'Do we need more laws? Maybe. But more than anything else, we need to further prioritize combatting human trafficking, especially through prosecution.'Protecting the Weakest and Most Vulnerable from the Cruelty of Human Trafficking
The following are excerpts of remarks by Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) addressing the County Prosecutors Association of New Jersey at its conference at the Borgata Hotel, Atlantic City, N.J. on Sunday Nov. 24:
Congratulations to CPANJ’s new President—Angelo Onofri—an effective, aggressive and principled prosecutor whom I have known and deeply respected for over 35 years.
Thank you, Assistant AG Annmarie Taggart, Heather Headley, and Kim Murphy for your extraordinary personal and professional commitments to ending modern-day slavery—in all its horrific manifestations.
When I first introduced the Trafficking Victims’ Protection Act (TVPA), more than twenty years ago, the legislation was met with a wall of skepticism and opposition—dismissed by many as a solution in search of a problem. Several Members of Congress turned me down when I asked them to cosponsor the bill. For most people at that time—including lawmakers—the term trafficking applied almost exclusively to drugs and weapons, not human beings.
My legislation—the Trafficking Victims Protection Act signed into law in the year 2000, created a new whole-of-government domestic and international strategy and established numerous new programs to protect victims, prosecute traffickers and to the extent possible prevent it in the first place—the three Ps.
Of particular interest to you as prosecutors, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act included a number of “sea change” criminal code reforms including treating as a victim—and not a perpetrator of a crime—anyone exploited by a commercial sex act who had not attained the age of 18 and anyone older where there was an element of force, fraud or coercion.
The TVPA radically reformed the US criminal code to authorize asset confiscation and jail sentences of up to life imprisonment.
Included among the historic reforms:
Thousands of human traffickers have been prosecuted and jailed pursuant to the Trafficking Victims Protection Act including all charges brought against Jeffrey Epstein and the infamous convictions involving the Smallville actress Allison Mack and another recent case in Monmouth County.
That said, believing that federal law needed parallel state and local statues to effectuate an effective prosecution strategy, my law included new DOJ programs to assist states in crafting laws and authorized the creation of new anti-human trafficking task forces—today there are 57 task forces throughout the country.
In like manner, the TVPA provides law reform and best practices technical assistance to other countries. We want the whole world on the same page—with laws , policies and priorities that aggressively attacks this insidious evil.
A few moments ago, Heather spoke of how frequently a victim’s fear of retaliation and reprisal—not only against the victim herself but against family members as well—inhibits escape and cooperation with law enforcement. The T visa not only provides asylum for the victim, but for family members as well.
Among its many other provisions, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act also created the President’s Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, the U.S. State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Office and annual TIP report with its tier grading of every nation’s record in making “serious and sustained efforts” to eliminate human trafficking. Those relegated to what we call Tier 3—egregious violators—are subject to sanctions.
Obviously, you know about—and work to implement—Megan’s Law, which protects children domestically. In 2008, I first introduced International Megan’s Law. It passed the House in 2010, 2014, 2016—and, thankfully, finally cleared the United States Senate and was signed into law in 2016—eights years later!
As you may recall, Megan Kanka was from my hometown of Hamilton was just 7 years old when she was kidnapped, raped, and brutally murdered in 1994. Her assailant lived across the street. Unbeknownst to her family and other residents in the neighborhood, he was a convicted repeat child sex offender.
Megan’s heartbroken-to-this day-parents—Maureen and Richard Kanka—have been amazingly effective, courageous and heroic in successfully pushing every state in the union including New Jersey to enact Megan’s Law.
Why International Megan’s Law? We know from law enforcement, academia and media documentation that Americans on the U.S. sex offender registries are frequently caught sexually abusing children in Asia, Central and South America, Europe, and, frankly, everywhere.
The inherent secrecy of international travel enables child exploitation.
A deeply disturbing 2010 report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that at least 4,500 U.S. passports were issued to registered sex offenders in fiscal year 2008 alone. Typically, a passport is valid for 10 years, meaning some or many of the tens of thousands of registered sex offenders possessing passports may be on the prowl internationally looking to exploit and abuse.
Now, under International Megan’s Law, convicted child sex offenders who travel abroad must provide notice to the U.S. Government—via the Angel Watch Center—prior to departure of all planned destinations. Failure to do so carries a significant jail term commensurate with a convicted child sex abuser not reporting to local law enforcement. Upon receipt of the travel itinerary, the U.S. government informs the destination country or countries of those plans.
The destination country or countries are then empowered with actionable information to render the traveler inadmissible.
The law is working as intended. In just over two years, the U.S. government has notified foreign governments of the planned travel of 10,541 covered sex offenders to their countries. As of July—3,681 individuals who were convicted of sex crimes against children were denied entry by these nations.
Concerned that some may fail to include their true destination when filing—and out of an abundance of caution and concern for kids—their passports contain the following message that will not likely go unnoticed by border agents: “The bearer was convicted of a sex offense against a minor and is a covered sex offender pursuant to 22 United States Code Section 212(b).”
The Act also created a new policy of reciprocity—an attempt to get other countries to warn us when a convicted pedophile plans to travel to the United States, empowering us to deny entry.
Internationally, I serve as the Special Representative for Combatting Human Trafficking in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Cooperation and Security in Europe. I’ve offered 20 resolutions over the years beginning in 1999 in St. Petersburg, Russia which were approved—each focusing on new and effective strategies including Megan’s Law and International Megan’s Law- to be merged with each nation’s ongoing work.
Finally, last January, President Trump signed my fifth anti-human trafficking bill into law— The Frederick Douglass Trafficking Victims Prevention and Protection Act .
That law provides:
Of particular importance, the new Frederick Douglass Act also authorizes the Secretary of Health and Human Services, in consultation with the Secretary of Education and the Secretary of Labor, to award grants to local educational agencies, in partnership with a nonprofit, nongovernmental agency, to establish, expand, and support programs:
A number of NGOs have developed school courses including the Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives Project, A21, Just Ask, and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
Such programs are a critically important way to inform, enlighten—and warn—our young people, making them situationally aware and hopefully preventing and reducing the number of future victims.
According to the International Labor Organization (ILO) one in four trafficking victims are children and more than 40 million individuals of all ages are living in slavery worldwide.
Out of the 24.9 million people trapped in forced labor, 16 million people are exploited in the private sector such as domestic work, construction or agriculture; 4.8 million persons in forced sexual exploitation, and 4 million persons in forced labor imposed by state authorities.
Women and girls are disproportionately affected by forced labor, and account for the majority of the victims in the commercial sex industry.
However, a 2013 report from ECPAT-USA (formerly End Child Prostitution and Trafficking) titled “And boys too”, concluded that the “scope of the commercial exploitation of boys is vastly underreported.”
IndyStar columnist Tim Swarens, wrote a ten-part series on child trafficking in February of 2018. In part 4— EXPLOITED: Boys — the silent victims he writes about the lack of progress in identifying and providing help for male victims which results in a greater risk for male victims to abuse drugs and alcohol and land in prison.
“When we talk about trafficking, we can't leave boys out of the conversation”, says Geoffrey Rogers, a former vice president at IBM who is the CEO and co-founder of the U.S. Institute Against Human Trafficking which works to end trafficking and provide homes for boys and men rescued from trafficking.
The study includes interviews with youth and official records data collection in six sites including right here in Atlantic City, and noted that more than two-thirds of the interview participants (70%) were black/African-American. The other participants were white (12%), multi-racial (8%), Hispanic/Latino (7%), or identified with an additional race or ethnic category (3%). The study was overseen by the Center for Court Innovation in collaboration with the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
According to the Polaris Project, sex trafficking within residences informally used as brothels typically involves child victims, with boys making up a growing percentage.
We know that traffickers exploit children due to their lack of awareness about the threat and a child’s vulnerability can be compounded by poverty, a previous history of abuse and neglect, institutionalization, running away from home, being an unaccompanied minor, disability, belonging to a minority group, lacking citizenship or birth registration, being an asylum seeker, refugee or internally displaced persons (IDP).
Today as never before, traffickers are using internet communication technologies (ICTs) to lure children into trafficking.
According to a National Center for Missing and Exploited Children study the average age of online enticement that can result in being trafficked was 15.
When I introduced the legislation, Frederick Douglass’ great, great, great grandson, Kenneth Morris, spoke at the press conference underscoring the critical need to educate our youth, a main focus of the Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives Organization.
Kenneth Morris said, “If my great ancestor were here today, I believe that he would be driven to lead the struggle against contemporary forms of slavery.”
Do we need more laws? Maybe. But more than anything else, we need to further prioritize combatting human trafficking, including and especially through prosecution.
Trafficking victims are hiding in plain sight. Vicims are our neighbors. As prosecutor you’ve accomplished great things. More, however, must be done to protect the weakest and most vulnerable from this cruelty.
Thank you all here this afternoon for your leadership to end modern-day slavery and free victims from its bondage.
May we all fight injustice and exploitation as Frederick Douglass did—with courage, insight, compassion, and tenacity.