Calling human trafficking a "multibillion dollar criminal enterprise," U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Monday reaffirmed a focus on providing victim- and survivor-centered efforts to combat it.
"It’s an assault of human rights and it’s a threat to global stability," Kerry said Monday at the annual meeting of the President's Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking.
U.S. officials across agencies reaffirmed their commitment to combating trafficking in persons, including following the recommendations of the Advisory Council on Human Trafficking, which released its report last week.
The advisory council, made up of 11 survivors of human trafficking, called on government agencies to increase availability of victims’ services, including relocation and housing services and specialized training of law enforcement and government officials dealing with victims of human trafficking.
FILE - Three members of the 11-member U.S. Advisory Council on Human Trafficking discuss their first report, which was released in October. (S. Herman/VOA)
"When a victim or a survivor decides not to surrender, that is strength, when a victim decides not to fear, that is power. And when a victim decides not to be raped, that is pride. And when a victim decides not to be traumatized, that is ego," said survivor and member of the advisory council Harold D’Souza. "We believe victims’ lives matter."
Inter-agency, as well as international partners, including Mexican officials with the U.S. at the U.S.-Mexico border, are crucial in the effort to fight global human trafficking.
“One of the most important issues facing not just our country, but so many countries today, is of course the scourge of human trafficking," said U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, who called it "One of the most invisible, yet most pernicious crimes that crosses borders."
Director of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson announced the extension of the "continued presence status," to be renewed for up to two years. That's an increase from one year. The status allows non-citizen human trafficking victims to remain in the U.S. during the investigation of their trafficking case.
"Extending this status to two years helps provide stability to victims of human trafficking while alleviating administrative burdens on victims, service providers and the government," Johnson said.
Anti-trafficking initiatives by the departments of Justice, Labor, and Homeland Security in six U.S. cities yielded a 119-percent increase in cases filed involving human trafficking, and a 114-percent increase in defendants charged. The Department of Justice charged 531 defendants and convicted 439 traffickers in fiscal year 2016.
"Acting together, we are expanding our enforcement efforts and in fact not only prosecuting more traffickers, but rescuing more survivors," Lynch said.
In 2016, the FBI completed 1,894 investigations, made 2,600 arrests and rescued more than 1,000 children in cases of human trafficking. The FBI's efforts, Director James Comey said, are focused on defending civil rights and rescuing children.
"We are making sure that throughout all of our offices, we are treating these people, whether children or adults, like the victims that they are and getting them the care and services that they need," Comey said.