Jeffrey L. Sedgwick, Acting Assistant Attorney General
Office of Justice Programs
National Human Trafficking Conference
September 10, 2008
I want to take just a moment to thank all our speakers and presenters. We’ve had a very successful conference, owing chiefly to the wealth of information that was imparted over the last day-and-a-half.
I also want to thank our conference organizers, who have done a fantastic job putting things together. On their behalf, let me ask that you please fill out the evaluation forms before you leave. This is our last annual national conference, but we will still convene every other year, and your feedback is important in helping us to make sure that the next conference is as informative as possible.
Finally, I want to thank all of you for being here and for your commitment to bringing traffickers to justice and helping victims. There is no greater public service than lifting someone out of a desperate situation and giving them a chance for a better life, and that is exactly what you are doing. We are grateful for everything you do.
It’s a privilege for me, as Acting Assistant Attorney General of the Office of Justice Programs, to support you in your work. You heard from Attorney General Mukasey about the funding we are providing to anti-trafficking task forces. He talked about how we’ve been behind your efforts to shut down trafficking operations. And he told you about the services we’re supporting for trafficking victims. We’re proud of our role and we’re proud of the partnerships we’ve helped to develop between law enforcement and victim services.
I’d like to tell you how our support has made a difference. Last December, investigators raided four massage parlors and acupressure spas in western New York state. They found nine women, all illegal aliens from China who spoke little English. These women and two others had been brought over to the U.S. and coerced into performing a variety of sexual acts with customers. In short, they were forced to serve as prostitutes.
The owner of the businesses, along with her husband and two other family members, were arrested. The owner eventually pleaded guilty to a Felony Information charging her with Sex Trafficking of Persons by Force, Fraud, and Coercion, and she faces 15 years in prison.
The good news from this sordid story is that the victims are getting help. NGOs provided case management; safe, confidential housing; medical care; legal assistance; and eventually, both ESL and employment support services. And even better, the plea agreement requires that $350,000 in restitution be paid to the 11 victims.
The success of the case and the positive outcome for the victims were due to planning and collaboration between law enforcement and NGO members of the Western New York Task Force, which was created just a year earlier. And the task force got a big assist from the Department’s Civil Rights Division in the form of counsel and guidance. Coordination and cooperation were essential.
My agency, the Office of Justice Programs, supports 41 human trafficking task forces across the nation. Many of you are members of these task forces, and as you are aware, each one is a collaboration of local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies and non-government service organizations covering multiple jurisdictions. The New York task force, for instance, covers 17 counties.
We also provide training and technical assistance to law enforcement officers, prosecutors, victim service providers, and others who investigate trafficking cases or work with trafficking victims. And as you heard yesterday, we’re undertaking research in an effort to fully grasp the scope of human trafficking.
These efforts are part of a national strategy to fight human trafficking both at home and abroad. Even as we work to coordinate efforts here in the U.S., we’re working with other countries to get to the source of trafficking operations. Last year, our government supported efforts in 90 countries, providing outreach, training, and investigative assistance.
Attorney General Mukasey talked about the success we’ve had in prosecuting human trafficking cases and helping trafficking victims. That success is possible because of teamwork – law enforcement and prosecutors, victim service providers, and NGOs all working together to uncover trafficking operations and to identify and serve victims.
We don’t know exactly how many people are victims of human trafficking every year, but it’s safe to say that most are women and children and that they are often targeted based on financial circumstances and lack of a social safety net. Sex and forced labor are the two bedrocks of human trafficking, and, as the New York case attests, those two things very often go hand in hand. Traffickers exploit, degrade, abuse, and destroy. They will stop at nothing to achieve their selfish ends. The trafficking of people is among the gravest of international offenses. Indeed, it is a crime against humanity.
Human trafficking is slavery, no question about it, and history can teach us some valuable lessons about how to deal with it. During the early years of the republic, the framers debated what to do about the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Many opposed slavery. They believed it was a moral wrong and in direct conflict with the values they espoused, but they also believed that the new nation was still too fragile to withstand the kind of divisive argument it would take to address it. So they struck a devil’s bargain, allowing the importation of slaves to continue until 1808, two centuries ago this year.
The founders spent the early years after ratification of the Constitution trying to avoid debate on the subject. It was an inconvenient topic. In fact, that period has been referred to as “The Silence.” Their aversion was their greatest failing, with tragic consequences for hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children and for the nation as a whole.
The trans-Atlantic trade ended 200 years ago, but we continue to live with the consequences. Our lesson is that we can’t afford to remain silent and immobile while profiteers systematically violate basic human rights. Silence undermines the principles on which our democracy is based, and it violates the trust that Americans and newcomers to our country place in our institutions. Worst of all, it allows an unqualified evil to persist.
I want to applaud each of you for your commitment to ending this evil. Your dedication and hard work are the reasons we have had such tremendous success in our fight against human traffickers. You have sent a clear message that the commerce in human life will not be tolerated.
Keep up your excellent work. Continue to work with your partners at all levels and in all disciplines. Reach out to one another every day, not just for data and tactical resources, but for ideas and encouragement. Remember that you need each other. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
I thank you again for all that you do.
Best wishes, and God speed you in your travels home.