Good morning. I have to tell you that it is good to back at the National Advocacy Center (NAC). I am grateful to the Attorney General, the Civil Rights Division, and all the various U.S. Attorney’s Offices represented here. So many people have worked incredibly hard to make this seminar a success.
The agenda for this year’s course is packed full of excellent topics. For years, my name was listed on the agenda as a presenter for the substantive sections of this seminar, but you will notice that this year they have upgraded and found fresh talent. Like a golfer moved onto the “senior tour,” I have been relegated to the “Welcome” section of the agenda. Honestly, it is just an honor to be included at all and to be here with so many former colleagues and friends. I can assure you that you will leave with some new nuggets of information that you can use in your cases.
A year ago this week, I rejoined the federal service after a two-and-half-year adventure with the Human Trafficking Institute – an NGO staffed with former human trafficking prosecutors, agents, and victim witness professionals working to decimate modern slavery at its source. This time in the government, instead of the Department of Justice, I suit up for the Department of State.
I am grateful that I have been able to see the human trafficking movement from so many different perspectives throughout my career: I have worked internationally and domestically; I have worked for two different NGOs and two different federal departments; I have worked directly with victims and on global policy matters. What a privilege this journey has been.
Now, as the U.S. Ambassador assigned to lead U.S. foreign policy on human trafficking, I am gaining new perspectives. From Cox’s Bazar with the Rohingya – to the cotton fields of Uzbekistan – to the deserts of Oman – and the lush mountains of Peru, I have been in fifteen countries in less than a year engaging governments about human trafficking and have nine more countries scheduled in the next six weeks. Each visit helps me identify global trends, build context for what needs to be done, and advance the message that the United States is committed to the cause of freedom.
This morning, I would like to focus on your essential role as prosecutors, and share a few thoughts (as a former prosecutor) about how to be effective in holding traffickers accountable.
As you all know, the United Nations Protocol and the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) concentrate our efforts around the three categories of prosecution, protection, and prevention: the 3P paradigm. For years we emphasized that all three Ps are essential, mutually reinforcing, streams of work. They are intertwined – three strands of the same cord.
Yet, in recent years we have seen a steady drumbeat of arguments and articles suggesting that the “prosecution P” should be deemphasized. They argue that we will “never arrest our way out of trafficking.” This, of course, is true – but it is a straw man argument. We will also never shelter our way out of trafficking. We will never educate our way out of trafficking. We will never reduce vulnerability enough to stop traffickers. No one intervention is a silver bullet. As my college philosophy professor would say, prosecution is a “necessary, but not sufficient condition” of success.
The facts, however, do not support the idea that prosecution has been over-emphasized. This year, the State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Report noted a 42% drop in global prosecutions over the last four years (while we have not seen a similar decline in victim identification). The United States is no exception. This year we reported the United States saw a 19% drop in new human trafficking prosecutions compared to last year. There are multiple theories that explain this troubling trend, but there is a vast gulf between explaining a trend and reversing it.
This week you will hear a great deal about a “victim-centered” approach to human trafficking cases. But merely identifying victims and providing them basic services while the traffickers move on to exploit other people is not consistent with a “victim-centered” approach. Neither is treating trafficking cases as administrative violations or mere labor issues – with no consequences for traffickers, and little care for survivors. These are both examples of flawed government responses that I see across the globe as well.
Consider this: if there were a rash of burglaries here in Columbia, SC, there could be many possible interventions. We could focus on burglary prevention: educating people about how burglars operate, improving neighborhood lighting, installing better locks and stronger doors, or just encouraging people not to own items burglars desire. Or we could focus on protection: support groups of burglary victims or collection drives to help victims replace the stolen items. But at some point the good people of Columbia will rise up and say, “someone stop the burglars!”
Every trafficking case has a human victim and a human perpetrator. A “victim-centered approach” demands that we deal with both – the victims with trauma-informed care, and the traffickers with accountability. This training program is timely because, not only is prosecution essential, it is a current pressing need within the anti-trafficking movement. Your work is necessary, important, and indispensable.
Let me turn to a few thoughts about how you can be most effective in prosecuting human trafficking cases. You are going to hear about some incredible cases during this course. When the facts are presented and you hear about the trafficker’s coercive scheme, you may think to yourself, “Well, if I had a case like that, of course it would be a winner.” I want you to know that the cases sound incredible at the end, but they do not start that way. Human trafficking cases always start as a complete mess. It is easier to identify the gaps in the evidence and the obvious defenses than it is to get the victim to trust you enough to provide a truthful statement. The pressure to undercharge a trafficking cases and resolve it with some other crime can be tremendous. It takes little talent to find the holes in a case. It takes a lot of talent to transform the mess into a solid case.
In that effort your biggest obstacle will not be the trafficker or the defense attorney, it will be your supervisor (this of course is not true for my former supervisors who are here today – they were terrific). The problem with your supervisor (and with the case agent’s supervisor) is not that they are badly motivated — we should make generous assumptions. They mean well. The problem is that they don’t really like the middle management jobs they currently hold. They miss being in the trenches and trying cases. They romanticize that season of their career, and the way they relive their glory days is to explain to you all the problems of your case. It is in these moments when you must be an advocate for your case within your own office. It will take a great deal of time, patience, and grit to build a solid case. Nothing about trafficking cases is simple or easy.
If you want “high stat – low work” cases, you should have registered for a different course. If you want cases saturated with meaning – the type of cases that will remind you why you took up the study of law in the first place — you are in the right place. So, my first thought is to be your case’s advocate.
Let me shift to one other key to effectiveness – the idea of team. It is amazing what just a few people can do. If you let agents know that you are looking for trafficking cases, they will be more likely to find them. They are tired of declinations. Let them know you want coercion based cases (forced labor and adult sex trafficking) and they will find them. Get involved during the investigative stage and encourage them to keep digging for more.
Don’t act like the stereotypical supervisor we just talked about and squelch young investigations before they have time to mature. Build a sense of team with your agents and victim-witness professionals. You will need each other during the difficult moments that are almost guaranteed to come. NGOs can also be helpful allies as they provide trauma informed services to survivors. Do not underestimate your ability to drive investigations and set the tone for progress. Let the agents know that you want coercion based sex trafficking cases and forced labor cases. You can build a successful human trafficking portfolio in your district.
The final thought I would offer centers on why these cases matter. The work we do can be summed up in one word: freedom. The traffickers are motivated by money; this is an economic crime. But we are motived by the reality that every person has inherent value. Our founding documents remind us all people have inalienable rights – and traffickers seek to infringe those rights. Traffickers are working against the freedom we work to protect. We have to work harder. We need to increase prosecutions. We need to increase convictions (in the United States and around the world). Prosecutions alone are not enough . . . but without them the cause of freedom suffers. So, thank you for what you do. Thank you for making all the sacrifices that this work requires. Thank your spouses, children, and families for their sacrifices that enable you to serve.
Around the world, the United States often stresses that having strong laws and good policies is not enough. Governments cannot “decree their way” to justice. The parchment promises of written laws must be extended to the people those laws were intended to protect. We need a delivery system of justice. I am grateful that you all are implementing the TVPA. You are taking words written by Congress and making them into a reality for victims that results in their freedom. For that you should be celebrated – and for that the entire country is grateful.
I look forward to getting to know you and hearing about your work during this seminar. I am glad we are in this fight for freedom together.