ABA Commission on Youth at Risk

Friday, Feb. 8, 2013

Dallas, Texas

ABA Commission on Youth at Risk

Thank you Bob.

It is an honor to be here today to talk to the thought leaders in ABA who are on the forefront of the issue of domestic minor sex trafficking.

All forms of human trafficking are an affront to our common humanity.

But trafficking in children is an act so incomprehensibly vile that it is hard to imagine.

Yet, we see it every day…all across our country, in our towns, our schools, our group homes, and in too many other places.

That the Commission on Youth at Risk recognizes the importance of this issue is a sign of your unwavering commitment to youth and children who need representation.

Since your inception in 2006 you have pushed the envelope in the name of vulnerable children all over this country and I applaud you.

I am proud to stand before you today to affirm that the Department of Health and Human Services and the Administration for Children and Families will always be willing to work with you in the name of children victims of human trafficking to ensure they receive the legal representation they deserve.

These children have lost so much and so often have nowhere to turn and no one to trust. And yet, because of the way our conflicting laws still read, many may face convictions and jail time.

I pledge to work with you until young girls or boys who are too young to consent to sex are no longer brought up on charges of prostitution for acts they were forced into by someone else.

The issues we are exploring today have been an important priority of mine even before I came to Washington.

These are still relatively new problems for the federal government—neither trafficking nor the consequences of the enforcement of immigration laws have lit up our radar screen in the past.

But all that has changed.

Some have said we are at a tipping point. I agree.

We used to dismiss these issues as just another form of prostitution.

As if it were somehow a personal problem or an issue that really didn’t concern us.

We used to ignore victims and their needs because it was easier to turn away than to take responsibility.

Those days are over; we will not turn back now.

Never again will we have to say that the United States government doesn’t understand the issue or that it has turned its back on such widespread human suffering.

But it wasn’t easy getting here. The struggle for basic human rights continues and the ABA’s Commission on Youth at Risk is among the vanguard.

Because of your efforts and those of many more, we are actively making our programs more responsive to the needs of the victims who are trapped in these terrible situations.

The only way we’ll make a difference is if we work together. 

No one…not the federal government, not states, not local organizations…can combat these problems alone. 

Together we can begin to turn tables on those who subject other people to the greatest degradations known to mankind.

Now is the time to harness the momentum of this movement.

It is time to create a continuum of care that provides safe, licensed and supportive shelters.

It is time to get the licensing and policy issues right so that we do not subject trafficking victims to re-abuse.

It is time to create therapeutic interventions and services to meet the diverse needs of victims. 

And it is time we create uniform safe harbor laws for all victims of trafficking.

In Florida, where I was Secretary of the Department of Children and Families, I co-chaired the Florida Statewide Task Force on Human Trafficking.

Florida, as many of you know, has the dubious distinction of ranking near the top in the nation in human trafficking victims because of its hospitality and agriculture industries.

The cases still haunt me.

In one, a Jacksonville man recruited two minors from Virginia for prostitution by promising them lavish vacations in Florida and elsewhere.

In another case, an Orlando man met a 17-year-old girl online and promised to make her a "star." Instead, he forced her into prostitution in California and Las Vegas, advertising her services on Craigslist. 

Recently, I visited a center in Chicago where previously trafficked women were given a home and support. I listened as eight women told their stories.

These women—some of them girls, really—had been lured into horrible situations with promises of a better life for them and their families.

These women had lost so much, their dignity, their lives. One woman wondered whether the only worth she had left was what she get for selling her body.

A little more than three months ago, survivors of human trafficking addressed the senior leadership at the Administration for Children and Families to give their personal testimony of how they suffered, escaped and sought assistance and are now putting their lives back together.

What struck me most in listening to them is how they had been robbed of their own sense of self worth. They had been treated as commodities and, over time, came to see their value only in terms of their bodies.

Just like the young woman in Chicago.

It broke my heart to consider what was taken from them.

It is evident that it is very difficult for trafficking victims to come forward and identify themselves, especially if they are young.

No matter whether they are foreign or Americans citizens, they are usually afraid to return to the bad situation they came from.

For all of these reasons, they fear reaching out to law enforcement officers, health providers or others who would be in a position to help them.

What also struck me was the need still for greater coordination among federal agencies, state governments and law enforcement and the provider networks out there.

When President Obama’s September 25th announcement of a government-wide effort to combat human trafficking, he said:

“We’ll do even more to help victims recover and rebuild their lives.  We’ll develop a new action plan to improve coordination across the federal government.  We’re increasing access to services to help survivors become self-sufficient.” 

Other agencies are charged with the task of hunting down perpetrators and bringing them to justice.

The Department of Health and Human Services, and in particular, the Administration for Children and Families is charged with providing guidance to states, child welfare agencies, shelter operators and service providers to ensure that victims are identified, their needs are met and their sense of dignity and humanity are restored.

This is no easy task, but one that I believe we are up to. We have no other choice.

As President Obama said in his September address to the Clinton Global Initiative:

“Our message today, to them, is—to the millions around the world—we see you.  We hear you.  We insist on your dignity.  And we share your belief that if just given the chance, you will forge a life equal to your talents and worthy of your dreams.”

So, just where are we in terms of how we are responding the needs of victims?

According to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline, shelter is the number one requested service referral for US citizens, foreign nationals, adults, and children.

The NHTRC received 99 calls from individuals who are interested in starting a shelter or residential facility, which makes this conference and your agenda incredibly timely for getting the facts out there about what it really takes to run a successful program.

Over 2,950 survivors of human trafficking have called into the national hotline directly, many of whom expressed unique challenges in accessing legal and shelter services due to lack of identification documents, not meeting residency requirements, and other challenges.

In many ways, like with any fledgling movement, our biggest issue is the having the capacity to actually address the issues at hand.

We are working with members of Congress to create new capacity to coordinate anti-trafficking efforts across all of the operating areas of HHS and the Administration for Children and Families and with our federal partners at the Departments of State, Justice, Homeland Security, Defense and others.

As we develop the federal level response and coordinate our efforts across programs and agencies, we are paying close attention to the development of a coordinated government-wide strategic action plan for victim services.

This is a five-year plan that covers all victims of all forms of human trafficking.

Currently we’re doing this within current funding and authority, but we also have aspirational goals, which are part of our discussions with Congress.

We envision the creation of a sustainable, comprehensive and trauma-informed victim services network where victims of human trafficking are identified and provided access to the services they need to recover and rebuild their lives.

The draft of the Federal Strategic Plan is almost complete, but I can tell you broadly and thematically the areas it covers.

The plan will provide details on how the federal government plans to improve the coordination and effectiveness of services provided to victims.

Implementation of the plan will create a strengthened victim services network where all identified victims of human trafficking will have access to the full array of services needed for recovery.

As part of these efforts, federal leadership will encourage state, tribal, and local leadership to increase their engagement and commitment to combating human trafficking and supporting victims.

Improved coordination and collaboration will improve efficiency, effectiveness, and comprehensiveness of services.

Private business, philanthropic, and civic leaders will be engaged in order to bring the full expertise and resources of civil society to bear in this effort.

Services provided will be culturally appropriate and trauma-informed. Survivors will have support in order to build safe and healthy lives for themselves and their families.

Three thematic goals, developed through stakeholder feedback and analysis of gaps in service, will guide the descriptions of outcomes and associated actions of the Federal Strategic Action Plan for Services for Victims of Human Trafficking:

First, raise the priority.

That means, increase leadership, collaboration, and civic engagement at the national, state, tribal, and local levels to build capacity for improved and expanded victim services.

Second, increase access.

That means enhance coordination of response and recovery systems to increase victim identification and service provision.

And third, strengthen outcomes.

That means we have to promote effective, culturally appropriate, trauma-informed services that improve the health, safety, and well-being of victims.

I would also like to work more closely with the Commission on Youth at Risk to develop better representation models so that victims receive legal representation in all trials and legal proceedings.

And just as we are working more closely with child welfare agencies, protective investigators, and case managers in our efforts to reach out to and serve victims, it is clear that there are connections to domestic violence.

By working with shelter providers and domestic violence coalitions, we can amplify our efforts and augment our capacity even more.

There is so much that is going on to combat slavery’s modern forms and a great deal of work to bring victims out of the shadows and reintegrate them into their own lives from which they’ve necessarily become detached.

And though we need to do more, much more, I think we can honestly say that never before have so many worked so hard to combat humanity’s oldest evil.

When the Federal Strategic Action plan does come out, which I anticipate to be sometime this spring, I would hope that the Commission on Youth at Risk would take that opportunity to engage the process during the public comment period.

I will close with one of President Obama’s most powerful lines from his CGI speech,

“Our fight against human trafficking is one of the great human rights causes of our time, and the United States will continue to lead it—in partnership with you. 

The change we seek will not come easy, but we can draw strength from the movements of the past.  For we know that every life saved—in the words of that great Proclamation—is "an act of justice," worthy of "the considerate judgment of mankind, and the gracious favor of Almighty God."

Thank you.

Back to Top