Susan Burke | USA

Human Trafficking in the United States

Good morning, I am Susan Burke. I am a state court judge from Minneapolis, Minnesota. I am honored to be here with you today. Minnesota is on the northern border of the United States, halfway between the east and west coasts. I am especially glad to be here today because my house is already covered in snow, and the high temperature today is about 0 degrees Fahrenheit (or -18 degrees Celsius).

Judge Ann Williams wanted to be here today. However, a training program for the entire judiciary of Zambia was unexpectedly moved to this week. Like all of us, Judge Williams is committed to eradicating modern slavery, preserving and protecting the dignity of the human body; fighting the “Globalization of Indifference,” and promoting justice and the common good.

Let’s turn now to human trafficking in the United States. In the United States, increased awareness of human trafficking is shifting public perception. Where people used to see children and women as criminals and voluntary sex workers, more people now recognize them as victims of crime.

The Victims of Trafficking and Violence Prevention Act (TVPA), passed in 2000, provided a holistic approach to countering human trafficking. The TVPA focuses on prevention by raising awareness both domestically and internationally. It increases protection for victims. It enhances prosecution of traffickers.

Under the TVPA, the U.S. Department of State issues a Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report. The State Department collects data on human trafficking from governments around the world and sorts them into three tiers. The report makes recommendations on how governments can eliminate human trafficking. The 2019 TIPS report was issued in June of this year and made five key recommendations.

The report first recommends an Anti-Trafficking Hotline. Second, dedicated prosecution units with expertise in human trafficking should be formed. Prosecutors should be trained on are victim-centered and trauma-informed strategies. Third, incorporate meaningful input and leadership from survivors. Fourth, train law enforcement to identify labor recruitment methods used to exploit low-wage workers. Fifth, standardize data collection and management while promoting the privacy of survivors.

Polaris is a leading nonprofit NGO committed to combatting human trafficking. Polaris runs the National Human Trafficking Hotline. It also compiles and manages data on trafficking in the U.S. Recent Polaris statistics show potential human trafficking cases exist across the United States. Victims contact the Hotline by phone calls, texts, web forms and emails. The most current numbers show a 25% rise in human trafficking cases from 2017 to 2018. The number of cases increased from 8,759 to 10,949. The number of contacts with the Hotline increased from 5,263 to 7,838. The number of victims identified by the Hotline more than doubled from 10,615 to 23,078.

In light of the complexity of human trafficking, the United States is implementing new strategies at different levels and stages. In April 2019, the TVPA was amended to discourage the arrest of victims of sex trafficking. Also, U.S. government contractors were prohibited from charging laborer recruitment fees.

By April 2019, at least 23 of our 50 states and the District of Columbia had already decriminalized prostitution for victims of child sex trafficking. Twenty-nine (29) states have laws that also provide avenues to victim services.

I am proud to report that Minnesota is a Safe Harbor state, where victims of human trafficking are not prosecuted. Minnesota uses the “No Wrong Door” policy, which means that there is no wrong way for a victim of human trafficking to come into the system. No matter where the victim enters the system, there is help available. We have statewide taskforces and working groups, as well as collaboration between government and NGOs. And, we fund training for law enforcement, prosecutors and judges. The bottom slide ended our judicial training this year and was quite impactful. “You may choose to look the other way but you can never say again that you did not know.” The judges welcomed this training. This increased awareness is changing public perception.

In 2018, Congress passed the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA), which made it illegal to knowingly assist, facilitate or support sex trafficking. Congress also passed the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA), which sought to eliminate immunities that online services previously enjoyed. The FOSTA recognizes that the internet plays an instrumental role in the human trafficking industry. This year, lawyers across the United States filed high profile lawsuits related to alleged sex trafficking. Hotels were targeted and accused of looking the other way when victims were trafficked on their properties. A group of 50 women sued Salesforce, a cloud-based software company, for supporting was a major hub of trafficking before federal law enforcement agencies seized it in 2018.

There has been a judicial response as well. In Philadelphia, the Working to Restore Adolescents Power Court (the WRAP Court) provides minor victims of sex trafficking alternatives to criminal prosecution by offering specialized trauma-informed treatment. Similarly in Columbus, Ohio, the Changing Actions to Change Habits Court (the CATCH Court), is also a diversionary program that provides food and housing, treatment for trauma and addiction, and gets criminal records expunged. In Louisiana, a human-trafficking task force conducts proactive investigations and connects victims with resources early in the process. The task force combines government agencies with NGOs, including faith-based organizations. Perhaps we will hear more about this in our next presentation. According to the 2019 TIPS Report, training for prosecutors on mandatory restitution has resulted in more orders of restitution between 2017 and 2018.

NGOs have also played an important role in combatting trafficking. In San Diego, California, Project Coalition International (PCI), a community-based program, partners with local youth organizations to educate children on how to avoid becoming a victim of exploitation and educating stakeholders on how to identify at-risk children.

Along with domestic strategies, U.S. entities are assisting partner governments around the world in the fight to eradicate human trafficking. Lawyers Without Borders is a U.S. based nonprofit dedicated to the rule of law around the world. Lawyers Without Borders has anti-trafficking programs in Kenya, Tanzania, Jamaica, Paraguay, Thailand, and anticipates programs in two yet-to-be identified countries in Africa. Lawyers Without Borders finished a four-year Anti-Trafficking Initiative in Liberia in 2016. Lawyers Without Borders programming prioritizes proactive investigations, victim-centered approaches, trauma-informed care, and community involvement. Lawyers without Borders helped Kenyan stakeholders draft standard operating procedures (SOPs) to address illicit recruitment agencies trafficking East Africans to the Gulf states. In Tanzania, Lawyers Without Borders trained police officers on investigative best practices. It collaborated with local officials to enable in-country stakeholders to prevent and prosecute trafficking. In 2017 and 2018, Lawyers without Borders also ran trial advocacy programs focused on human trafficking in Tanzania. Lawyers Without Borders partnered with Judge Ann Williams and the U.S. law firm of Jones Day.

Judge Williams serves on the Board of Trustees and on the International Committee of the National Institute of Trial Advocacy (NITA) with me. NITA is a U.S. based non-profit committed to the rule of law around the world and in Africa. Jones Day is a law firm dedicated to the rule of law and combatting human trafficking around the world. Jones Day has both an Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force and a Rule of Law in Africa Initiative focused on human trafficking. Judge Williams has devoted herself to training judges and attorneys worldwide, particularly in Africa, where she started training in 2001. She has led programs on anti-human trafficking or gender-based violence in Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Namibia, Nigeria, and Tanzania. Judge Williams was a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit until last year when she joined Jones Day to lead the law firm’s efforts to advance the rule of law in Africa. Again, Judge Williams regrets she cannot be at the Summit and hopes to join you in the future.

Having just trained judges in Ghana with Judge Williams in March, I am thrilled to be here with you. We are all in this together. I hope some of my comments can be of assistance to you, and I look forward to learning from all of you. Thank you.