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 You are in: Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs > From the Under Secretary > Remarks, Testimony, and Releases from the Under Secretary > 2004 Remarks, Testimony, and Releases from the Under Secretary

Ending Modern Day Slavery: U.S. Efforts To Combat Trafficking in Persons

Paula J. Dobriansky, Under Secretary of State for Global Affairs
Remarks to the Northern California World Affairs Council
San Francisco, California
March 30, 2004

Good afternoon. Thank you, Jane, for that kind introduction. I’m pleased to be here at the Northern California World Affairs Council in San Francisco to speak about trafficking in persons and the efforts we have undertaken to fight this human tragedy.

“As unimaginable as it seems, slavery and bondage still persist in the early 21st century. Millions of people around the world still suffer in silence in slave-like situations of forced labor and commercial sexual exploitation from which they cannot free themselves. Trafficking in persons is one of the greatest human rights challenges of our time.” These are the opening lines of the State Department’s June 2003 Trafficking in Persons Report.

More and more frequently, we hear shocking and sorrowful stories about the human toll of trafficking. These are stories like that of Nina, recounted in the report. As a 19-year-old from southeastern Europe, Nina was recruited by traffickers supposedly to work as a waitress. She was raped, beaten, drugged, and forced into prostitution. After a daring escape, her trafficker hunted her down and kidnapped her. Taken into custody during a police raid, Nina agreed to be a witness against her trafficker. The police officer assigned to protect her gave away her location and her trafficker threatened her life. At the trial, she was forced to sit next to those who terrorized her and was insulted and humiliated by the judge and defense counsel. Her pimps were found guilty but released on appeal. For her own survival, Nina has fled to another country and assumed a new identity.

Our trafficking report documents the case of Uzma, a girl who was trafficked from South Asia to a Middle Eastern country to work as a domestic employee. Her employer took her papers, beat her regularly, and gave her little food. Male relatives began sexually abusing her and then took her to hotels, forcing her to have sex with up to 10 men over the course of a few days. She was locked in the house and escaped only when a young boy opened the door. She was picked up by police, who ordered her employers to send her back to her country. The employers sent her back, but only after three more days of prostituting her.

These are just two of the hundreds of thousands of tragic stories of human anguish that result from trafficking in persons. Each year an estimated 800,000 to 900,000 human beings -- mostly women and children in search of a better life -- are bought, sold, or forced across international borders. President Bush took direct aim at this abominable trade in his address to the United Nations General Assembly last September. Speaking before the world leaders and the diplomatic community, he said, “There’s a special evil in the abuse and exploitation of the most innocent and vulnerable. The victims…see little of life before they see the very worst of life -- an underground of brutality and lonely fear. Those who create these victims and profit from their suffering must be severely punished…and governments that tolerate this trade are tolerating a form of slavery.”

Trafficking in persons is not just a human rights abuse that occurs in far away places. It happens here in America -- even right here in San Francisco. This January, an effort by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in San Francisco, in coordination with the Department of Homeland Security and other law enforcement agencies broke up a San Francisco prostitution ring of six brothels. Ten women were found at various locations in suburban homes. All had been smuggled into the country from Asia and forced to work as prostitutes. Federal agents also found large amounts of cash and evidence of a larger sex trade conspiracy.

Separating young women and children from their families and friends and forcing them into involuntary servitude -- including some of the most horrendous and terrifying work one can imagine -- is truly a modern day form of slavery. A strong desire to stop these egregious human rights abuses and terrible crimes prompted the U.S. Congress to act by passing the Trafficking Victims Protection Act in 2000.

This law seeks to ensure just and effective punishment of traffickers, and provide for protection of trafficking victims. It also recognizes that previously existing legislation and law enforcement in the United States and other countries was inadequate to deter trafficking and bring traffickers to justice. Before 2000, no comprehensive law existed in America that penalized the range of offenses involved in trafficking. Instead, even the most brutal instances of trafficking were often punished under laws that also applied to lesser offenses, so that traffickers typically escaped the full punishment they deserved.

The Act asserts that “Trafficking in persons is a modern form of slavery, and it is the largest manifestation of slavery today.” It describes the scope of the trafficking problem. Approximately 18,000-20,000 women and children are trafficked into the United States each year. The United States is both a transit and a destination country, but not a source country. Worldwide, the annual number of victims is closer to one million. Many of these individuals are trafficked into the sex trade, often by force, fraud, or coercion. Consequently, commercial sexual exploitation has rapidly expanded over the past several decades. But trafficking is not limited to such commercial sexual exploitation -- it also includes forced labor and involves significant violations of human rights and public health and safety standards worldwide.

The Trafficking Victims Protection Act takes into account that traffickers primarily target women and girls, who are disproportionately affected by poverty, the lack of access to education, chronic unemployment, discrimination, and the lack of economic opportunities in their countries of origin. Traffickers frequently lure women and girls into their networks through false promises of decent working conditions at relatively good pay as nannies, maids, dancers, factory workers, restaurant workers, sales clerks, or models. Their victims are often young girls in the prime of their lives who aspire to a better life, or who perhaps want to earn money to support their families back home -- only to be forced into utter misery by wicked, degenerate criminals.

Traffickers also buy children from poor families and sell them into prostitution or into various types of forced or bonded labor. These criminals typically transport their victims from their home communities to unfamiliar destinations, including foreign countries, far away from family and friends, religious institutions, and other sources of protection and support, leaving the victims defenseless and vulnerable. They commonly threaten their victims or the victims’ families with physical harm should they attempt to escape.

There is another ill effect to trafficking in persons that goes beyond the misery of the victims. It is increasingly apparent that this criminal enterprise is linked to other forms of criminal activity, and is a destabilizing force in nations where it goes unchecked. As Deputy Secretary of State Armitage noted last year at an international conference we hosted on trafficking in persons, “This is an industry that already brings the hardened criminals running it some seven billion dollars a year, a business so lucrative that our intelligence community estimates it will outstrip the illicit trade in guns and narcotics within a decade.”

This has a deeply corrupting influence on government and other institutions in affected areas and can contribute to a corrosive, self-reinforcing cycle of expanding corruption and increased trafficking in persons and illicit materials. In January, Secretary of State Colin Powell participated in a Russian-sponsored conference on trafficking in persons in Moscow. He observed that, “Governments and organizations of civil society must fight corruption, for corruption is the knob that opens the door to trafficking.” There is a clear link between poor governance and instability and problems like trafficking in persons, which flourish where institutions are weak.

The Bush Administration believes that all Americans and all nations should agree that trafficking is a disgrace that demands urgent action. Since the outset of this Administration, we have taken aggressive moves to check and ultimately to eliminate this modern day form of slavery. In accordance with the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, President Bush created a cabinet-level Interagency Task Force on Trafficking in Persons more than 2 years ago. This group sets our policies and programs in the fight against trafficking and ensures that the many different parts of the Executive Branch work in unison to achieve progress. My boss, Secretary Powell, chairs the task force. Other participants include the Attorney General, the head of the Central Intelligence Agency, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, the Secretary of Labor, the Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, the head of the Office of Management and Budget, and the President’s National Security Advisor. Subsequent to its founding the Secretaries of Defense, Homeland Security, and Transportation have become involved. This task force is critical. Cabinet-level officials come together to identify needs, priorities, and specific actions. They spotlight the issue of trafficking in persons, and ensure that the issue is addressed in the most efficient and forceful manner. Coordination among all participating agencies is key.

In February 2003, President Bush also signed a National Security Presidential Directive on trafficking in persons -- the first ever of its kind. In it, the President requires all relevant Executive Branch agencies to create a strategic plan to advance America’s fight against trafficking in persons. The directive also instructs agencies to collaborate and coordinate to ensure good communication and sharing of information and resources. This is important to avoid duplicating efforts and to identify and fill gaps in programs and planning.

The directive characterizes prostitution as an “inherently harmful and dehumanizing [activity that], contribute[s] to the phenomenon of trafficking in persons, as does sex tourism, which is an estimated $1 billion per year business worldwide.” Congress has done its part to curtail any role Americans may have in this by allowing for the prosecution of U.S. citizens who patronize the sex tourism industry overseas. This was recently put to use in the apprehension of a U.S. citizen in Cambodia who was engaging in sex tourism with juvenile victims -- namely two Cambodian boys aged 10 and 13. The Cambodian police agreed to drop their charges against the man so he could be deported and tried here in the U.S. He has since plead guilty, and under the provisions of the law, could potentially serve a maximum sentence of thirty years for each offense and pay a fine of $250,000.

The Trafficking Victims Protection Act calls upon the Executive Branch to create an Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons at the State Department. The Office was set up in October 2001 and reports directly to the Under Secretary for Global Affairs. Each year, the office coordinates the writing and release of a comprehensive report on trafficking in persons. This requires input from all of our diplomatic posts, which work with foreign governments, media, non-governmental organizations, and international organizations to gather information. Every nation in the world that has a significant number of trafficking cases is assessed for the willingness of its government to take action to monitor and eliminate trafficking. Specifically, the report assesses countries’ actions in three areas: prevention, protection of victims, and prosecution of criminals.

Our report divides countries into three tiers. Tier one includes nations that have a significant number of trafficked persons and have undertaken efforts to fight trafficking in all three areas with a large measure of success. The second tier includes countries that have made some efforts to bring themselves into compliance with some of the standards laid out by Congress. Tier three countries neither satisfy the minimum requirements nor demonstrate the desire to do so. Last year, there were 15 countries on tier three. These include nations with poor human rights records like Burma, Cuba, and North Korea, but also U.S. friends and allies like Belize, Greece, and Turkey.

The report has already been successful in encouraging countries with trafficking problems to take concrete steps. Last year, countries listed on tier three were potentially subject to sanctions requiring the loss of most non-humanitarian and non-trade-related assistance from the U.S. This could have meant the loss of U.S. military aid, educational and cultural assistance, and support from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. This approach yielded results -- a number of countries on Tier 3 acted quickly once the report came out. Belize, the Dominican Republic, Greece, Turkey, and six other nations were reassessed as Tier 2 countries as a result of their efforts after initially being placed on Tier 3.

But the trafficking issue is not just an issue for foreign governments. The United States is not a source nation for trafficking victims, who tend to come from places with large numbers of young people looking to move elsewhere for opportunity. It is, however, a transit point and destination for trafficking victims. This is true in many places across the country, including the Bay Area, where women have been enslaved and forced to play a role in illegal commercial sexual exploitation.

Domestically, we are fighting this scourge through a number of different means. With the active involvement of Attorney General John Ashcroft, the Department of Justice has significantly increased federal trafficking prosecutions. There have been 83 convictions or guilty pleas since an aggressive anti-trafficking initiative was launched March 2001. In January 2004, there were 344 open investigations of trafficking. Thanks again to the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, those found guilty of trafficking crimes face significantly increased jail time -- up to 20 years in prison from the previous maximum of 10 years for many infractions, and up to life imprisonment under certain circumstances.

As part of our anti-trafficking efforts, we also seek to assist the victims of trafficking. It is crucial that they be treated as innocent victims of crime -- not as criminals. After entering the United States, victims are usually not in possession of passports or visas. In the past, many victims were hesitant to seek help from the authorities for fear of deportation, as they were in the country illegally. A special T-visa has been created to allow those freed from trafficking to remain here for up to 3 years, with the chance to apply for residency. To date, 448 victims have received these special visas. Furthermore, the Department of Health and Human Services has been working to facilitate the provision of services and assistance to victims -- the same assistance that is currently provided to refugees.

Worldwide, we are carrying out a $74 million program to fight this form of slavery directly. This global effort includes support for rehabilitation and work training centers for victims; special housing shelters for victims; law enforcement training programs; legal reform assistance; information and awareness campaigns; voluntary repatriation for displaced victims; and special training for immigration officials, medical personnel, and social workers regarding the treatment of victims.

We are also supporting existing effective initiatives like the Southeast European Cooperative Initiative (SECI). This is a law enforcement cooperation program that enables 12 Balkan nations to work together with each other and with the United States and other countries. It recognizes that transnational crime requires transnational cooperation in law enforcement. The Bucharest-headquartered organization has played a key role in sharing information and combating trafficking cases in a region where the effects of conflict, ethnic cleansing, and the forced displacement of approximately four million people have taken a massive human toll and led to conditions that are conducive to trafficking.

Recently, SECI was instrumental in stopping a notorious trafficking kingpin, Dilaver Bojku, who was convicted in December 2003 for his role in enslaving more than 100 women. SECI played an important role in coordinating the activities of numerous law enforcement agencies that enabled the Macedonian police to catch Bojku. When he later escaped from prison, SECI put up a reward and took other steps that led to his recapture in Bulgaria. SECI also helped establish a witness protection program for those who might face retribution for testifying in the case.

This capture came on the heels of another successful SECI project. In September 2003, SECI coordinated Operation Mirage, which involved 12 different countries. The operation apprehended 207 suspected traffickers, of which 31 have already been convicted.

Last summer, we held a conference in Washington, D.C. to take stock of SECI’s progress against trafficking in persons in southeastern Europe, and we are currently looking at similar cooperative efforts in other regions of the world, including the Pacific Rim. We also held a conference in February 2003 on “Pathbreaking Strategies in the Fight Against Sex Trafficking.” More than 120 nations were represented in Washington for the event, which raised international awareness about this issue, and allowed participants to compare best practices in combating trafficking in persons.

While there is still much work to do, all of these efforts have led to progress. The trafficking report we issue each year has resulted in many nations addressing seriously this egregious human rights abuse and crime, which in the past has not received the high-level attention it deserved. South Korea, for example, took bold action after being listed as a tier three country in the first trafficking report. Today, South Korea is listed on tier one after undertaking significant and effective efforts to combat trafficking in persons over the last 2 years. Cambodia is another country that has made progress, although there is still much work to do. Last year, the Cambodian Government arrested numerous traffickers. This included the prosecution and incarceration of a brothel keeper and her son, who had a long history of offering enslaved children to pedophiles with the full knowledge of local authorities. Six other ringleaders were convicted as well. There are other signs of progress domestically and around the world.

When people learn of this modern-day slavery, they often ask what they can do personally to help in the fight. Awareness is often the first and most significant step to combating trafficking. Many people have no knowledge of this human rights abuse and egregious crime. Some have misperceptions of the true nature of illegal commercial sexual exploitation and other forms of servitude to which trafficking victims are subjected. Americans who travel abroad can play an important role in raising the visibility of this issue, and encouraging citizens of other nations to do their part in ending trafficking. They can also assist in education -- especially in rural communities -- about the ways in which traffickers mislead and coerce would-be victims.

Some state legislatures are enacting laws that deal specifically with trafficking in persons by defining the offense and providing for strict penalties. Texas and Washington state have already passed laws, and legislation is pending in Arizona and California. You can encourage your state legislators to take action. When I have met with groups of state legislators who come to Washington, D.C., they frequently express a strong interest in this issue.

Non-governmental groups like the Salvation Army, the International Justice Mission and the Sage Project, among others, do much to help end trafficking by supporting shelters and other forms of assistance for the victims of trafficking. Sage is located right here in San Francisco and has a trauma and recovery center that serves the specific needs of trafficking victims. These efforts are essential not only in helping victims begin to build a life, but in providing a source of hope and encouragement to those who have not yet been freed from slavery.

Trafficking in persons causes immeasurable human misery around the globe. Secretary Powell wrote last summer that what we are dealing with is “modern day slavery and slave trading.” He said that “It is appalling that in the 21st century hundreds of thousands of women, children, and men made vulnerable by civil conflict, dire economic circumstances, natural disasters, or just their own desire for a better life are trafficked and exploited for the purposes of sex or forced labor. The deprivation of a human being’s basic right to freedom is an affront to the ideals of liberty and human dignity cherished by people around the world. The President, members of Congress, and I share a commitment to end modern day slavery.”

I encourage those of you here today to join us in the fight to bring about the demise of this unconscionable activity. Thank you, and I look forward to taking your questions.


Released on April 1, 2004

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