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Attorney General Merrick B. Garland Delivers Remarks at OVC's Anti-Trafficking Commemorative Event


Washington, DC
United States

Remarks as Delivered

Good afternoon.  Thank you, Kris, for that very kind introduction. 

Today we recognize National Human Trafficking Prevention Month. And we recognize 20 years of anti-trafficking programs by the Department’s Office for Victims of Crime.

Human trafficking is a heinous crime with devastating consequences.

Traffickers prey upon the most vulnerable members of our society.

They exploit and control their victims, often through force, violence, or abuse.

And victims experience unimaginable harm, trauma, and stigma – all of which can prevent them from receiving the support they need and deserve.

The Department of Justice is committed to combatting human trafficking from every angle, and to vindicating the rights of victims and survivors.

We are committed to expanding our capacity to prevent human trafficking, including by working with federal, state, local, Tribal, and territorial law enforcement partners.

We are committed to expanding our capacity to prosecute perpetrators of human trafficking crimes across all 94 of our U.S. Attorneys’ Offices.

Prosecutors in our Civil Rights Division’s Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit work closely with AUSAs and law enforcement agencies to streamline investigations, ensure consistent application of trafficking statutes, and identify multijurisdictional trafficking networks. 

In addition, in June 2021, I established Joint Task Force Alpha in partnership with the Department of Homeland Security. 

The Task Force’s mission is to work within the United States and with our foreign partners in the Northern Triangle and Mexico to dismantle the most dangerous human smuggling and human trafficking networks. 

The Criminal Division’s Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section helps lead and has numerous federal prosecutors assigned to the  Task Force. 

We also are committed to providing protection and trauma-informed assistance to victims and survivors of human trafficking.

For two decades, the Department’s Office for Victims of Crime has led our efforts to protect and support survivors.

In that time, this work has greatly expanded. In 2003, we issued almost $10 million in grants to combat human trafficking. 

By 2022, we issued more than $90 million. 

And that figure will grow even more in the year ahead, with up to $95 million in awards available. 

I am proud that the funding OVC manages is the largest amount of federal funding dedicated to supporting survivors of human trafficking.

This funding is used to support direct services for survivors, including housing, employment, and legal assistance. 

It also supports multidisciplinary task forces, state-level capacity building, and a range of training and technical assistance – all aimed at combatting human trafficking.

Together, these resources help ensure the safety and wellbeing of survivors. 

These resources empower survivors to help bring their traffickers to justice, including through testimony and victim-impact statements.   

And these resources help prevent future crimes. 

I am grateful to OVC – and to everyone involved in this work – for how much you have done to advance our anti-trafficking efforts thus far. But I am grateful more for how much you will continue to do in the years ahead. 

Your work has made a real difference in the lives of survivors across the country, and it will continue to do so year in and year out. 

Building an effective response to human trafficking takes commitment and collaboration at every level of government and beyond. 

It demands a multi-disciplinary approach, and partnerships between subject-matter experts, law enforcement, and stakeholders. 

And most important, it requires listening to victims and survivors and incorporating their perspectives into everything that we do. 

Nearly one year ago, I announced the Department’s National Strategy to Combat Human Trafficking.

This multi-year framework harnesses our law enforcement, prosecution, and grant-making capabilities to more effectively dismantling trafficking threats. 

The result is an approach to combating trafficking that puts victims first.

And in the last year, we have put these policies into place.

In support of the Strategy, we have released an updated version of the Attorney General Guidelines for Victim and Witness Assistance. 

This version incorporates enhanced protections and addresses specific considerations for vulnerable victims and members of marginalized communities. 

We have developed and disseminated expanded training resources for federal prosecutors, to offer strategies for enforcing restitution and forfeiture provisions for human trafficking victims.

We have expanded the scope of our Housing Assistance Grants for Victims of Human Trafficking, so that this program now covers both emergency and transitional housing.

And we have launched an interagency Forced Labor Initiative to enhance the detection, investigation, and prosecution of federal criminal forced labor crimes. 

This initiative is led by a committee of experts from the FBI, the Executive Office for United States Attorneys, and the Departments of Labor and Homeland Security.

As I said, these are great strides forward. But there is much more to do. So, as we celebrate our accomplishments over the last 20 years, we will also recommit ourselves to doing this important work.

We will continue to bring the full force of the Department to the fight against human trafficking. 

We will continue to bring traffickers to justice. 

We will continue to disrupt and dismantle the networks that enable these crimes. 

And we will continue to show victims, by word and by deed, that we are worthy of their trust.

I’m now pleased to turn the podium back over to Kris.

Human Trafficking
Updated January 26, 2023