Remarks as Prepared for Delivery
Thank you all so much for being here at this Human Trafficking Summit. Prosecuting human trafficking and protecting and assisting victims are among our top priorities at the Department of Justice. Today we highlighted initiatives that are moving us forward and also discussed challenges that we all, together, need to confront in order to make the next leap forward.
I am grateful to the U.S. Attorneys, FBI and DOJ personnel here today. Your presence helps cement the message that our department has made the fight against human trafficking a top priority. Our state, local, tribal and territorial government partners, including in law enforcement, are on the front lines. We have your back and are in this work together with you. I also want to thank officials from other U.S. government agencies here – today and every day – in partnership with us. And I also thank the organizers of today’s event.
Expert survivor leaders informed the strategies we discussed today. We salute your courage in stopping human traffickers from hurting others, even while you build your own lives and move from surviving to thriving. Last but not least, I thank representatives from non-governmental organizations that assist survivors and work with communities to prevent human trafficking. We are grateful for your partnership.
There are important takeaways from today’s summit. First, protecting and assisting victims is important to the larger cause of justice and to the immediate needs of investigation and prosecution. Second, human trafficking overlaps with other crimes, including drug trafficking, gang crimes, money laundering, and human smuggling. And human trafficking is hidden in a very wide range of settings, from local and transnational commercial sex enterprises, to sweatshops and fields across the U.S., all the way to global supply chains of major multinational corporations. We need more innovative strategies to detect it so that we can stop it. Third, we need the availability of all law enforcement tools to adequately investigate and prosecute more human trafficking cases. While some say we cannot prosecute our way out of this problem, the fact is that a human trafficker who remains at large can and will find other victims.
These three points – victim protection, detection of hidden crime intersecting with other crime problems, and the value of effective investigations and prosecutions – are seen in recent cases that DOJ and its partners successfully investigated and prosecuted.
In May 2019, a federal jury found Brian Folks guilty of 13 federal felonies arising from his operation of a violent sex and drug trafficking enterprise that sold heroin and forced young, drug-addicted women to engage in commercial sex through the greater Burlington, Vermont, area. Over almost four years, Folks targeted young, vulnerable women who were either addicted to drugs or homeless. After recruiting victims and forcing them to perform commercial sex acts, he inflicted serious consequences if they “violated” his strict rules. He beat the victims, often in front of others, creating a climate of fear, and he sexually assaulted them. He also videotaped them performing explicit sex acts, and threatened to expose the videos to the public. He, used heroin as an addictive tool, using painful withdrawal symptoms as punishment. Folks is scheduled to be sentenced on Feb. 3, 2020, and faces between 15 years up to life imprisonment, as well as mandatory payment of restitution to the sex trafficking victims.
Also last May, a U.S. District Court Judge sentenced a couple in Southlake, Texas, to seven years in prison each and ordered them to pay $288,620 in restitution to the victim of their crime. A federal jury had convicted the defendants of forced labor, conspiracy to commit alien harboring, and alien harboring after a four-day trial. The defendants arranged for the victim, then a young child in rural Guinea, to travel alone from her home in West Africa to the defendants’ home in Texas in early 2000. The defendants forced the victim to cook, clean, and take care of their own children, some of whom were close to the victim’s age, all without pay, for the next 16 years. This bears repeating: they managed to keep their crimes hidden for 16 years. As a consequence of their convictions, the defendants, who are citizens of Guinea and lawful permanent residents of the United States, may lose their U.S. immigration status and be removed to Guinea pursuant to law.
We have heard today from two DOJ prosecuting units whose work is at the heart of DOJ’s efforts. They represent the DOJ’s commitment to the anti-human trafficking mission. In response to the need for expertise from federal, state and local enforcement partners nationwide, DOJ formed the Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit, or HTPU, a specialized unit within the Civil Rights Division, in 2007. The Unit is devoted to novel, complex, multi-jurisdictional, and international trafficking cases. Attorneys from DOJ Criminal Division’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section, or CEOS, continue to serve as experts in child sex trafficking crimes and the online facilitation of sex trafficking. These two units provide distinct expertise in wide-ranging threats criminalized under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 and other laws, including those prohibiting transnational crime, organized crime, and online exploitation. Together with the 94 U.S. Attorneys’ Offices, they have prosecuted 2,302 cases, brought 4,244 traffickers to justice and secured 3,589 convictions since the TVPA was first passed. These include cases against customers who fuel demand by purposefully seeking sex with children, and against those who facilitate this crime, such as the groundbreaking prosecution against backpage.com.
We heard today about DOJ-led enforcement initiatives spearheaded by HTPU, CEOS and the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices and the FBI. These include the Anti-trafficking Coordination Team Initiative, or ACTeams; the U.S.-Mexico Bilateral Human Trafficking Enforcement Initiative; and Innocence Lost task forces, among other efforts that have helped us to leap ahead. One Phase II ACTeam District prosecuted a landmark case against 38 defendants who operated an extensive transnational sex trafficking enterprise that exploited hundreds of Thai women throughout the United States. That same ACTeam, in Minnesota, also simultaneously charged and convicted two other forced labor cases involving foreign victims – one in a restaurant and another in domestic servitude. Another initiative was Operation Independence Day, spearheaded by the FBI last summer to identify and arrest sex traffickers and recover child victims. The month-long initiative relied on more than 400 law enforcement agencies around the country. In all, 103 juveniles were identified or recovered and 67 suspected traffickers were arrested. The sweep resulted in 60 new federal investigations.
Since the Trafficking Victims Protection Act passed, the numbers of cases charged and defendants convicted have increased exponentially. These cases have included complex cases involving multiple victims; extensive criminal enterprises that operated for years across multiple jurisdictions; labor trafficking cases across a range of work sectors; and sex trafficking cases affecting both adult and child victims.
The year 2020 marks the twenty-year anniversary of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000. The TVPA responded to the fact that the ability of one person to control, exploit, abuse and profit from another person’s labor and commercial sex acts has not yet been fully eradicated. And it needs to be.
This is why prosecuting human traffickers, and protecting vulnerable victims, are among our top priorities. The Department of Justice is at the forefront of this fight but we would not be able to make progress without all of you. We would not make a dent without our investigative partners. We would not make a dent without governmental and non-governmental human services agencies that are helping traumatized victims. We would not make a dent without those working to prevent this crime from happening in the first place. We have so much left to do. But this summit is also a time to pause and celebrate all that we have done together in the two decades since the Trafficking Victims Protection Act was enacted. I want to personally thank each of you that has been involved in this herculean effort.
Today, we recommit to ending human trafficking. Our work continues. Thank you.