You are here

Justice News

Remarks Of The Honorable David J. Hickton United States Attorney For The Western District Of Pennsylvania At The Saint Francis University Red Mass/Law Day Celebration
United States
Friday, April 25, 2014

Thank you, Judge, for your kind and generous introduction.

I want to recognize some friends here today.

  • Brooks Smith, a distinguished judge of the Third Circuit, who facilitated my invitation here today;
  • The Honorable Judge Kim Gibson of the United States District Court for Western Pennsylvania;
  • Judy Olson, judge of the Superior Court and a former colleague. Judy and I shared a mentor, the late great David Armstrong. He lives on in our shared joy in each other’s success; and
  • Kenny Horoho, a good friend and former high school basketball rival, who introduced me at my investiture. Kenny and I are the only basketball players I know who have improved after we reached age 50.

It is truly an honor to be invited to St. Francis University, the oldest Franciscan college and one of the first Catholic colleges established in the United States. Your core values of a mind for excellence; a spirit for peace and justice; and a heart for service are noble and aligned with the mission of the Department of Justice and U. S. Attorney’s Office in our efforts to protect and preserve the public interest of each and every citizen of this Nation.

It is with great pride that I have watched your growth and commitment to excellence and dedication to Catholic values as you grew from college to university to being recognized by the

U. S. News & World Report as one of the best institutions of higher education in the Nation. That you are now Number 43 on that list and that your ranking has consistently continued to increase speaks volumes to the work of the faculty and staff here. It also speaks to Father Gabe Zeis’ level of dedication and commitment to making your mission statement more than just a statement, but a continuing practice with tangible results.

Through Father Gabe’s leadership, St. Francis’ academic and athletic excellence have soared to new heights. The physical structure of the University has been expanded and improved along with the increase in enrollment.

Father Gabe, I commend you for the great work you have done during your tenure as President. I believe the title of the institutional effective plan you developed--“Journey to Excellence, Efficiency and Effectiveness” sums up your entire tenure as President of St. Francis. I am sure you will be greatly missed, but through your legacy here, your presence will never be far from campus.

I would like to welcome Father Malachi as the new President. I wish you much success in carrying on the good work Father Gabe has done in continuing to move the University forward.

We gather here today to celebrate Law Day, which President Dwight D. Eisenhower established to honor the role of law in the creation of the United States. Law Day was officially designated by Congress in 1961 as May 1, but is celebrated by many institutions at ceremonies on or around May 1, such as we do here today. Earlier today my office participated in a Naturalization Ceremony which also honored Law Day.

The Statute designating Law Day, 36 U. S. Code Section 113, states that “Law Day, U.S.A., is a special day of celebration by the people of the United States—

(1) in appreciation of their liberties and the reaffirmation of their loyalty to the United States and their rededication to the ideals of equality and justice under the law in their relations with each other and with other countries; and

(2) for the cultivation of the respect for law that is so vital to the democratic way of life.

In proclaiming May 1 to be Law Day, U.S.A. back in 1958, President Eisenhower stated “. . . If civilization is to survive it must choose the rule of law.” I believe this to also mean that in this country, freedom and justice are intertwined and cannot be separated when it comes to protecting the basic rights of each and every citizen. The very fabric of this Nation is based upon freedom and justice for all, or to quote our pledge of allegiance, “. . . with liberty and justice for all.”

Each of the United States Attorney’s Offices have a clear purpose and mission: we are to protect the public interest by following the Constitution and applying the rule of law. While many would see our vigorous work to protect the public interest through our prosecution of criminals, we see our work as the protection of each and every citizen’s civil rights—most importantly, the freedom to live free from fear.

When I became U. S. Attorney in 2010, I reorganized the office to reflect the importance of protecting the civil rights of all by establishing a dedicated Civil Rights Section.

Civil rights has long been a focus for me, and I feel truly blessed to have been put in a position to strengthen and further civil efforts as U. S. Attorney. It is troubling to me, though, that in a year when we celebrate the 50-year anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, we are still faced with many, many civil rights violations in this Country.

Since being in Office, we have prosecuted two cross burnings involving seven defendants here in Western Pennsylvania.

It is unacceptable to me that over 150 years after the abolishment of slavery, there are still those who would violate the civil rights of others through hate crimes and oppression.

This country was founded upon establishing freedom and justice. Its uniqueness is that it is a melting pot of many different people and cultures—a nation of immigrants. Its greatest magnetism toward those who have migrated from other countries is its freedoms to pursue the American Dream. Yet, there are still those who would commit acts of violence, discrimination and hate against those who look, worship, love, or live differently than they.

This is unacceptable, and each and every one of us should be outraged by any acts of hate or oppression on any individual. A civil rights violation to one of us is a civil rights violation to us all.

Last year I announced an enhanced focus through our dedicated Civil Rights Section to combat human trafficking. Human Trafficking is nothing more than modern day slavery. It not only exists in our present society, it is widespread; and it exists right here in Western Pennsylvania.

The U. S. State Department estimates approximately 800,000 people are trafficked from their home countries each year. Of those being trafficked, it is estimated that nearly half of them are children. Many of them are being bought and sold right here in the United States.

Victims may be migrant workers, nannies, salon or restaurant workers or runaways. While most victims are women and children, some are men.

Many are lured from their usually substandard living conditions by the promise of a better life. Instead of receiving what they are promised, they find themselves forced into a life of prostitution or heavy labor to pay for their travel documents, housing and/or transportation to and from their jobs.

Far too many of these victims are hiding in plain sight. It may be hard for most people to imagine, but many trafficked individuals, who were previously in much more deplorable and/or unsafe circumstances, do not even see themselves as victims.

Many victims are reluctant to come forward out of fear of their traffickers and/or law enforcement, deportation, and very often out of guilt and fear of incarceration for the sex crimes they have been forced to commit. Language barriers is another factor which may discourage a victim from coming forward.

Trafficking young girls has become an increasingly prevalent part of gang activity because it brings in more profit than dealing drugs. Drugs can be sold only once, but a person being trafficked can be sold multiple times.

Traffickers use force, fraud or coercion to lure victims who are vulnerable and then force them into commercial sexual exploitation or labor.

Many traffickers prey upon young, unsuspecting girls in open, seemingly safe areas, such as shopping malls. Oftentimes they present themselves as a romantic interest in their efforts to “groom” them for sex trafficking.

It will take unified efforts toward awareness, education, communication, identification, prosecution and victim support to bring the plight of these vulnerable violated individuals to light.

Through the Allegheny County Bar Association we have made a call to local attorneys to help give victims of human trafficking a voice. All ACBA members are encouraged to become more educated on human trafficking and identifying victims, They are also encouraged to join in the efforts of the Southwestern Pennsylvania Human Trafficking Coalition and help identify victims needing legal services. Attorneys who have taken the ACBA Foundation’s Pro Bono Pledge have been asked to offer pro bono legal services to victims who have been converted to survivors.

We need your eyes, ears and voice to help identify victims of human trafficking and eliminate this horrific crime. If you see something—Say something.

The National Human Trafficking Resource Center provides the following clues to help identify potential trafficking victims:

o Evidence of being controlled;
o Evidence of an inability to move or leave their job;
o Bruises or other signs of physical abuse;
o Fear or depression;
o Not speaking on their own behalf and/or non-English speaking; and
o No passport or other forms of identification or documentation.

Some signs in young teens who are being trafficked or “groomed” for trafficking are:

o A new much older boyfriend to whom they defer control;
o Tattoos with the older boyfriend’s name or a bar code;
o Changes in school attendance; and
o A sudden or dramatic change in behavior.

If you are aware or become aware of someone being oppressed, enslaved, abused, battered or trafficked by another, do not attempt to rescue them by yourself. Report it local law enforcement and to the FBI Pittsburgh Office at 412-432-4122 or the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 888-373-7888.

Pope Francis has in a short time captured the attention and imagination of the world—people of all faiths and those with no faith—by his outreach and compassion. He has urged each of us to examine our conscience and realize it is our individual and collective duty to care about the least of us. He has described human trafficking as a “crime against humanity,” stating “[W]e must unite our efforts to free victims and stop this crime that’s become ever more aggressive, and threatens not just individuals, but the foundational values of society.”

The priorities of the Attorney General are similarly set to protect “the most vulnerable among us.” This Administration, the Justice Department, the U. S. Attorney’s Offices and their federal law enforcement partners are committed to preventing human trafficking, bringing traffickers to justice and assisting victims.

Our work has sent a clear and critical message: In this country, under this Administration and in this District, human trafficking crimes will not be tolerated.

We encourage you to find some way to join in these efforts to fight human trafficking and any other form of discrimination or oppression to ensure we provide freedom and justice—not for some but for all.

Thank you.

Updated July 14, 2015