U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
Thank you, Ambassador CdeBaca, for your compelling overview of the problem of human trafficking, and for your leadership in combating modern-day slavery in all its forms.
Chairman Berrien and Honorable Commissioners, I am Hilary Axam, Acting Director of the Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit in the Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division. We appreciate the opportunity to participate in this important dialogue on human trafficking.
As the Ambassador said, human trafficking has many faces. Human trafficking is perhaps most easily recognized, at least in the public mind, when it involves images of undocumented migrants, huddled in inhumane conditions, restrained with locks and chains, and beaten into submission.
All too often, however, human trafficking can be far more subtle, and far more difficult for the untrained eye to detect.
But as Congress recognized in passing the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) of 2000, subtle forms of coercion can be every bit as powerful as physical coercion in overcoming the will of vulnerable victims to exploit them for labor, services, or commercial sex acts.
Human traffickers often devise complex schemes of psychological coercion to hold their victims in chains of fear—chains that are no less forceful because they are invisible. These chains of fear can be used to victimize anyone: documented or undocumented, male or female, educated or uneducated.
In recent cases, these schemes have involved using false promises to induce impoverished victims to incur insurmountable debts, then confiscating identification documents, withholding wages, and using isolation, rules, controls, penalties, psychological manipulation, and threats of deportation to play on the victims’ fears and compel them into continued service for little or no pay.
The Department of Justice is committed to combating human trafficking in all its forms.
DOJ’s primary role in our government’s broad-based, multi-disciplinary anti-trafficking efforts is to criminally prosecute human traffickers in federal court, enforcing an array of criminal statutes prohibiting involuntary servitude, forced labor, sex trafficking, document servitude, and related crimes.
We have used these statutes to bring forced labor prosecutions that liberated Filipino victims from servitude in hotel service jobs in South Dakota; Togolese and Ghanaian victims from enslavement in hairbraiding salons in New Jersey; Jamaican treecutters from forced labor in New Hampshire; Central American women and girls from compelled service in restaurants, bars, and cantinas in Texas; Vietnamese victims from sweatshop servitude in American Samoa; and victims from both Mexico and Miami from forced agricultural labor in Florida.
Each of these prosecutions stands as a forceful declaration that human trafficking is an affront to liberty and individual rights that will not be tolerated in our nation founded on the rights and freedoms of the individual. And each of these criminal prosecutions demonstrates our nation’s commitment to punishing and deterring this intolerable form of oppression.
Many parts of the Department of Justice play critical roles in this effort. The Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit (HTPU) was formed in 2007 as a specialized unit within the Civil Rights Division to consolidate expertise of some of the nation’s top human trafficking prosecutors, and to lead the prosecution of particularly novel, complex, multi-jurisdictional and international human trafficking cases, alongside United States Attorney’s Offices nationwide.
The HTPU grew out of the Civil Rights Division’s long history of bringing involuntary servitude and slavery cases, decades before passage of the TVPA, to eradicate badges and incidents of slavery. In addition to U.S. Attorney’s Offices, HTPU partners with specialized Criminal Division prosecutors in the Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section and the Organized Crime and Racketeering Section.
And beyond prosecutions, DOJ’s Bureau of Justice Assistance funds 39 anti-human trafficking task forces of federal, state, and local law enforcement and non-governmental victim service providers, while the Office for Victims of Crime funds non-governmental organizations to stabilize and empower victims and survivors of human trafficking.
These NGO victim advocates are a cornerstone of our success in bringing victim-centered prosecutions that vindicate the rights of human trafficking victims, enabling them to speak out as empowered survivors.
In recent years, through the success of our partnerships with non-governmental organizations and across federal, state, local, and foreign governments, we have brought record numbers of human trafficking cases, including record numbers of forced labor cases, in each of the past five years.
Our cases and investigations have uncovered the exploitation of vulnerable workers from every corner of the globe—including the United States—held in service in virtually every region of the country, and in virtually every sector of our economy.
Some of these cases have been unprecedented in their scope, complexity, and impact, involving dozens or hundreds of victims held in forced labor by international criminal networks. In Kansas City, Missouri, we recently convicted ten defendants in connection with a multi-national criminal conspiracy whose members exploited guestworkers from the Philippines, the Dominican Republic, and Jamaica in service jobs across fourteen states.
We recently convicted two defendants who held Filipino victims for service in elite country clubs in Florida. And we have consistently brought cases vindicating the rights of exploited farmworkers—U.S. citizens, undocumented migrants, and documented guestworkers alike.
In addition to our prosecutions, we have dedicated ourselves to strengthening our partnerships, coordinating with the Departments of Homeland Security, Labor, State, and Health and Human Services, the EEOC, and our state, local, and foreign government counterparts to make our response to trafficking more streamlined and effective than ever.
In 2010, the Attorney General announced a forthcoming Human Trafficking Enhanced Enforcement Initiative to streamline coordination among federal law enforcement agencies and federal prosecutors to further enhance our capacity to develop significant human trafficking investigations and prosecutions.
We are proud of our record of achievements. But there is far more to be done. For every trafficking organization we have dismantled, several more may still be out there, its victims too terrified to step out of the shadows and seek help.
As daunting as the challenges can seem, we will continue to overcome these challenges, one step at a time, using the time-tested strategy that has proven most effective: partnerships.
In addition to our NGOs partners who expertly provide trauma care and services to stabilize victims, civil government agencies—from the Department of Labor to local code inspectors—have also proven to be key partners, allowing us to detect the telltale signs of this often hidden crime.
We welcome EEOC’s engagement on human trafficking issues, and look forward to continuing to collaborate with EEOC to take these coordination efforts to the next level.
Over the past year, DOJ has met with EEOC to identify ways we can collaborate further. We have begun to identify opportunities for cross-training. We have started building our joint capacity for pro-active case identification. We have formulated proposed protocols for cross-referring complaints to one another, and for increasing communication between EEOC Offices and United States Attorney’s Offices regionally.
We see many opportunities to build upon this collaboration.
Through its engagement in vindicating workers’ rights in the workplace, EEOC is uniquely poised to serve as eyes and ears on the ground and to detect signs of trafficking that may elude law enforcement.
Civil investigations may uncover key trafficking indicators, such as evidence that workers’ documents have been confiscated; that their pay is being withheld to discharge a debt; that their communications are monitored or restricted; or that rules and controls are used to isolate and intimidate them. Because victims are frequently reluctant to confide at first—a documented symptom of their victimization—the detection of these sometimes subtle trafficking indicators can be one of the most effective means of identifying human trafficking crimes.
Further cross-training efforts will enhance EEOC capacity to pro-actively identify and alert law enforcement to possible indicators of human trafficking crimes. These cross-training efforts will similarly enable law enforcement to refer matters to EEOC for appropriate civil proceedings when workers’ rights are implicated but the conduct is not criminally prosecutable. Criminal prosecution requires a higher burden of proof than civil proceedings, and civil remedies are available for workplace violations beyond human trafficking. It is therefore imperative that we continue to coordinate and consider the full range of applicable laws.
As an advocate for workers, EEOC is also positioned to earn the trust of exploited and marginalized individuals, serving as a bridge between reluctant victims and the law enforcement agents they have often been brainwashed to fear.
By partnering with NGO victim advocates to stabilize victims and assist them in seeking access to available immigration relief, EEOC has an incredible opportunity to play a key role in identifying victims, and empowering them to come forward so their rights can be fully vindicated—and so law enforcement can bring their traffickers to justice.
As the Attorney General has said, “there is no more basic right than freedom from slavery....Yet, in its modern form of trafficking, this cruel practice persists on an enormous and alarming scale....Combating the entrapment, abuse, and exploitation of trafficking victims is one of this Justice Department’s highest priorities.”
The Department of Justice is committed to fighting human trafficking in all its forms, and to vindicating the fundamental rights of all persons—foreign and domestic, documented and undocumented, male and female. And we are committed to bringing to justice traffickers who prey upon the vulnerabilities of other human beings and exploit them against their will.
We applaud EEOC’s engagement on human trafficking and look forward to continuing to partner with EEOC, and with all our governmental and non-governmental partners, to make our shared fight against human trafficking more effective than ever.