Department of Justice Recognizes Human Trafficking Prevention Month and Announces Update on Efforts to Combat this Violent Crime

Updated 1 year ago Special to HuntingtonNews.Net

In December 2018, President Trump proclaimed January 2019 as National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, dedicating the month to raising national awareness of the issue of human trafficking and highlighting efforts to combat this violent crime.

Over the last year, the Department of Justice fought human trafficking through investigating and prosecuting traffickers, dismantling transnational human trafficking networks, enhancing victim identification and protection of all victims of trafficking, and funding and providing domestic and international anti-trafficking programs.

"Human trafficking is a horrific crime against the human dignity of the victims, and it can have no place in our society," Acting Attorney General Matthew G. Whitaker said. "But the Department of Justice is taking action against the traffickers. In fiscal year 2018, the Department of Justice secured over 500 human trafficking convictions – an increase from the previous fiscal year. We also filed a record number of new cases. And in districts where our new Anti-Trafficking Coordination Teams are in place, we have ramped up the number of trafficking prosecutions. We have sent a clear message to traffickers that the Department of Justice will bring the full force of the law against them."

Investigating and Prosecuting Human Traffickers

In fiscal year 2018, the Justice Department initiated a total of 230 human trafficking prosecutions, charging 386 defendants and convicting a record 526 defendants. The Department continued its successful Anti-Trafficking Coordination Team (ACTeam) Initiative, working with partners in the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Labor. In 2018, ACTeams saw significant prosecution results, including increases of 10 percent, 75 percent, and 106 percent, in cases filed, defendants charged, and defendants convicted.

Successful cases under ACTeam leadership include one of the largest sex trafficking prosecutions in U.S. history, in which the Justice Department convicted 36 defendants operating a sex trafficking scheme that exploited hundreds of Thai women in multiple states. Additionally, five members of a notorious international criminal organization, known as the Rendon-Reyes Sex Trafficking Organization, were sentenced to prison terms of 15 to 25 years. Prosecution resulted in dismantling of this organization, which forced young women and girls from Mexico and Central America into prostitution for over a decade.

Also in fiscal year 2018, the FBI initiated 649 human trafficking cases and arrested 2453 subjects. The FBI’s efforts contributed to 410 human trafficking convictions and 422 sentencings in this same period.

The Department’s Project Safe Childhood marshals federal, state and local resources to better locate, apprehend and prosecute child sex traffickers and other individuals who sexually exploit children, as well as to identify and rescue victims. This collaborative effort yields powerful results, including, for example, five indictments and three superseding indictments charging a total of 19 defendants with sex trafficking offenses against children in the Southern District of New York. 

Dismantling Transnational Human Trafficking Networks

The Department of Justice continues to lead the U.S. Mexico Bilateral Human Trafficking Enforcement Initiative in collaboration with DHS and Mexican law enforcement counterparts to combat human trafficking networks operating across the U.S.-Mexico border.  The initiative has resulted in successful prosecutions in both Mexico and the United States, including U.S. federal prosecutions of over 170 defendants. The collaborative work of the initiative has enabled high-impact prosecutions have dismantled transnational trafficking networks through coordinated, bilateral enforcement actions to simultaneously apprehend associated traffickers in both the U.S. and Mexico.

The Justice Department also continues to target all individuals who contribute to sex trafficking, including online advertisers that facilitate the offense, such as Backpage.com. On April 5, 2018, several Backpage-related corporate entities, including Backpage.com, and Backpage’s co-founder and CEO Carl Ferrer pleaded guilty to federal charges and state charges in California and Texas for conspiring to facilitate prostitution and money laundering.  On April 6, 2018, DOJ seized and shutdown Backpage.com in the U.S. and the 90+ other countries in which it operated.

Enhancing Human Trafficking Victim Identification and Protection

The Department of Justice continues to offer help to and pursue justice on behalf of the victims of this heinous crime. The FBI’s Victim Services Division deploys 183 Victim Specialists who provide direct assistance to federal victims of crime to include human trafficking victims. Victim Specialists provide hundreds of presentations a year educating thousands of participants on trafficking.

In fiscal year 2018, the Justice Department provided extensive training on best practices when investigating child sex trafficking cases. In January 2018, the Project Safe Childhood Investigating and Prosecuting the Prostitution of Children Seminar was held at the National Advocacy Center.  The Department also sponsored the 2018 National Law Enforcement Training on Child Exploitation, held in Atlanta and attended by approximately 1,500 federal, state, local, and tribal personnel.

In 2018, the Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys (EOUSA), the Civil Rights Division’s Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit (HTPU), and the Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section (CEOS) published a quick reference guide entitled “Restitution for Human Trafficking Victims,” which will assist federal prosecutors in obtaining restitution for human trafficking victims. EOUSA also developed a “Toolkit” which provides information on practices, procedures, models, and forms employed in various U.S. Attorneys’ Offices that are helpful to establishing a pretrial coordination practice of obtaining restitution for victims.

As National Slavery and Human Trafficking Month draws to a close, the Department of Justice is committed to continuing its efforts to combat the heinous crime of human trafficking in 2019.

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