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Human Trafficking: a Global Challenge That Requires Local Solution

Mr. Lee Yi-yang, Taiwan Minister of the Interior and Ms. Grace Becker, Deputy Assistant Attorney General of the U.S. Department of Justice, at the International Conference for Human Trafficking Mr. Lee Yi-yang, Taiwan Minister of the Interior and Ms. Grace Becker, Deputy Assistant Attorney General of the U.S. Department of Justice, at the International Conference for Human Trafficking

Good Morning.  Thank you for that warm introduction. 

First, let me welcome everyone to the Taiwan International Conference on Human Trafficking.  It is an honor and a pleasure to participate in this conference.  I have been moved by the warm welcome that I have received.  It has been a very productive week so far and I have very high expectations for this conference today.

I have had the privilege of meeting with Taiwan Authorities and non-governmental organizations over the last several days.  These discussions have been very productive and I have learned a tremendous amount in a very short time.  The United States and Taiwan share a deep concern for the plight of human trafficking victims.  Both the United States and Taiwan are destination areas.  We both attract many foreign workers, who are vulnerable to becoming human trafficking victims, and we both recognize and appreciate the serious nature of this horrific crime. 

I commend Taiwan for establishing "the Executive Yuan's Action Plan for Suppressing Trafficking in Persons."  Taiwan has taken some important steps toward combating human trafficking by creating mechanisms for coordination among several agencies.  They have engaged in trainings and seminars and have taken some very interesting prevention measures by providing additional regulation of international marriages.  But, there is more work to be done.  Combating human trafficking is complex and it will require creative solutions and new partnerships in order to eliminate this modern-day slavery.

I also want to congratulate the law enforcement team here for the great effort last month on a major trafficking case involving Indonesian victims.  Our trafficking prosecutors, some of whom engaged in a long distance television discussion with the anti trafficking team here in Taiwan a few months ago, were really rooting for you!

I want to say also that it is a great pleasure to be in a room of people who have dedicated their lives to public safety, helping crime victims and building better communities a  a better society.  Here in Taiwan, like in the US, people have choices about how they spend their professional lives.  So I thank you for the choice you have made to assist those victims who are trapped in modern day slavery.

Those of us who work on human trafficking like to say we are learners and bridge builders.  We are learners because the global trafficking phenomenon is new to most of us and is constantly changing, causing us to reach out and listen to the experiences and successes of others.  And we are bridge builders because the trafficking of human beings cuts across agencies, across disciplines and across international boundaries.  Without partnerships we cannot succeed.  I have learned much here this week but I am also very sure that some great bridge building has taken place and will continue into the future.

Human trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery that touches virtually every community in the world—urban or rural; affluent or poor.  It is use of force, fraud and coercion to compel labor services or commercial sex—oftentimes against prostitutes, domestic servants, factory machinists and migrant farm workers.  It is a crime that can occur anywhere, at any time, and against any vulnerable victim.  While most of our victims are foreigners, we have even seen US citizens—homeless men or college students.

Human trafficking is the largest human rights violation in today's world.  Many estimate that only trafficking of narcotics is more profitable.  The US State Department estimates that the number of human trafficking victims is between 600,000 to 800,000.  The Population Institute at the UN reports that in the last 7 years the number of people traveling across international boundaries to find work is doubling every year.  They say that the number will continue to grow because of the explosion in economic hot spots around the globe and the great expansion of information available to people in poor and rural areas.  Economic growth combined with information that there are good jobs is the traffickers opportunity; to become "the arranger", the job broker, the recruiter, the travel agent, for people willing to sacrifice and travel to a different place to make a better life for themselves and their family.  The economy of the US, like Taiwan, is a magnet that attracts these workers.  In the US we have victims from 75 different countries and a high volume of victims from Mexico and Central America.   The trafficker enters this migration with an evil design to make people into modern day slaves. 

This is our opponent, one who coerces weak and vulnerable persons into slavery or slave- like servitude for financial benefit.  The daily reality for victims from all regions of the globe is a life of unpaid labor, physical abuse, and crushing of human dignity determined at the caprice of one more powerful who may rape, mutilate, starve, threaten and otherwise violate their "human capital" purchased in the modern slave marketplace.  Among the most pernicious forms of modern day slavery is the coercive trafficking of women and children into a dark world of sexual servitude where virgin rape, multiple exploitive crimes, abusive treatment and disease amount to a virtual death sentence for the young and vulnerable. 

Why does this trafficking of persons into commercial sexual exploitation occur and why does labor trafficking flourish in today's world?

One simple answer:  Greed.  Sex trafficking and labor trafficking is a profitable money making activity.  Brothel owners and business owners must procure a labor force to complete the work of their business.  Trafficked persons give them the opportunity to obtain a labor force at a much lower cost than a voluntary work force employed at market wages.  Thus, the end purchaser, one who offers some form of sex to the public for money, or for example, the manufacturer of clothing, makes a simple risk reward analysis: Is the additional profit from an unpaid or underpaid  trafficked labor force worth the risk.  What are the risks?   

First, that the labor force will not produce.  Second, that the labor force will run away.  And third, because multiple crimes must be committed to control and exploit a trafficked labor force, that the government will investigate and prosecute.  Running away or not working hard are solved by the purchaser of trafficked person through force or threats of force or fraud or coercion.  End purchasers are accomplished at this task.  They take documents from victims, threaten them with violence, or turning them over to immigration officials, they lock them in, tell them they owe a large debt and threaten to harm their family.  In the developing world, avoidance of prosecution is achieved by buying tolerance or complicity from law enforcement, or by making the government a partner in the crime.  Most often for us in the U.S. this risk is achieved by hiding the crime from the government or by government tolerance of the business of the end user.

This is what we are up against:  Very strong economic forces, global economic expansion, the ever expanding willingness of people to travel to find work, and employers who want to lower the labor costs through abusive and vile management techniques.  What challenges do we face as we undertake the task of fighting human trafficking?  Why are these trafficking victims cases so difficult to identify and their enslavers so difficult to prosecute?

First, victims are difficult to identify.  Human trafficking is a hidden crime.  Victims rarely come forward.  This is due to their trauma, their lack of sophistication, their fear of law enforcement, their undocumented status, and language barriers.  When victims are encountered they often act in a deceptive manner because they have been conditioned to do so by the trafficker.  Additionally, as a general rule, victims have no history of ever receiving any assistance from a government of any kind. 

But there is good news.  In the case of sex trafficking, victims must be made available to the public so that customers can find them.  If the public can find the victims for sex, law enforcement should be available to find victims that are trafficked.  This is the local solution: street level law enforcement knows where brothels are, where the women might be from another country, where minors might be offered to sex tourists.  And labor trafficking victims are stationary, usually in a factory or a farm field.  This enables law enforcement to inventory all the sexually oriented business or all the garment factories or the farm labor brokers and then to design specific strategies for determining whether victims are trapped in these businesses.  This puts local law enforcement in control - no longer waiting for a victim to present herself but to go into the places where criminals have trapped victims. 

In one of our cases the FBI designed a program of going as undercover customers to bars that catered to the Hispanic community.  Day after day the FBI agents observed the behavior of the bar girls, they followed the van that took them to a safe house late at night, they got license numbers of the van, and the name of the owner of the house, and the licenses of the business, bank account information, Western Union wire transfers, phone numbers and so on.  We found that there were multiple bars also working as brothels and that they were additional bars in different cities.  This enabled us to take the whole enterprise down including the top person in command.  Dozens of victims were rescued and put into restorative care.  

In Taiwan, you have an advantage.  Because many of your foreign victims come into Taiwan legally, Taiwan authorities can easily track down where these victims are located.  Because work visas are tied to a specific employer, you may know where some of these victims work.  But I understand that some foreign workers have fled from their Taiwan husbands or their original employers, so you too have some similar challenges.

Second, potential victims, once identified, present obstacles to clearly identifying them as victims.  Many victims themselves may be criminals.  Their may be in the US as illegal immigrants.  They may have engaged in illegal prostitution activity.  When asked about what happened to them, victims are often reluctant to confide in law enforcement because they fear criminal prosecution or deportation.  To earn their trust—and obtain their cooperation to develop evidence, law enforcement agents and prosecutors must partner with persons who normally do not participate in the criminal justice system—specialists that law enforcement do not traditionally work with: social services providers, counselors and medical care givers and others.  This is a whole new approach.  Law enforcement is interviewing, not a co-conspirator, but a person more akin to an extortion victim, or a child sexually exploited by a family member.  Victims are confused, conflicted and scared.  Law enforcement must form new partnerships with services providers whose job it is to restore the dignity to person who may be suffering from post trauma stress problems.  New levels of communication and cooperation will be required.  These partnerships require trust and meeting together and development of protocols at the local working level. 

In the US, we call this a victim centered approach.  Our first priority is to rescue the victim—to liberate them from the horrific working conditions.  We then work closely with NGOs to place the victim into restorative care.  We place them in a shelter—not a prison; we ensure that they have food, clothing, medial and social services.  We provide them with an opportunity to apply for immigration relief if the victim is undocumented and to apply for a work visa.  In the US, a work visa is not tied to a specific employer, so the victim would be free to seek a job from any source.  And, lastly, we do not prosecute the victim for illegal prostitution activity.  We believe in the US like I am sure you do in Taiwan that treating victims with care exemplifies our highest values.  But it is also the best way for a victim to sever her ties with the trafficker, to become independent and to become empowered to share her private—oftentimes shameful experiences--and provide evidence of the crime.  

Third, some law enforcement have a hands-off view of sexually oriented businesses where sex is offered for money.  And most law enforcement do not just wander into a garment factory and start interviewing workers.  This is why law enforcement is very unlikely to come into contact with trafficking victims.  New methods are needed, including methods to infiltrate and take down whole trafficking enterprises have historically been tactics reserved for drug trafficking or smuggling.  Additionally, law enforcement will need to recruit civil society to be the eyes and ears of an anti trafficking effort.  For example, in the US, we have work with many people who have been trained to look for trafficking in the routine of their normal work.   This includes the alcohol licensing inspector who can walk into any bar and, while checking for tax compliance, also observe whether there is forced prostitution.  The health inspector who checks restaurants for compliance can check for trafficked workers.  The labor department can look for violations.  Medical personnel at the hospital can observe behavior that might indicate a victim.  People in the local community are the most likely to come into contact with a trafficking victim.  Once that victim is rescued and safe she can reveal some of the criminal actors in the enterprise and then law enforcement has a base of information from which to build a case.  

We learned of one victim from a doctor providing free shots to migrant children.  The children were not in school because the trafficker forced them to work along with their parents -this doctor contacted us and we opened an investigation that led to finding over 80 victims from South America. 

In another case, a health inspector noticed the Hondurans were working in a Chinese food buffet.  The health inspector notice that in the middle of the afternoon there were 7 Hondurans in the restaurant just sort of standing around, no time cards and mattresses in the back room.  The health inspector called us and it led to a large organized crime case. 

Fourth, historically, we have viewed all persons who entered the country illegally as criminals to be arrested and deported.  Some of these persons are co-conspirators with those who illegally smuggled them into them into the US, but some are trafficking victims.  Sometimes law enforcement comes into contact with trafficking victims and simply fails to correctly identify them since trafficking is still new to all of us.   This requires training of those who enforce the immigration laws.  Because the word "trafficking" suggests movement, some people initially believed that human trafficking was about the movement of people.  But human trafficking is not human smuggling.  Human smuggling is the movement of people across international borders into the US. in violation of immigration laws.  Human trafficking does not necessarily involve the movement of people—but requires the use of force, fraud or coercion to show that the will of the victim has been overcome.  But our immigration enforcers have become strong team members because the same criminal enterprises that smuggle people also traffic people.  So the anti trafficking law has helped them in their core mission.  

Fifth, since trafficking has its beginnings in other countries, finding a way to go after the recruiters and arrangers is necessary.  There is a virtually endless supply of workers in our world who would like a better job in another place.  If we just arrest local exploiters, the recruiters will just send more people to replace the rescued victims.  To address this, the US has formed a partnership with Mexico.  This includes cross border intelligence sharing, working cases together, a way for Mexican workers to contact the consulates inside the US and providing our Mexican partners with the names of recruiters when we learn about them.  In one recent case, young girls from Mexico were offered good jobs in America along with false promises of marriage, and then through deception and coercion are introduced to the dark world of forced prostitution.   In April 2005, the perpetrators of this crime, Gerardo Flores Carreto, Josue Flores Carreto, and Daniel Perez Alonso pleaded guilty in federal court in New Jersey to all charges in a 27-count indictment that alleged several criminal violations, including Conspiracy to Commit Sex Trafficking, Sex Trafficking, Forced Labor, Mann Act violations, and Alien Smuggling. The defendants were members or associates of an extended family whose principal business was to profit by compelling young Mexican women into prostitution through force, fraud, and coercion.  The defendants, who often lured the women into romantic relationships, used beatings, rapes, deception, psychological manipulation, and false promises to overcome the will of the victims, compel them into prostitution, and force them to turn over virtually all the proceeds to the defendants.  The investigation revealed extensive sex trafficking activity between Mexico and the United States, prompting initiatives to coordinate multi-jurisdictional, multi-agency investigations. 

On April 27, 2006, Gerardo Flores Carreto and Josue Flores Carreto each were sentenced to 50 years in prison.  This is one of the highest sentences ever obtained in a human trafficking case.  Daniel Perez Alonso was sentenced to 25 years in prison.  Additional defendants were sentenced to shorter terms of incarceration.  In addition, at least one defendant is currently awaiting trial on related charges, having been extradited from Mexico at our request.  Some of these young girls had children that they left behind in Mexico with the recruiters' families.  Our team worked with the Mexican government to rescue the children and reunite them with their mothers, who now have started a new life through the generous restorative care services provided through our partners at the Department of Health and Human Services.  And then the Mexican government was able to arrest and prosecute the recruiters in one of the largest trafficking cases that nation has ever had.  The partnerships and relations between the US and Mexico that were developed at the working level of law enforcement have produced numerous additional cases and collaborations. 

Each of these five concepts: (1) proactive law enforcement tactics; (2) restorative care for victims; (3) enlisting civil society and other in victims identification; (4) training immigration police and others; and, (5) international cooperation, have become the basis for the formation of Task Forces in our major cities.  We now have 42 of these spread throughout the US.  All of the relevant participants from all levels of law enforcement, NGOs, Civil Society are invited to participate.  A plan is developed and goals are set.  Training and regular meetings help explain each partner's role.  Trust is developed and after a case or two the rough edges are ironed out so that a real team is formed.  This has led to a 600% increase in that cases we have filed in the US.   Best practices have been developed and documented.  We communicate with our task force on a regular basis over closed circuit television. 

The fight against trafficking is a priority of President Bush and the Attorney General which has created great momentum for our efforts.  But there is still much to do.  There is much to learn and new bridges to build.  And though trafficking is a global problem, the solutions begin at the most local level.  I want to thank you again for inviting me here to be a part of the Taiwan effort.  I am glad to answer any questions you might have.