Justice News

Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole Speaks at the Yale Law School Human Trafficking Symposium
New Haven, CT
United States
Thursday, April 12, 2012

Thank you, David [Fein], for that introduction. Thank you Yale Law School, the Trade of Innocents team, the United States Attorney’s Office and the Federal Bureau of Investigation for organizing this important symposium.

I am honored to join with so many esteemed colleagues gathered here to talk about what more we can all do in the global fight against human trafficking. The groups represented in this room have all been critical partners in trying to eradicate this scourge at home and abroad.

At the Department of Justice we have a number of components deeply involved in our effort to combat human trafficking. These include the United States Attorney’s Offices, the Civil Rights Division’s Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit, the Criminal Division’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section, and the FBI. And the Office of Justice Programs funds task forces across the country. But even with all of those Department participants, we cannot win this fight alone.

That is why I would like to take this opportunity to talk about the vital importance of partnerships in the Department’s effort to combat human trafficking. Law enforcement agencies; federal, state, local, and international authorities; and non-governmental organizations such as the Polaris Project and the International Justice Mission all have key roles to play in advancing this critical mission.

It seems almost unfathomable that today in the 21st Century, we still live in a world where human trafficking persists.

And yet it exists and is often hiding in plain and painful sight. It’s the young woman who comes to America for the promise of a new life but finds herself enslaved and sold for sex. Or the child who grew up here in America but ran away from home only to find herself the victim of her desperate acceptance of help from the wrong person. Or the migrant worker who is deprived of identification, transportation, and access to money in order to ensure his total dependence on his employer.

The Department of Justice is resolutely committed to preventing and combating human trafficking in all its forms. For Attorney General Holder and I, this is a deeply held conviction. Earlier this month, I had the privilege of speaking about this modern day form of slavery at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. Later this month, the Attorney General will be delivering an important speech on human trafficking at the Clinton Presidential Library.

Yet the Department’s commitment extends beyond mere words by its leadership and transcend into real action on the ground – action that has saved lives, delivered on the promise of freedom, and restored dignity to women, children and men held in bondage.

Last year, the Department set a new record in the number of defendants charged in human trafficking cases in a single year. And over the last three years, there has been a 30-percent increase in the number of forced labor and adult sex trafficking cases charged.

Here in Connecticut, you have served as leaders in fighting human trafficking. In 2008, Dennis Paris was sentenced to 30 years in prison, and ten other co-defendants were convicted in connection with a Hartford-based sex trafficking ring that targeted young, vulnerable women and girls. And just last year, Jarell Sanderson was sentenced right here in New Haven to over 25 years in prison for the sex trafficking of a 14-year-old victim.

Now, there’s always a bit of a good news/bad news aspect to higher numbers of prosecutions because they reflect not only the good-an effective enforcement effort--but also the bad-the reality that these cases are there to be prosecuted.

Yet it also reminds us that an absolutely essential element in bringing these prosecutions in the first instance has been a broad array of partnerships. These partnerships have proven to be force multipliers and yielded concrete results.

Take the tragic and shocking case out of Virginia where an MS-13 gang member preyed on a 12-year-old girl. He forced her into prostitution, seven days a week, using illegal drugs to keep her compliant. The defendant and his fellow gang members aggressively marketed her for prostitution at apartments, hotels, and businesses.

Law enforcement agencies in partnership with victim advocates working through the Northern Virginia Human Trafficking Task Force, we're able to discover this crime, stop it, and last October-two years from the very day that the victim was first ensnared-her trafficker was sentenced to life in prison.

The Department also partners with federal authorities to combat human trafficking.

Last February, the Justice Department launched a Human Trafficking Enhanced Enforcement Initiative to take our counter-trafficking enforcement efforts to a new level.

As a part of this effort, Attorney General Holder, along with the Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano and the Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis, announced the Anti-Trafficking Coordination Team – or “ACTeam” – Initiative. This Initiative is an interagency collaboration among the Departments of Justice, Homeland Security, and Labor aimed at streamlining federal criminal investigations and prosecutions of human trafficking offenses.

Following a rigorous interagency selection process, we launched six Pilot ACTeams around the country. Today, these teams are fully operational and are developing high-impact human trafficking investigations and prosecutions.

As we continue to increase coordination at the federal level, we are also partnering with state and local law enforcement authorities and the National Association of Attorneys General on its Human Trafficking Initiative.

We are providing grant funding through an Enhanced Collaborative Model to state and local law enforcement partners – and to victim service organizations – pairing proactive law enforcement efforts to stop traffickers, with programs to help victims heal and rebuild their lives.

Also we are hosting regional training forums, delivering training and technical assistance to the broader anti-trafficking community, and developing training curricula for state prosecutors and judges.

Yet even as we leverage these domestic partnerships, we recognize, as the title of this symposium notes, that a global perspective on trafficking is needed. Pursuing justice within our borders is simply not enough. That is why we are also taking steps to forge partnerships across borders.

One concrete example of this can be seen in Southeast Asia. During my visit to the Philippines last November, I had the honor of addressing the graduates of a course on Human Trafficking at the Philippine National Police Headquarters. The course was conducted by American and Philippine police instructors through DOJ’s International Criminal Investigative Training Assistance Program (ICITAP). Graduates of this course are now key partners on the front lines of the fight against human trafficking.

Closer to home, we are working with Mexican law enforcement authorities to dismantle sex trafficking networks operating on both sides of the border. Our joint actions have brought freedom to victims, and secured landmark convictions and substantial sentences against the traffickers in a number of high-impact bilateral cases.

And we continue to work with our friends at the State Department to engage a wider number of international partners on this issue, and to ensure that they, too, are pursuing aggressive enforcement efforts against traffickers and have the tools to do so. I am glad to see Ambassador CdeBaca will be speaking later in the afternoon to share the State Department’s perspective.

And so, in surveying these partnerships, while we can all be encouraged by our recent achievements in the fight against human trafficking, we have far more to do.

We must proceed with the humility of knowing that lives have been irreparably harmed and that justice alone can only bring a quantum of solace. It simply cannot undo the harm.

That is why, above and beyond all else, our various partnerships must focus on prevention. Prevention through prosecution of trafficking rings before they can ensnare other victims. Prevention through deterrence so that our prosecutions dissuade others who may follow suit. Prevention through public awareness as films like Trade of Innocents importantly seek to generate. And, lastly, prevention through the education of potential victims who driven by fear, poverty, or lack of education often unwittingly place their lives in the hands of exploitative traffickers.

The efforts we all make in this area are of critical importance. They are of critical importance to the victims, to their families and friends, and, frankly, to the fabric of our entire nation. These are truly among the most vulnerable members of our communities and are in desperate need of our help.

I want to thank all of you for the efforts you have made and that you will continue to make to fight for justice on behalf of victims of human trafficking. Without you they have little hope.

Thank you for the opportunity to share some of my thoughts with you on this vital subject.

Updated September 17, 2014