January 01, 2013

ABA President Laurel G. Bellows on Human Trafficking

This year, we celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. Although slavery is thought to be a thing of the past, human trafficking, a modern form of slavery, exists within the borders of our country.

Modern-day slavery is a crime concealed by traffickers and the silence of their victims. Victims include a 16-year-old suburban girl who runs away from an abusive home and starts dating an older man in his 20s. After some time, she stays with him. He takes care of her, buying her food, clothing, and small gifts. He starts pressuring her to have sex with his friends and colleagues, then strangers for money in the back of a car using psychological pressure and ultimately violence to control her.

Another victim is an adult woman who is promised employment in a home that includes cleaning and cooking on a daily basis along with sleeping quarters. Over time, expectations increase. She is given no breaks or time for rest. Eventually, her employer withholds her salary, paying her nothing and forcing himself on her sexually.

Still another victim, a young adult woman, agrees to travel to the United States to serve as a nanny. When she arrives, her papers are taken from her. She is transported to an unknown location, a brothel where she is raped repeatedly by “johns” over a dozen times each “work shift.” She fears both the customers and the brothel managers, her captors, who threaten her family back home if she tries to escape.

These examples are not isolated. Human trafficking is estimated to be one of the fastest-growing and most profitable criminal enterprises. More than 100,000 U.S. citizens have been forced into sex or labor, and thousands more men, women, and children are illegally trafficked into the country each year. In Chicago alone, at least 16,000 young women are at risk for commercial sexual exploitation each year. Unfortunately, this horrendous crime is virtually unnoticed in our country, where most people believe trafficking only involves drugs and trafficking in human beings only happens in other parts of the world.

To the contrary, in the United States, modern slavery takes place every minute in metropolitan areas, wealthy suburbs, and rural regions. Traffickers can be family members, acquaintances, intimate partners, or strangers. Traffickers engage in a wide range of tactics, in locations that are often thought of as untouched by human trafficking. One trafficker may focus solely on luring individuals, or a cartel may exploit and enslave a large group of victims.

What drives these traffickers? Three primary factors are commonly cited: the promise of high profits, low risk, and a “product”—specifically a human being—who can be bought and used repeatedly though sexual or labor exploitation. Total yearly global profits of $32 billion are generated by the human-trafficking industry. Traffickers may face lesser criminal penalties for selling human beings than they would for selling ammunition or drugs. Unlike ammunition or drugs, human beings can be bought, used, and exploited over and over again; victims trafficked into prostitution report being sold 20 to 40 times, every day, for endless weeks and months.

Slavery, of any kind, is a despicable violation of human rights and human dignity. Although many nations and almost every U.S. state have outlawed trafficking, profound challenges remain in the fight to uncover criminal syndicates and prosecute offenders: lack of resources; limited ability of social-service providers; insufficient awareness among first responders and the general public; and the inability to identify and support victims who may be right in front of us or hidden behind closed doors, held captive by coercion and fear or literally chained or forcefully addicted to assure control.

Anti–human trafficking advocates are grateful for the work government leaders have done at the state and national levels, whose commitment to aggressive investigation, to increased collaboration, and to victim assistance is making a meaningful, measurable difference. These dedicated public servants are performing invaluable work to bring human-trafficking crimes to light, punish perpetrators with sentences that fit the crime—and bring much-needed support and resources to victims.

Recently, President Barack Obama announced the federal government will expand resources and legal assistance to victims of human trafficking and strengthen government contractor compliance with anti–human trafficking efforts. The president’s aggressive action is a meaningful victory for human rights that should rally policymakers and the public to fight modern-day slavery where hundreds of thousands of victims are forced into labor or exploited for sex every year in the United States.

The American Bar Association and I stand with the president and anti–trafficking advocates in leading the legal profession’s efforts to eradicate trade in human beings. The legal community is a vital link in the eradication of the human-trafficking trade. Every lawyer has a role. Prosecutors can hold traffickers accountable by using and improving available state laws, working with law enforcement, and partnering with victim advocates. Legal services and public-interest lawyers can provide victims with civil legal services and link them to housing and public benefits. Immigration lawyers can assist foreign-born victims. Family law practitioners can help victims secure orders of protection and custody of their children. In-house counsel can ensure that companies comply with leading supply-chain practices that eliminate slavery from supply chains. Lawyers can advocate for legislative reform of state and national laws. Every lawyer can provide pro bono legal services to victims. Defense attorneys can screen clients and identify trafficking victims. And judges can shine a spotlight on all the victims who are funneled through criminal justice systems as defendants to better address their needs as victims.

As ABA president, my top priority is combating human trafficking. The ABA has joined this fight with dedication and passion. We are harnessing our considerable domestic and international expertise to provide leadership and bring together business, law enforcement, human rights, and civil society groups crucial to successfully fighting trafficking. The ABA is promoting public awareness of human trafficking through media campaigns, videos on what lawyers can do, and public events focusing on the legal response to trafficking. We are bringing leaders of business together to address human trafficking and to develop business-conduct guidelines to address labor trafficking in supply chains. The ABA is involved in the development of a strong uniform state-trafficking law with tougher penalties for perpetrators in every state. The ABA is increasing and facilitating pro bono legal representation of trafficking victims by developing a comprehensive online database of resources, materials, and legal-services programs that can train and supervise volunteer lawyers. A significant component of our efforts is training law enforcement, prosecutors, judges, and civil attorneys on how to better collaborate to improve the prosecution of traffickers and provide better support to recovered victims.

Our legal system unwittingly turns a blind eye to a phenomenon that feeds on violence, deception, and secrecy. Human-trafficking victims are under the control of their captors. As a result, trafficking victims often do not tell lawyers, judges, police officers, prosecutors, and other law enforcement officials what really happened to them. Those in the criminal justice system, overwhelmed or unaware of the dynamics of human trafficking, do not discern what these victims—many coached in deceit and fearful of law enforcement—are hiding. They fail to recognize that many of these defendants are actually victims of human trafficking.

In New York City, a Legal Aid Society program found that in 2011 nearly half of 139 defendants facing prostitution-related charges in Manhattan Criminal Court were victims of, or at high risk of becoming victims of, human trafficking. According to the 2008 National Law Enforcement Human Trafficking (NLEHT) survey of 3,300 local, county, and state law enforcement agencies, less than half of sex-trafficking cases investigated by local law enforcement led to an arrest—more than half of the arrests resulted in prosecution. Only 18 percent of the agencies surveyed by the NLEHT had some type of human-trafficking training; 9 percent had a protocol or policy on human trafficking; and 4 percent had designated specialized units or personnel to investigate human trafficking. Three-quarters of local law enforcement leaders surveyed by the NLEHT said human trafficking was nonexistent in their community.

The ABA Task Force on Human Trafficking in the United States is training police, prosecutors, defense counsel, and judges to identify victims and hold perpetrators accountable. The first training took place November 9 for the Midwest region in Chicago. Ninety people attended—district attorneys, sheriffs, police, FBI, U.S. Attorneys, state social services workers, medical personnel, and survivors. Two more trainings will occur—for the West Coast region in San Diego on March 1, 2013, and for the East Coast region in Washington, D.C., on April 19, 2013. The ABA Section of Litigation is funding the trainings, and its volunteer members are presenting at the sessions.

These training programs are helping those who are likely to come into contact with trafficking victims understand the reality and impact of this growing problem—from showing how trauma affects victims to illustrating the barriers they encounter in accessing help and resources.

The one-day training sessions will also give an overview of the commercial aspects of the problem (supply chain, corporate anti-trafficking policies); show how to identify and use the resources available to assist and protect victims; discuss how to use resources wisely and creatively to punish and remove the traffickers and seize the assets they use to continue their criminal enterprises; provide a primer on the laws in place to fight trafficking; identify investigative techniques to fight trafficking; illustrate victims’ medical issues and issues relating to medical reporting; help find and use pro bono volunteers to assist in the process; and discuss how to establish an effective task force to fight human trafficking.

At the end of these training sessions, participants will be energized and revitalized not only to be active in their community but also to venture out to other communities to replicate this training.

For those communities where collaboration is already under way, training will enhance the effort already started, increasing cooperation, collaboration, and coordination among the agencies and volunteers involved.

With their leadership, we can shine a spotlight on all the victims who are funneled through criminal justice systems as defendants, recognize and assist them as victims rather than defendants, earn their trust as witnesses, restart their lives, and prosecute and punish their perpetrators.

We will eradicate this shameful horror that has a foothold in our country. We will strangle the profit from the human-trafficking business by vetting suppliers and by seeking civil restitution of damages from the perpetrators.

In the Emancipation Proclamation, President Lincoln made a promise for the future. “I do order,” his proclamation read, “that all persons held as slaves . . . are, and henceforward shall be free.” President Lincoln’s promise is yet to be fulfilled. Tens of thousands of men, women, and children remain unfree in this land of the free of which we are so proud.

As judges and as lawyers, we must unite to ensure that the promise of the Emancipation Proclamation is fulfilled. Become an advocate for freedom; become a trainer; join the ABA’s national awareness campaign and spread the word that our country will not tolerate slavery within our borders.