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 You are in: Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs > Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons > Releases and Remarks > Op-Eds and Articles

Trafficking as a Law Enforcement Issue

Laura J. Lederer, Senior Advisor on Trafficking, Office for Global Affairs
Interview for "The Yale Globalist," by David Denton and Caroline Vasquez
New Haven, CT
March 1, 2004

QUESTION: Could you briefly describe for me the difference between human trafficking and smuggling as related to illegal immigration?

LEDERER: The U.S. law is clear: In a case of human trafficking there is force, fraud, or coercion, including psychological coercion. The definition of a trafficker is anybody who recruits, transports, buys, sells, or harbors a person for the purposes of forced labor or sex slavery. Usually, the trafficker leads the person to believe that he is applying for a legitimate job, when in fact they cross the border only to become involved with illegal activities.

In a classic case of smuggling, however, there is an agreement between the smuggler and the person he transports. The smuggler agrees to take the person across the border for a specific fee and then once they are across the border there is an exchange of money and they shake hands and part. In that case, both are part of the criminal activity, where as in the case of human trafficking one is a victim and one is a criminal.

QUESTION: Human trafficking rings operate both on an extremely small scale and as part of far more complex criminal syndicates. Could you describe the roots and structure of principal organizations involved in trafficking?

LEDERER: Well, they span a wide spectrum: Everything from your mom-and-pop organization where relatives are selling their childrenóand this is happening quite a bit in Southeast Asia and South Asiaóto very sophisticated criminal cartels in Russia and Eastern Europe. These larger cartels employ front organizations, such as banks, travel agencies, and employment firms. You go in for a real job interview, you fill out forms that look legitimate, you give them your passport, they get you a visa that looks legitimate, and then when you get to the new country you are sold into slavery.

The types of cartels donít sort out in any particular way geographically, either. There are also very sophisticated organized criminal cartels in Asia and South Asia, in addition to the mom-and-pop organizations.

QUESTION: Recently in Mexico, many cartels that have specialized in drug trafficking have begun expanding operations to include the trafficking of persons. In general, do you see cartels engaging in multiple types of trafficking? That is, are the same groups often responsible for the trafficking of drugs, money, arms, humans, etc.?

LEDERER: We have seen cases where the drug traffickers and arms traffickers and human traffickers are one and the same. In fact, one of the first trafficking survivors testified in Congress at hearings for the TVPA (Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000) that she was drugged by human traffickers in Nepal. She woke up in India, with drugs taped to her body. The traffickers threatened to turn her in to the police if she didnít stay quiet and cooperate. In the end, they sold the drugs in one market and then sold her to a brothel, where she was trapped until rescued by a U.S. NGO over a year later.

At the very least, if human and narcotics traffickers are not one and the same, the money that runs through these networks definitely is used to re-seed various different criminal ventures. In the past, the State Department and other U.S. agencies traced the trafficking routesócountry of origin, country of transit, and destinationóbut stopped their research at that point.

We now are beginning to trace where the money extorted through human trafficking goes. That money often is laundered in an entirely different fourth or fifth country, and then is used to finance additional criminal activities.

QUESTION: Many countries where human trafficking poses the largest problem lack a well-developed judicial and regulatory infrastructure. How does that affect their ability to effectively combat human trafficking?

LEDERER: There is a fundamental difference between countries that have a functioning criminal justice infrastructure and countries where there isnít really a working justice system. In these latter countries, the police donít know how to investigate or arenít investigating, the prosecutors arenít prosecuting, the judges may be on the takeóthere is no rule of law. Obviously, that greatly affects the outcome.

A recent case in Macedonia illustrates this problem. In this case, one of the judges was a friend of a brothel owner who was a high level trafficker. The case was effectively investigated and tried, but then thrown out on a technicality. Addressing such problems is extremely difficult because a whole infrastructure must be rebuilt from top to bottom.

QUESTION: China currently has a unique demographic dynamic that includes rapid urbanization and a low ratio of women to men due to the added influence of the one-child policy and sex-selective abortion to traditional preference for male children. To what extent do such population issues contribute to human trafficking in this country?

(China has had a sex-ratio imbalance for thousands of years, with the exception of the 1970s under Mao, largely due to the preference for male children in families. Female infanticide long predates the one-child policy, which has exacerbated the situation.)

LEDERER: Chinaís birth limitation program, designed to reduce population growth, combined with the traditional preference in China for male children, has led to a situation where young men substantially outnumber young marriageable women, especially in rural areas. Weíre already seeing an increase in the trafficking of young women and female children from Vietnam and Cambodia and other Southeast Asian countries to meet Chinaís need for brides. We also see an increase in trafficking of young females within China itself.

QUESTION: You talked earlier about the need to monitor trafficking at all stages, from origin to arrival to where the money goes afterwards. In terms of enforcement, do you think it is easier to address trafficking through prevention at its origin or through interdiction at arrival?

LEDERER: The best way to fight human trafficking is preventing it from happening in the first place. Nonetheless, interdiction can be a type of prevention. Thatís what weíre trying to do at the Mexico-U.S. border, sometimes before people are put into slavery or slavery-like conditions. Of course, some of the elements of trafficking (fraudulent promise of a legitimate job, for instance) may take place in the country of origin.

Once a person has been successfully trafficked and becomes a victim of the physical abuse, threats, intimidation, multiple rapes, prolonged captivity, beatings, and other violence, the physical, mental, emotional and psychological devastation is almost always comprehensive. Rehabilitating that person and reintegrating her into society is a huge task, and not always successful. Obviously, it is better to prevent the trafficking through educational campaigns, alternative education and economic opportunities, and law enforcement interdictions and other operations.

QUESTION: How is the U.S. State Department promoting prevention?

LEDERER: Many efforts are underway, though with varying success. One of the first campaigns the State Department had was called "Be Safe. Be Strong. Be Free." The program distributed a brochure among Ukraineís at-risk population, including high-school students and young working women. The goal of these efforts is to raise the educational consciousness of at-risk people.

Some countries have also conducted general public awareness campaigns by radio or television. However, in countries where such campaigns have been implemented, people tell me that although they were aware of the dangers of trafficking, they still didnít think it would happen to them, and were willing to take the risk to escape their situations at home. So to a certain extent, Iím not sure how effective these awareness campaigns are.

One victim who testified in the Senate said to me that "Yes, they had these brochures, but I didnít pay any attention to them. If they had actually shown me what was going to happen to me, which was gruesome, then maybe Iíd have listened."

QUESTION: So most current efforts focus on educating potential victims as opposed to attacking criminal organizations?

LEDERER: Human trafficking, like drug trafficking, must be fought on three fronts: Supply, demand, distribution. You have to address all three at one time instead of just one or the other.

Preventive campaigns without the interdiction, without the high penalties that make it high risk, will not work. Likewise, it is important to address the demand side: the customers who purchase trafficked humans. There is explosive growth of child prostitution worldwide, often linked to trafficking, and the phenomenon is fueled by Western demand, and the U.S. increasingly is addressing demand.

This administration has made it a priority to expose and prosecute these criminals. In April 2003, President Bush signed The PROTECT Act, which makes it easier for the Department of Justice to prosecute Americans who sexually abuse minors abroad.

QUESTION: For the first time in 2003, the U.S. made non-humanitarian aid contingent on a countryís tier placement in the annual Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP Report). Countries rated by the State Department as having made no significant effort to fight trafficking, i.e. Tier 3, faced the potential loss of U.S. military aid, educational and cultural assistance, and support from the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

Do you think that this action has effectively encouraged countries to be more proactive in combating human trafficking?

LEDERER: The TIP Report is a very effective diplomatic tool to encourage countries to address human trafficking on their own. We saw last year that sanctions do, indeed, work. The law provides that countries ranked in the TIP Report as Tier 3 have three months to make significant anti-slavery efforts and avoid sanctions. Of the 15 countries that were in Tier 3 in June 2003, 10 made significant efforts to address trafficking and were moved up to Tier 2 by the President in September, thereby avoiding sanctions.

At the same time, it is critical for countries to take action simply because of their own will to end modern-day slavery. Organizations like the International Justice Mission can perform raids and rescues in countries where the law enforcement officials of the country are not effective. But the best possible result, the end goal, is for countries to address their own trafficking problems, to have a national plan of action, to have their own preventive programs and their own law enforcement efforts.

Individual countries know the best way to reach their own people. But thatís a very long way ahead of us. And of course the point of the sanctions and the TIP law is to act as a lever. Itís the stick. We have carrots too, but the TIP law is the stick to show countries itís in their own best interest to do something about trafficking in persons. Carrots include the programs of the Department of State working with U.S. and international law enforcement agencies as well as international organizations such as INTERPOL or the International Organization for Migration to help vulnerable countries increase their law enforcement, judicial and related capacities to fight human trafficking, people smuggling and related crimes.

The needs for such assistance, of course, far out-strip the amounts the United States and other donors are able to provide. So, as important as training, technical or other assistance are, the real keys are good diplomatic and public relationsómaking governments and populations more aware of clandestine modern day slavery.

QUESTION: Human trafficking tugs at peopleís heartstrings and thus tends to get a lot of press. Is human trafficking actually on the rise or does it just appear to be because it has been getting so much coverage?

LEDERER: Human trafficking is hard to quantify because it operates in the shadows. Slaves donít line up and raise their hands to be counted. No one can say if these numbers are way up, down in some regions, or holding at an unacceptable rate. According to U.S. Government estimates, 800,000-900,000 men, women, and children are trafficked across national borders each year. This is horrifying, and it doesnít even count people transported inside their own countries, by some estimates, millions more.

I think it is a new phenomenon in some ways. Drug trafficking and arms trafficking made a lot of money for some people who wanted to be in those markets. But as the penalties increased and the risks became higher, a growing number of criminals began to focus on human trafficking.

This transition occurred mostly during the early í90s as a result of 20 years of growing focus on reducing both weapons and drug trafficking. Networks, routes, and methods originally developed to smuggle illegal goods such as drugs, guns or cash can be adapted to smuggle and traffic human beings, as can the necessary supporting criminal industries such as money laundering and producing fraudulent identity documents.

Crime, like other industries, has a tendency to diversify, globalize, and become more sophisticated. Criminal organizations sometimes also have more money, firepower or organization than do governments, at least in certain places.

People always say, "Prostitution is the oldest profession." I donít agree. I think pimping is the oldest profession. But extensive, sophisticated human trafficking as a widespread criminal industry is a 21st century phenomenon, and it can be likened to the kind of African chattel slavery in the seventeenth, eighteenth centuries.

Currently, weíre building a critical mass of people who are just saying no, human slavery is not right, and who are compelled to take action. People and governments are coming to the realization that this is indeed a serious human rights abuse, but it is even more than that. The threat is multi-dimensional. Human trafficking is a threat not only to human rights, but also to public health and public safety. When people are trafficked, we see spikes in the spread of diseases such as tuberculosis and HIV. And the huge money involved in human trafficking fuels the growth of organized crime. When organized crime is strong, governments become weaker as the rule of law is undermined and the justice system breaks down.

The Trafficking Victims Protection Act passed because of support from a broad-based coalition of human rights groups, faith-based groups and womenís groups. The trafficking phenomenon is proving difficult to stop, though, because of its transnational nature. Criminals are organized across language, geographic, ethnic, religious, and other barriers. Law enforcement officers are also increasingly networked internationally, in part due to efforts of the U.S. Government, but for legal, political and practical reasons, this effort has lagged behind the more nimble criminals. They canít cross national borders without permission.

In that sense, we really need new structures and new approaches to fight human trafficking, perhaps similar to those weíre using against terrorism. But we are learning quickly and working hard to get human trafficking under control, and we are hopeful because of the attention the issue is attracting and because we are successfully rescuing some victims from slavery.

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