~ Wednesday, December 9, 2015
Remarks as delivered
Good afternoon. Thank you, Home Secretary [Theresa] May, for convening this important meeting; for your years of outstanding leadership on behalf of the rights of women and children; and for your vital partnership on this important issue. It has been a pleasure to join this dedicated group of experts, advocates, and public servants discuss how our nations can work together to stem one of the most grievous crimes confronting the global community today: the scourge of human trafficking.
In our world of rapid technological progress and rising standards of living, the notion of modern-day slavery can seem improbable. The United Kingdom outlawed the slave trade more than 200 years ago, and it was 150 years ago last Sunday that the United States formally abolished slavery at the end of our Civil War. But we are here today because human bondage remains all too real. The wrongdoers who traffic in human beings target the most vulnerable among us. They prey upon migrants fleeing conflict; refugees displaced by natural disasters; and individuals struggling with disability, drug dependence, or a history of abuse. Their crimes devastate families, undermine communities, and perpetuate cycles of alienation and poverty – consequences that I saw firsthand as a federal prosecutor in New York City, where I supervised cases against brutal international trafficking rings that sold victims as young as 14 into sexual slavery. But as I stood alongside those extraordinary survivors, I witnessed not only the suffering that they had endured, but also the courage and resolve that had sustained them throughout their ordeals, and which they drew upon as they sought to rebuild their lives and bring their tormentors to justice.
Those cases were some of the most meaningful I have experienced over the course of my career in law enforcement, and my commitment to fighting human trafficking has continued as Attorney General. The Department of Justice is pursuing that mission in a variety of ways, from our Anti-Trafficking Coordination Team Initiative, which has strengthened interagency cooperation and significantly increased trafficking prosecutions and convictions across the United States; to our Enhanced Collaborative Model, which brings law enforcement together with victims’ services groups in a holistic approach to the broader trafficking challenge; to our partnerships with state and local agencies and NGOs, which allow us to more effectively assist victims, restore families, and hold perpetrators accountable to the fullest extent of the law. I remember one case from my days in New York in which a courageous young woman came forward to help law enforcement prosecute human traffickers who had ensnared her child. Thanks to the help of over twelve NGO victim assistance organizations and pro bono legal advocates representing both the woman and her child, we ultimately succeeded in sentencing eight traffickers to up to 50 years in prison, and the woman and her child were reunited. When I think about the importance of partnership, I think of people like that woman and her child, and the countless individuals working with her to bring about a new dawn of freedom in her life.
I am proud of the work that the United States is doing, but we cannot address this challenge alone. Human trafficking is a global problem, and ending it once and for all requires a truly global response. That’s why our partnerships with foreign law enforcement – including our counterparts here in the United Kingdom – are so crucial. Only through close collaboration can we prevent traffickers from crossing borders and help survivors achieve liberty. Meetings like this one allow us to forge the ties required to accomplish those goals, making it harder for human traffickers to practice their nefarious trade. I am grateful for today’s productive discussion about how we can deepen our cooperation to end this atrocity, and I look forward to all that we will accomplish together in the days and months ahead.