U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs

Tracy A. Henke, Acting Assistant Attorney General
Office of Justice Programs

Human Trafficking Task Force Initiative Training Conference
Houston, TX
February 23, 2005

Thank you very much.

On behalf of Attorney General Gonzales and President Bush, I thank you for joining together here in Houston for this training conference. A special thanks to the Bureau of Justice Assistance at OJP and the Civil Rights Division for bringing their experience and expertise to this issue.

It is a privilege to be here and to share your dedication to overcoming an unimaginable human rights crime that is taking place today in the United States. I have great admiration for the commitment each of you brings to the mission to combat human trafficking:

The State, Local and Federal Law Enforcement Officials, whose ability to identify that a crime has taken place can provide the first step towards freedom for victims.

The Immigration Agents whose ability to recognize the unusual provide an early detection system for your work.

The Prosecutors, whose ability to carefully recreate the investigations take traffickers off the streets and out of society.

The Victims Advocates, whose ability to gain the trust of people suffering from severe emotional and physical abuse helps to restore hope and rebuild lives.

In developing this trafficking initiative, the Department of Justice recognized that only by working together with law enforcement, prosecutors, and victim service providers could we be successful in eradicating what President Bush has called "one of the worst offenses against human dignity."

I am impressed by the talents your task forces bring together. Your collaboration never has been more important. But don't take my word for it. Listen to the words of a young woman from Veracruz, Mexico, in her testimony before the House Committee on International Relations. And think of how each of you, facing a similar situation in the future, could help at various steps in a similar ordeal.

Here are her words:

"I was transported to Florida, and there one of the bosses told me I would be working at a brothel as a prostitute. I told him he was mistaken, and that I was going to be working at a restaurant … [The boss] said I owed him a smuggling debt and the sooner I paid it off, the sooner I could leave. I was 18 years old and I had never been away from home. I had no money or way to get back.

"I was constantly guarded and abused. If anyone refused to be with a customer, we were beaten. If we adamantly refused, the bosses would show us a lesson by raping us brutally."

As you know, human trafficking is a global depravity, flourishing ironically as a result of technological advances in the last century. Traffickers throughout the world use the dramatic improvements in transportation and communications as they sell men, women, and children.

An estimated 800,000 persons are trafficked across international borders each year. About 20,000 are smuggled into the United States.

Last July in Tampa, President Bush called the struggle against human trafficking America's "duty … because human trafficking is an affront to the promise of our country."

The President has taken the lead in the international struggle against human trafficking - from securing more than $295 million since he took office for anti-trafficking programs worldwide, to working with governments to develop anti-trafficking laws.

The President has been equally determined to launch a battle against trafficking at home. Last July, he announced initiatives to combat human trafficking, stressing that "our approach combines aggressive law enforcement actions, which means putting people in jail - with compassionate outreach to the victims." The work you are doing today is at the heart of that approach.

Attorney General Ashcroft translated the President's commitment into Department of Justice programs that are supporting the efforts of anti-trafficking task forces, including $7.6 million in grants announced last November. Attorney General Gonzales is just as determined to counter human trafficking.

Your work has led to criminal charges against 170 human traffickers from the years 2001 through 2004. This compared to just 5 prosecutions in the year 2000.

So far in 2005, the Department of Justice has initiated prosecutions against 22 defendants.

Today, we have 197 open investigations. We have made strides, but we have so much more work to do.

Last July, we announced a model example of an effective state anti-trafficking statute. Senator Jon Cornyn from here in Texas sponsored a resolution encouraging states to adopt the model statute, and that resolution passed last summer with overwhelming bi-partisan support.

The Civil Rights Division at the Department is working with state legislators and promoting the adoption of the model law that consolidates and strengthens efforts within, as well as among, states.

New laws and successful arrests and convictions are only one part of the story. We always must take an approach that helps us reach and protect the victims -- victims like Beatrice.

Beatrice was 13 years-old when she came to the United States from Nigeria. The man who recruited Beatrice told her she would live with an American family, help with the housework and attend school.

But upon her arrival, Beatrice found herself enslaved: locked in a suburban home, working up to 20 hours a day, and not allowed to talk with anyone or tell her real identity. She worked at a fast-food restaurant at night and had to turn her earnings over to her "American family." She was beaten regularly.

She didn't trust a soul in the United States -- until after nine years of enslavement, she met a man who helped her get assistance from Catholic Charities.

The perpetrators were convicted and sent to prison. But what about Beatrice? She came to this country as an adolescent and was an adult before she found freedom. It is through community- and faith-based groups that we can assist.

The real work is to reach and to gain the trust of these victims who have been traumatized and abused for years.

At the Department of Justice, we consider work with victims a critical piece of our anti-trafficking mission. The challenges are enormous - from encountering severe emotional and physical abuse to identifying large numbers of victims.

The YMCA right here in Houston is one of our grantees - and the staff there has worked with the FBI, Catholic Charities, and the U.S. Attorney's Office, led by Michael Shelby, to develop a victim rescue plan for future cases involving law enforcement raids and large numbers of victims.

That brings me to the reason we are here together today - the need for effective collaborations that send perpetrators to prison and at the same time reach and rescue victims and help them rebuild their lives. We must work together to bring justice to all.

As an example of the importance of collaborations, there is a specific arrest and conviction of a man known on the streets of Washington, DC as "Sweat" that proves the point. Last June, Sweat admitted to running an interstate sex-trafficking and prostitution business.

In announcing his guilty plea, Assistant Attorney General R. Alexander Acosta and the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, Kenneth L. Wainstein, credited the efforts of:

  • Officers in the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department,
  • Investigators in the U.S. Attorney's Office,
  • An FBI agent,
  • Officers in more than thirty law enforcement agencies across the country, and
  • Victim Witness Advocates,
  • as well as the Department of Justice prosecutors.

If it weren't for each and every one of them, Sweat still would be profiting from his sex trafficking business.

Two street control officers were the first to get involved. One of the young girls approached the officers because she wanted out of the "game." She told them that she worked for Gary Gates, also known as Sweat, and that he beat his women regularly. Prosecutors brought her before a grand jury, and victims' advocates provided her housing and protection.

A second woman approached the street officers, confirming the first story - saying that Sweat beat her regularly. She added that he had underage girls in his "stable." Officers in the DC prostitution enforcement unit obtained a search warrant and brought an FBI agent along to interview some of the girls, who were as young as 14.

Officers collected evidence, from clothing to computers. Secret service agents learned from the hard disks on the computers that Sweat had at least 30 others working for him to run a prostitution business around the country.

Those first street patrol officers then went to nearby Baltimore and interviewed other women and girls, who told him that Sweat beat them, took their money, and forced them to engage in brutal sexual acts with them when they resisted - often in front of all the women.

When the scene in Washington got too risky, Sweat would move his women to other cities and states. Officers in 30 law enforcement agencies in cities in every part of the country learned the same information in their interviews.

Investigators in the U.S. Attorney's Office brought in Victim Witness advocates who provided housing, protection and counseling - helping women stand up to the fear they felt in testifying for their own safety.

It's a remarkable story about collaboration - and it's just one of many stories that have and will unfold as a result of your work together.

It's not enough to identify and arrest traffickers.

It's not enough to prosecute them successfully.

It's not even enough to rescue victims.

It never will be enough until trafficking joins other forms of slavery in the history books.

Abraham Lincoln said: "Our reliance is in the love of liberty which God has planted in us. Our defense is in the spirit which prized liberty as the heritage of all."

Your work together represents no less than honoring the principles on which this country is founded.

It is our hope today that, through the training being provided by the Department of Justice, you will leave here energized with the tools necessary to work and collaborate with your fellow task force members to bring us closer to the day when human trafficking in the United States is relegated to the history books.

Thank you for your efforts and your partnership.

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