Remarks as prepared for delivery.
Thank you, Rachel, for that kind introduction, and more importantly, thank you for your strong leadership here at the Department.
That leadership has been especially strong with regard to fighting human trafficking. I want to thank you for taking up this important cause and making it your own.
I want to thank all of our panelists who are here with us. Each one of you brings a valuable, unique perspective that we can learn from.
I especially want to thank Andrea Hipwell for showing the courage and the strength to share your experience and your insight with us. You’re channeling your experiences into something positive that can help others and I think that is commendable. I also want to thank Kori Parnell, who is also a survivor, for being here with us.
I also want to thank all of those who are here who have dedicated their lives to helping survivors reclaim their lives and their freedom. Thank you to Mary Frances Bowley, Dr. Jordan Greenbaum, Geoff Rogers, and to so many others who have joined us here today. And thank you to all of the victim assistance organizations and survivor advocacy groups who work to bring healing and hope to those who have suffered from this terrible crime.
We also have Congressional staff here with us. Thank you for your attention to this issue. I’m pleased that so many Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle have made this a priority.
I want to welcome members of the business community who have taken important steps to help prevent trafficking. I want to thank them as well: Dave McCleary of the Rotary Club, Nicole Clifton of UPS, Antigone Davis of Facebook, Audra Jenkins of Randstad North America, Shally Pannikode of Anthem, Richard Terry of Delta Airlines, and Brent Wilton of Coca-Cola.
And of course I especially want to thank Secretary Nielsen, all of our prosecutors, and our law enforcement officers who are here with us. I will try to be brief so that we can get to my friend Curtis Hill, U.S. Attorney Erin Nealy Cox and Robert Moossy from the Civil Rights Division.
I want to thank each of them for their hard work putting traffickers behind bars.
Human trafficking is a violent crime. Trafficking victims are often threatened, beaten, drugged, isolated, deceived, and manipulated psychologically in order to make them dependent, control them, and hold them captive.
It’s hard to comprehend this level of cruelty. But human trafficking remains far too common. The FBI estimated at one point that this was the third-largest criminal activity in the world after drugs and counterfeiting.
And there are signs that this industry is changing. From 2010 to 2015, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children reported a ninefold increase in reports of suspected child sex trafficking, an increase which they think is related to the use of the internet.
These numbers should be a wake-up call for us.
It’s easy to overlook this problem—because human trafficking victims are often hidden in plain sight.
They’re not just on street corners or in dark alleys. They’re in the hotels where we stay. They’re at the truck stops we drive past. They’re sold for sex in nightclubs, massage parlors, and at parties. They’re compelled to perform domestic service, janitorial jobs, or farm work.
Human trafficking is a crime that law enforcement has to look out for in any large scale public event, on any major highway or in any city large or small.
And today even that is not enough. We now face the problem of human traffickers using the internet. Every day in America, criminals use online advertisements to sell trafficking victims for sex. The websites that host the advertisements act with near impunity. I am pleased that Congress is focused on this problem and congratulate them for working to find a solution to the scourge that is online sex trafficking.
This Department is taking action against all forms of human trafficking, and I am proud of what we have accomplished. We have been aggressively pursuing traffickers and recovering their victims.
All 94 of our U.S. Attorneys’ Offices have designated Human Trafficking Coordinators, who have developed customized anti-trafficking strategies for their districts. They help our U.S. Attorneys advance effective enforcement strategies, build strong partnerships, and ensure that we’re using our resources as effectively as possible to identify victims and investigate and prosecute traffickers. Stopping trafficking is a priority for every one of these offices.
The Criminal Division’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section does terrific work to stop those who traffick children for sex. Just a few weeks ago, along with the U.S. Attorney’s office in the Eastern District of Virginia, they secured convictions of two men in Virginia for trafficking three underage girls.
This Section also helps train thousands of prosecutors, investigators, and state, local, and tribal police from around the country.
The Department also provides anti-trafficking grant funding to the 85 percent of law officers in America who serve at the state, local, and tribal levels. We understand that they have unique capabilities and on-the-ground intelligence that we just can’t have. They are indispensable partners in this effort.
Our Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit, or HTPU, partners with U.S. Attorneys’ Offices to prosecute labor trafficking, sex trafficking of adults, and transnational sex trafficking. HTPU leads our ACTeam Initiative, which brings together federal agents and prosecutors in competitively selected districts. U.S. Attorney Brooker, who is with us today, is a valuable member of one of these teams, and he will be presenting today on some of the successes that he has had in his district—including obtaining substantial restitution for survivors.
We also work in partnership with the Department of Homeland Security and our partners in Mexico through a bilateral anti-trafficking initiative aimed at dismantling transnational trafficking networks—because human trafficking is often a transnational crime.
The day I was sworn in as Attorney General, President Trump sent me an executive order to dismantle transnational criminal organizations. You can be sure that includes human trafficking rings.
And this is another reason why we must finally secure our Southern Border. Traffickers and coyotes see our porous border as an opportunity that they can exploit for profit. And they exploit this weakness in our security all too easily.
Our important partnership with Mexico has resulted in the federal prosecutions in this country of more than 50 defendants in multiple cases in Georgia, New York, Florida, and Texas, in addition to numerous Mexican prosecutions of associated sex traffickers.
I remember a case several years ago of two Mexican nationals who were trafficking Mexican and Guatemalan girls in Georgia and my home state of Alabama. They convinced them to cross our border into this country, then used violence, threats, intimidation, deception, and psychological abuse to control them.
Thanks to the hard work of people at this Department, one man received a 15 year sentence, and the other received a 22 year sentence.
That is great work.
And our efforts are continuing to produce ever greater results.
Last year, through our bilateral work with Mexico, we secured guilty pleas from eight members of the Rendon Reyes Sex Trafficking Organization, a trafficking ring that forced young women and girls from Mexico and Latin America into prostitution. They did this for a decade. We worked tirelessly with our Mexican counterparts to successfully extradite five of the defendants to stand trial in the United States, sending the clear message that the United States will pursue criminals to the ends of the earth in the name of justice. Thanks to the men and women of this Department we need no longer fear this barbaric trafficking ring.
Last fall the FBI and our state and local partners arrested 120 traffickers and recovered 84 minors in a major nationwide operation. Victims were as young as 12.
And just a couple of weeks ago, just 10 miles from here, a sex trafficker from Northern Virginia was sentenced to 30 years in federal prison. His two co-conspirators both received 10-year sentences.
In fiscal year 2017, the Department secured the convictions of nearly 500 human traffickers.
We brought a record number of cases last year—charging more than 550 defendants. These cases involved all forms of human trafficking: labor trafficking, sex trafficking, exploiting minors and adults, U.S. citizens, legal guest workers, and illegal aliens.
We’ve seen an increase in cases filed, defendants charged, and defendants convicted.
But when we lock away a trafficker, our work isn’t over. We don’t just stop there. We also fund survivor-centered programs that help trafficking victims walk the long road to recovery. I’m looking forward to this afternoon’s panel about how we can make those grants as effective as possible.
I’m hopeful that today’s summit will help us build on the efforts I’ve just described, and make us more effective than ever. I hope that it will shine a light on a problem that all too often happens in the shadows.
I want to thank you all once again for being here, for participating in today’s summit, and I want to thank you all for your work to protect our communities and ensure that victims and survivors are valued and protected. Thank you.