- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Human trafficking is modern-day slavery whose victims include young women coming to the U.S. in search of a new life, children who grew up here but fall into a life of desperation and migrant workers robbed of the means to ensure their independence, a top Justice Department official said Wednesday.

“Although human trafficking may take many forms, it often has one thing in common - it is hidden in plain sight,” Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole told the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ Women Mayors meeting in Orlando, Fla. “While we have made great strides in attacking problem, there is still so much yet to be done.

“These victims depend on us for their rescue,” he said. “It is incumbent on us not to let them down.”

Mr. Cole said the Justice Department is “fully engaged in combating human trafficking,” with an array of law enforcement agencies involved in the effort, including the FBI, U.S. attorneys’ offices across the country and a number of offices within the department.

Mr. Cole said the department set a record last year for the number of people charged in human-trafficking cases, and in the past three years, there has been a 30 percent increase in the number of people charged in forced-labor and human-trafficking cases.

But what makes human trafficking even worse, he said, is the difference between a thing, such as an illegal drug, and a person being treated as a thing. “One of the greatest horrors of this crime is that traffickers view their victims as nothing more than a commodity, something that can be bought and sold, or simply taken,” he said.

“Because the victims are mostly poor, uneducated and without resources, and often have no local language skills, many of the perpetrators think engaging in sex trafficking is a relatively low risk crime that promises a steady stream of ill-gotten cash,” Mr. Cole said.

Mr. Cole said the victims of human trafficking often are traumatized and reluctant to cooperate with authorities. And while at first blush it may seem illogical that trafficking victims would hesitate to work with those trying to help them, he said that hesitation is understandable.

“Trafficking victims have a healthy fear of their captors, who may have made quite clear the consequences of disobeying them,” he said. “And, the victims may not initially trust law enforcement either. If you’re being forced to participate in criminal activity, you might not trust a cop. Moreover, some trafficking victims may have come from parts of the world where it is natural to be wary of the police.”

Mr. Cole said the Project Safe Childhood program, which began in 2006 to combat the proliferation of technology-facilitated crimes involving the sexual exploitation of children, now will encompass all federal crimes involving the sexual exploitation of a minor, including domestic sex trafficking.

Project Safe Childhood’s expansion builds on the “Innocence Lost Initiative,” begun in 2003 by the FBI in conjunction with the Justice Department’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section and the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. In the nine years since its inception, it has developed 47 dedicated task forces and working groups throughout the U.S. involving federal, state and local law enforcement agencies.

As of May, the FBI said the task forces have recovered more than 2,100 children and convicted more than 1,000 pimps, madams and their associates who exploit children through prostitution.