THE HONORABLE DEBORAH J. DANIELS
ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL
OFFICE OF JUSTICE PROGRAMS
NATIONAL CONFERENCE ON HUMAN TRAFFICKING
THURSDAY, JULY 15, 2004
Welcome. My name is Deborah Daniels, and I'm the Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Justice Programs in the United States Department of Justice.
I want to welcome all of you to this first-ever National Training Conference on Investigating and Prosecuting Domestic Trafficking in the United States. You are here because you share a common commitment - to seek ways to curtail, and eventually eliminate, what President Bush has called "a special evil in the abuse and exploitation of the most innocent and vulnerable."
Over the next two days, we will explore the unique dynamics of the crime of human trafficking, from the challenges of investigation and prosecution to the identification, rescue, and restoration of victims. You will hear from law enforcement, prosecutors, and service providers, to gain greater insight into the world of trafficking and to learn from the experience of men and women who have trained and served in this difficult area.
You also will hear from leaders who will lay out an assessment of our collective efforts and chart a course for our continued fight. It is our hope that you will come away from this conference with an understanding of protocols for handling trafficking cases and the ability to form multi-disciplinary task forces.
The video we are about to show you offers an introduction to human trafficking in the United States. It also conveys the devastating impact of trafficking. Listen to the outraged disbelief of the ICE agent whose remarkable work helped to bring justice in the featured case: "How could someone do this?" From victim to investigator, human trafficking touches everyone involved at the deepest levels.
The Soto case resulted in the longest sentence obtained to date by the Department of Justice under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 - 23 years. In all, seven defendants pleaded guilty to charges of involuntary servitude and human trafficking. The ringleaders were also ordered to pay restitution to the victims.
We chose to highlight this case because it underscores what we are striving to achieve here, namely, the successful coordination of cross-jurisdictional and multi-agency efforts to put an end to trafficking and to serve trafficking victims. The Soto investigation was a joint undertaking by the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, the Sheriff's Department in Hidalgo County, Texas, the McAllen, Texas Police Department, and the Hidalgo County Attorney. The U.S. Attorney's Office and the Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division handled the prosecution. The success of the case is a testament to this collaboration, and during our time here we will explore ways to achieve that kind of synergy in future trafficking cases.
What is trafficking, and who are its victims? Many names have been used to describe what it represents, from the colloquial to the legal. Names such as kidnapping, smuggling, entrapment, forced labor, bondage, peonage, involuntary servitude. The Trafficking Victims Protection Act addresses situations that involve abusive behavior such as sexual exploitation, migrant farm work, sweat shop labor, and domestic servitude. But put it in illustrative terms, and think about the image it conjures. Men, women, and children sold into captivity, brought over from foreign lands or transported from one state to another, separated from their families, then beaten and oppressed. You need not think long to come up with the right word - it is modern day slavery.
Traffickers operate in all parts of the globe, lurking in distant, Third World lands, and under our very noses. An estimated 600,000 to 800,000 people are trafficked across international borders each year. And traffickers operate in our own cities and communities. As many as 17,500 victims are brought into the United States annually.
The perpetrators of trafficking are not restrained by conscience. Their methods are devious, exploitative, and ruthless. Their victims include the young and the vulnerable. The depravity of their actions tests - and often far exceeds - the boundaries of decency. Their brutality knows no limit. There is only one emotionally viable reaction - outrage.
Traffickers prey on the poor and on those who lack social safety nets. They lure victims from their homes with false promises of economic opportunities and better lives. Naturally, less-developed countries with high rates of poverty, violence, and corruption constitute their best recruiting bases. East Asia, Eastern Europe, and Latin America are the largest source of trafficking victims.
But they also operate right here in our own country, stalking our own citizens, especially our children. They use threats and coercion to lure runaway kids into prostitution. And they appropriate the Internet to peddle their schemes in children's homes. Indeed, trafficking is as much a domestic as an international phenomenon.
Once traffickers have secured the trust and participation of their victims, they waste no time in beginning their abuse. That abuse comes in a variety of forms, whether it be commercial sexual exploitation, sweat shop labor, domestic servitude, agricultural work, or other forced labor. Perhaps the most insidious form of trafficking is precipitated by the demand of "sex tourism." In this nefarious trade, traffickers seduce young children for the purpose of serving customers who travel abroad.
Trafficking ranges from local, homespun networks to international organized crime operations. In many instances, traffickers have established sophisticated operations with their own organizational charts and delegated responsibilities. The cases can involve scores and even hundreds of victims. The Kil Soo Lee garment factory case recently prosecuted in the District of Hawaii involved more than 250 Vietnamese and Chinese nationals.
Traffickers are motivated by self-enrichment. Trafficking is the world's fastest growing criminal enterprise. Some estimates of its profits range as high as $9 billion a year, much of it feeding the coffers of organized crime. A steady flow of income, the relative lack of depreciation in human capital, and the luxury of not having to make large initial investments all contribute to a low-risk economic venture. And traffickers pay slave wages or no wages at all.
But what about the victims themselves? We know that 80 percent are female, and 70 percent of that group are trafficked for commercial sex purposes. Even more disturbing, half of all trafficking victims are children under the age of 18.
As I have already noted, they come mostly from impoverished or oppressed situations. They could be desperate for the chance to provide for their families. To us, the promises made to them may not seem like much. But for these victims, they are the difference between a decent meal and starvation.
They discover quickly that they have been deceived. Put to work under conditions worse than any they have ever experienced, they might never see a fraction of the money they were promised and so desperately depended upon. And they are manacled, sometimes figuratively, sometimes literally, to their new existence.
Why is it that they cannot escape their predicament? For many reasons. In some cases, the trafficker charges an exorbitant smuggling or, quote, "employment," fee. When the victim is unable to pay, she is locked in a cycle of debt bondage or indentured servitude.
Traffickers are adept at isolating their victims, confiscating passports and other identifying documents, placing them where language barriers keep them from seeking help, and removing them from social networks.
Threats are perhaps the biggest weapon in the trafficker's arsenal. Victims, especially young victims and those coerced into the sex trade, are deeply afraid of being exposed, and traffickers capitalize on this fear. They know that enduring the dehumanization of captivity and abuse is often more palatable to victims than the shame of having their families know what they do.
Victims also fear exposure to authorities. They worry that being discovered will lead to arrest or a return to the home they sought so desperately to escape in the first place. Frequently, particularly in the case of victims from countries whose governments are unstable or corrupt, they do not trust law enforcement, and they can imagine worse treatment by the authorities than by their captors. This fear is one of the major tools used by traffickers to control victims, and it is one of the most difficult obstacles for law enforcement to overcome.
And of course, always lurking is the obvious threat of violence, against themselves, and, perhaps more powerfully, against their loved ones.
The effects of this systematic inculcation of fear and intimidation are profound and lasting. Traffickers exert such control that victims develop a perception of their authority that is disproportionate to reality. When trafficking is uncovered and victims are rescued, those victims continue to worry that their abusers will find them. One can liken the psychology of trafficking to the abuser-victim relationship in domestic or child abuse.
And for many of the reasons already mentioned, being rescued does not end the victim's anxiety and despair. Though disappointed and disillusioned, she still views the work she was brought in to perform as her only hope of earning a living. Far from home, separated from friends and family, socially and linguistically isolated, what other choice does she have but to hold on to this view?
Victims despair over how they will earn money for themselves, but they also worry that their families will be forced to pay their debt. They fear social stigmatization and the prospect of being returned home. Coupled with a misunderstanding of the justice system, these concerns could contribute to an unwillingness to cooperate with authorities. Dread and fear exist at every point, exercising an unshakable hold over the trafficking victim.
So you can see what it is we are facing: a criminal enterprise that is widespread, lucrative, and often invisible; perpetrators who are cunning and well-organized; victims who are severely traumatized and shackled by fear. The situation is a dire one.
But, as your presence here attests, it is a situation that is being addressed. In April 2003, President Bush signed the PROTECT Act, giving us additional tools to protect children - those who, in the President's words, "see little of life before they see the very worst of life."
And he has challenged governments all over the world to do their part to fight trafficking. As he stated in his address to the United Nations, help for victims "begins with clear standards and the certainty of punishment under laws of every country."
Here at home, federal, state, and local agencies are stepping up their efforts to address trafficking. Investigations and prosecutions of trafficking-related crimes have increased markedly in recent years, yielding stiffer punishments for perpetrators and uncovering an increasing number of victims. Officials are forming partnerships such as the one highlighted in the video that bring trafficking operations to an abrupt end.
New certification processes give victims access to cash assistance, medical care, food stamps, housing, and other benefits that otherwise would be denied them because of their alien status. And "T" Visas allow them to remain temporarily in the United States and apply for permanent residency.
Many of these new tools come courtesy of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, and I want to thank Congressman Chris Smith for his sponsorship of the bill. I also want to thank Congressman Frank Wolf for his untiring efforts to see that law enforcement officials, prosecutors, and service providers are sufficiently equipped to win this fight, as demonstrated by his support of this conference.
Finally, I want to acknowledge those groups across the country that are enlisting community resources in response to trafficking victims.
Organizations like Boat People, S.O.S., which mobilizes volunteers to serve victims in the Vietnamese-American community of Washington, D.C.
And programs like that of the International Rescue Committee, which is serving Florida with a comprehensive array of programs targeted to both adult and child victims of trafficking.
We are making great progress in addressing the problem of trafficking. This conference will enable us to build on the momentum we've already gained, and to carry our fight into the future.
I commend each of you for your efforts in pursuing traffickers and in serving their victims. I am confident that as those efforts continue to bear fruit, those who commit this terrible assault on humanity will be deterred from their actions, and those who suffer will get the help they need.