Justice, Labor and Homeland Security. Just last week, I joined Secretary Tom Perez from the Department of Labor and Deputy Director Daniel Ragsdale from Immigration and Customs Enforcement to announce the results of the first phase of that initiative, which we had piloted in six cities: Atlanta, El Paso, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Memphis and Miami. The results were dramatic: in just two years – by harnessing an infusion of expertise, streamlining coordination and promoting accountability to the interagency group of national human trafficking experts – we more than doubled the numbers of cases filed and defendants charged for human trafficking crimes in pilot cities. Now we are aiming to harness that momentum and build on that success by launching the second phase of the initiative in several new districts across the country and I am encouraging every U.S. Attorney to confer with the FBI, Labor and Homeland Security leadership in their districts to consider applying to be among our Phase II pilot sites. I know we have representatives here not only from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, but also from the FBI and ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations teams, which are critical partners in this initiative – so consider this an open request to you all.
These are exciting and deeply necessary steps forward – because as much progress as we’re making on this critically important front, we know that there is much work left to do. The challenges are real, the stakes are high and there are no easy solutions. But as we have learned and as this coalition has proved, we are all better – and more effective – when we are able to work together. I want to thank you for your partnership and leadership in advancing this cause, and I want you to know that the Department of Justice – and the entire Obama Administration – will stay engaged on this issue and will stand by your side as we all strive for a future of peace, opportunity and freedom for all Americans.
I want to thank you, once again, for the opportunity to take part in this meeting. I am excited about all that we will achieve together in the days and months ahead.