Statement from Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband Commemorating the Twentieth Anniversary of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act

Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Eric Dreiband issued the following statement today commemorating the twentieth anniversary of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act:

Twenty years ago, on Oct. 28, 2000, Congress enacted the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA), condemning human trafficking as a “contemporary manifestation of slavery” that is “abhorrent” to our ideals of freedom, human dignity, and unalienable rights.

On Oct. 19, 2020, I was pleased to participate in the President’s Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons. During that meeting, 20 agency officials across the federal government, including the Department of Justice, explained how the federal government is combatting the modern-day slavery of human trafficking.

Even after the Thirteenth Amendment abolished state-sanctioned slavery in 1865, many ostensibly free citizens endured racial violence, abuses of authority, and conditions of involuntary servitude that both perpetuated badges and incidents of slavery for generations to come and violated the Thirteenth Amendment.  

Since its founding in 1957, the Civil Rights Division has fought to uphold guarantees of individual rights, freedom, and equality for all, including the prohibitions against involuntary servitude and slavery that the division vigorously enforced for decades before passage of the TVPA.

Accordingly, when the TVPA extended the reach of these involuntary servitude statutes and established vital victim protections and detection partnerships, the Civil Rights Division answered this call to action and led rapidly expanding nationwide anti-trafficking efforts. 

Before the TVPA, the Civil Rights Division and U.S. Attorney’s Offices charged, on average, fewer than four involuntary servitude cases a year, totaling 18 such cases over the five preceding years. The TVPA’s expanded criminal prohibitions, victim protections, and proactive detection programs sparked a surge in trafficking cases that rapidly intensified the need for specialized anti-trafficking expertise to guide increasingly complex cases. 

The Department of Justice again answered the call by creating its specialized Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit within the Criminal Section of the Civil Rights Division. The Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit is known as the “HTPU” and it consolidated the department’s anti-trafficking expertise. The HTPU leads the department’s nationwide enforcement efforts, guides the development of novel, complex, multi-jurisdictional, and international trafficking cases, and strengthened strategic partnerships.

Creation of this specialized Unit has proven vital to the department’s unprecedented anti-trafficking achievements since passage of the TVPA.  In the six years after HTPU’s inception, trafficking cases involving forced labor, sex trafficking of adults, and transnational trafficking rose over 115 percent, as convictions in such cases rose 83 percent. Since HTPU’s formation in 2007, HTPU and U.S. Attorney’s Offices have brought 945 such cases against 2,048 defendants, securing 1,747 convictions. In the two decades since passage of the TVPA, the department has initiated 1,069 such cases against 2,408 defendants and secured 1,986 convictions, all in addition to impressive numbers of child sex trafficking cases brought by the Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney’s Offices. 

These cases have vindicated the rights of thousands of victims. A few examples illustrate the point:  victims whose rights the department vindicated include a young West African girl held in domestic servitude for over sixteen years; an African-American man with an intellectual disability who was compelled into forced labor in a restaurant, without pay, through verbal abuse, racial epithets, and brutal assaults; and Guatemalan young men and boys who traffickers lured on false promises, then forced, under threats of harm to their families, to perform agricultural labor in grueling conditions for minimal pay. Our prosecutions also restored the lives of young women from large U.S. cities, small suburbs, rural communities, and tribal areas who criminal traffickers coerced into commercial sex by manipulating the victims’ dependence on addictive drugs.

HTPU has launched groundbreaking interagency enforcement initiatives that produced dozens of complex, high-impact cases to dismantle notorious transnational trafficking enterprises.

The Anti-Trafficking Coordination Team (ACTeam) Initiative has markedly increased trafficking prosecutions in participating districts, while the U.S.-Mexico Bilateral Human Trafficking Enforcement Initiative has resulted in over 270 U.S. convictions, and dozens of related Mexican state and federal prosecutions, against brutal sex trafficking enterprises that compelled hundreds of vulnerable victims into prostitution. 

HTPU has further accelerated nationwide anti-trafficking efforts by disseminating specialized expertise, training, and strategic guidance to thousands of anti-trafficking partners each year, strengthening victim-centered, trauma-informed strategies, chairing the INTERPOL Human Trafficking Experts Group, and advancing departmental anti-trafficking policy priorities.

While we proudly celebrate these achievements, we humbly redouble our resolve to tackle the challenges ahead. We are increasingly leveraging technology-enhanced, intelligence-driven targeting and analytics to combat trafficking threats involving encrypted communications, cryptocurrency, and dark web platforms. We are expanding cross-disciplinary partnerships with experts in countering related money laundering, transnational organized crime, narcotics, human rights, immigration, and labor violations. And we are increasingly incorporating the expertise of survivors themselves to make our anti-trafficking strategies more effective than ever before.

On this twentieth anniversary of the TVPA, we recommit to our mission of eradicating human trafficking and modern-day slavery, and we renew our unflagging resolve to work tirelessly to deliver on the promises of unalienable rights, fundamental freedoms, and human dignity for all.

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