- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 3, 2012

Sex trafficking is a big moneymaker for criminals and a scourge to society, a top Justice Department official said Thursday, adding that traffickers callously seek to furnish their market with “women, girls and boys who have been cast out by society and whose options are few.”

Acting Assistant Attorney General Mary Lou Leary, who heads the department’s Office of Justice Programs, said during a speech in Boston that many of the victims are young people — not even teenagers — who are looking for the home they’ve never had.

“What they find, instead, are betrayal, cruelty and abuse. And sadly, too often our systems of support and justice have offered no quarter,” she said.

Ms. Leary oversees an annual budget of more than $2 billion dedicated to supporting state, local and tribal criminal justice agencies; an array of juvenile justice programs; a wide range of research, evaluation and statistical efforts; and comprehensive services for crime victims.

The former executive director of the National Center for Victims of Crime, a leading victim-advocacy organization in Washington, and a former U.S. attorney in the District, Ms. Leary said law enforcement authorities have much work to do — in raising awareness, changing attitudes and meeting the needs of those who are exploited.

“But the good news is we are making progress,” she said, adding that in an era of diminishing federal dollars, the Justice Department has directed substantial resources to fighting human trafficking.

Last year, she said, Justice made more than $9 million available to bolster anti-human-trafficking efforts, and the Bureau of Justice Assistance and Office for Victims of Crime support 28 task forces dedicated to investigating trafficking crimes and providing culturally competent victim services.

Ms. Leary said that in a 2½-year period ending in June 2010, the task forces investigated more than 2,500 incidents of human trafficking and arrested 144 suspected traffickers. She said the department is reviewing another round of applications for funding and will support additional task forces this year.

The department, she said, also has developed a resource called the Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force Strategy and Operations e-Guide, which offers direction on forming and strengthening task forces and provides lessons learned from current task forces as well as a host of other tools for fighting human trafficking in individual communities.

“The Justice Department’s efforts to combat trafficking are by no means limited to the work we’re doing in the Office of Justice Programs,” she said. “Fighting trafficking crimes is a priority of the Obama administration and of this Department of Justice.”

Last week, she said, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. announced plans to designate an anti-human-trafficking coordinator to oversee all Justice activities in that area. She said this would enable the department to be even more effective in its efforts to combat such crimes and reach victims.

“It’s significant … that more than 40 percent of all human-trafficking incidents opened for investigation by the department were for sexual trafficking of a child. And more than 80 percent of these were identified as U.S. citizens,” she said. “Human trafficking — and particularly sex trafficking — is not just a spillover of corrupt regimes where the rule of law holds little sway. It’s happening right here under our noses.”

The Office for Victims of Crime and the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention are funding several organizations that serve young victims of commercial sexual exploitation and domestic trafficking. One of them is the GEMS program in New York City, which provides a range of services, from counseling, housing and legal aid to education and employment.