DHS, DOT and Amtrak to Combat Rising Problem of Human Trafficking in US

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As partof the federal government’s redoubled efforts across the spectrum of federal agencies to combat human trafficking, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano, Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, and Amtrak President and CEO Joseph Boardman, announced Thursday a new partnership among DHS, the Department of Transportation (DOT) and Amtrak to battle the trafficking of humans, a problem that poses a homeland and national security risk.

Under the new partnership, “DHS and DOT will work with Amtrak to train over 8,000 frontline transportation employees and Amtrak Police Department officers to identify and recognize indicators of human trafficking, as well as how to report suspected cases of human trafficking,” DHS said in an announcement.

According to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC), “human trafficking is considered to be one of the fastest growing criminal industries,” and that “US government and academic researchers are currently working on an up-to-date estimate of the total number of trafficked persons in the United States annually.”

“It is clear,” NHTRC stated, “that the total number of human trafficking victims in the US reaches into the hundreds of thousands when estimates of both adults and minors and sex trafficking and labor trafficking are aggregated.”

An estimated 100,000 children are trafficked in the sex trade in the United States each year. According to the FBI, the average age of a child first used in prostitution is 11 to 14, with some as young as nine years of age.

“All these victims began life as someone’s child. They deserve to live their best life free from the horrors of human trafficking,” Homeland Security Today was told by a staffer for Georgia Rep. Darlene Taylor (R-District 173), a member of both the committees on Children & Youth and Public Safety and Homeland Security.

“Today, we pledge to do more to combat human trafficking by broadening our network of partners to help us identify and rescue victims and help bring the perpetrators to justice,” Napolitano said in a statement announcing its partnership with DOT and Amtrak. “We’re grateful to have the participation of Amtrak and the Department of Transportation in this important effort, which will help save lives, protect innocent victims, and prevent this form of modern day slavery.”

Under its partnership with DHS and DOT, Amtrak will use training and awareness materials developed by DHS and DOT as part of the DHS Blue Campaign to educate its employees on potential indicators of human trafficking and how to identify potential victims. DHS also developed human trafficking awareness training for its own workforce, which is mandatory for all DHS employees who are likely to come in contact with victims of human trafficking.

DHS launched the Blue Campaign in 2010 to unify DHS components to more effectively combat human trafficking through enhanced public awareness, training, victim assistance and law enforcement investigations.

The DHS Blue Campaign has created a variety of resources to inform people on how they can get involved in combating human trafficking.

“We cannot let the American transportation system be an enabler in these criminal acts,” LaHood remarked in his own statement. “In addition to today’s partnership with the Department of Homeland Security and Amtrak, we are working with all modes of transportation to help stop the flow of human trafficking. Raising awareness can save lives, and we all have a responsibility to keep an eye out for these activities.”

DHS said “This partnership is also part of DOT efforts to raise awareness about the issue and ensure that the US transportation system is not being exploited for human trafficking. DOT is currently training its more than 55,000 employees to identify and report human trafficking, and is working with representatives from all modes of transportation to secure industry support in stopping this crime.

“Amtrak is supportive of the DHS and DOT initiative to improve human trafficking awareness in the transportation industry and is proud to be the first partner in a program that will expand across the transportation sector," Boardman said in a statement.
 
Georgia legislators passed HB 200 in 2011 to stiffen the penalties on human trafficking and those who exploit minors for commercial sexual purposes. Atlanta is one of the top 14 cities in the US for sex trafficking, according to a 2005 FBI report.

With human trafficking having exploded in California in recent years (followed by Texas), in November state residents will vote on whether to pass Proposition 35, the Californians Against Sexual Exploitation (CASE) Act. Proponents contend the bipartisan legislation will combat human trafficking through prevention, protection, prosecution and increasing in victims’ access to rehabilitation programs.

According to the NHTRC, Florida is among the states with the highest percentage of child trafficking. It’s especially a problem in the central and southeastern parts of the state, according to statistics. State Attorney General Pam Bondi cited NHTRC ‘s 2011 study in calling for tougher laws to combat the problem. New state laws that went into effect July 1 subject convicted sex traffickers to lifelong monitoring in addition to time in prison. Human traffickers are also subject to asset forfeiture, and government-issued photo IDs are required for certain workers.

“Florida is a magnet for human trafficking,” says the Human Trafficking Awareness Coalition in Sarasota County (Florida).

According to a 2008 FBI statement, "Florida is ground zero. It’s one of the points of entry.”

In recent years, the trafficking of young women for sex throughout the US has been linked to Mexican TCOs like the notorious Los Zetas whose initial criminal enterprises centered around narco-trafficking.

But as US and Mexican law enforcement efforts have disrupted their narco-trafficking operations north and south of the border, Mexico-based TCOs have become involved in all sorts of criminal activities. The trafficking of young woman for sex has become one of their more lucrative criminal enterprises.

Joseph Burke, unit chief for the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s National Bulk Cash Smuggling Center, told Homeland Security Today “approximately 50 percent of the Zetas revenue is derived from non-narcotics activity.”

It’s no surprise, then, that thousands of men, women and children are trafficked to the US largely from Mexico and Central America for the purposes of sexual and labor exploitation, according to a June 2008 Trafficking in Persons Report by the US State Department.

The decapitation and dismemberment of several young women in the US discovered to have been trafficked for sex have been directly tied to individuals involved in prostitution and drug trafficking tied to the Los Zetas, whose trademark is the savage torture, killing, and decapitation and dismemberment of its adversaries and individuals within its ranks who get out of line, according to federal and state authorities who have investigated the deaths of these young women.

The staffer for Georgia Rep. Taylor acknowledged that increased gang activity in Atlanta and elsewhere throughout the state tied to Mexican TCOs have been involved in the forced trafficking of young women for sex.

US authorities are also concerned about the involvement of Mexican TCOs that are engaged in human trafficking that have known ties to Islamist terrorist groups using their human smuggling conduits into the US to get terrorists into the country.

NHTRC stated in its 2011 annual report, Increasing Awareness and Engagement: Strengthening the National Response to Human Trafficking in the US, that “In addition to the need for increased awareness and access, this report has shown the need for a coordinated, institutionalized response to human trafficking cases in every community throughout the US. These strategies should include collaborative partnerships among law enforcement, service providers and government agencies. Communities should work with the NHTRC to leverage the hotline as a tool for increasing victim identification and coordinating responses by building hotline reporting, referral and emergency response protocols to ensure an effective response to trafficking in local communities.”

Human trafficking arguably is the fastest growing organized criminal enterprise in the world. An estimated 27 million people are trafficked globally at an annual profit of more than $30 billion, according to the US State Department’s 2012 Trafficking in Persons Report.

It wasn’t all that long ago that the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) estimated that 1.2 million people globally became victims of human trafficking.

Most of the victims are women and children, who are used either for cheap labor or sexual services by organized transnational criminal organizations (TCOs), according to a EU commission report.

“There are 27 million victims of human trafficking worldwide,” Cynthia Turner, executive director of SeraphimGLOBAL, an international public health and community development organization, said during a panel discussion on human trafficking this month sponsored bythe Universal Peace Federation and the Women’s Federation for World Peace at The Washington Times.

“The number is staggering, yet incidences of trafficking are often underreported,” Turner said.

On July 25, 2012, DHS held an event to update stakeholders on recent activities and to provide a platform for participants to offer individual feedback regarding the department’s Blue Campaign efforts.

Earlier, in March, DHS noted, President Obama directed his administration to redouble efforts to eliminate human trafficking. In an address to the Clinton Global Initiative earlier this month, Obama reaffirmed the government’s commitment to leading the global movement against human trafficking; calling it one of the great human rights causes of our time, and announced a number of new initiatives.

The government’s efforts augment the work of business, non-profits, educational institutions and foundations to combat trafficking, DHS said, adding, “We welcome partnerships like the one we’re announcing today, that can build a whole-of-nation approach to eliminating this scourge.”

Bottom photo: Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal signing anti-human trafficking bill, HB 200, into law. Photo: Juvenile Justice Fund.

The Government Technology & Services Coalition's Homeland Security Today (HSToday) is the premier news and information resource for the homeland security community, dedicated to elevating the discussions and insights that can support a safe and secure nation. A non-profit magazine and media platform, HSToday provides readers with the whole story, placing facts and comments in context to inform debate and drive realistic solutions to some of the nation’s most vexing security challenges.

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