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US Launches Campaign to Fight Human Trafficking

US Launches Campaign to Fight Human Trafficking
US Launches Campaign to Fight Human Trafficking

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Elizabeth Lee

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has announced an initiative called the "Blue Campaign" to fight human trafficking.  Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which is part of DHS, is the largest investigator of human trafficking in the U.S. government. It logged a 31 percent increase last year in the number of human trafficking investigations. But the head of ICE says the U.S. needs help from the international community to stop these crimes.

A video by the Department of Homeland Security shows that anyone, at any age can be a victim of human trafficking - forced into labor or prostitution.

"It is a very serious crime, it is also a moral outrage. It's repulsive. It's slavery," said Alan Bershin with U.S. Customs and Border Protection. It is one U.S. agency involved in the "Blue Campaign".

He says agents working at airports, seaports and border crossings are often the first line of defense for victims.  He says to recognize the signs of human trafficking even before the victims themselves, border patrol agents are receiving specialized training.

"Often the victims of human trafficking are not aware when they cross our borders that they are about to be enslaved," noted Bershin.  "The underemployed, the poor are the victims."

Over the last few months the Federal Law Enforcement and Training Center has developed a computer program to train law enforcement officers across the U.S. in recognizing and responding to victims of human trafficking. 

"One of the things we found consistently in the academic literature and elsewhere was that the first responders, state and local law enforcement, did not recognize the signs of human trafficking," said Alice Hill, with the Department of Homeland Security.

Hill says when police raid a brothel, if they've had the right training, they will be able to tell when a woman is willingly committing a crime or has been forced into prostitution.

"What's new is that we can actually do something to help the victims, and rather than what happened before was they may end up being prosecuted and criminalized themselves, that now it's recognized that they're victims," said Deborah Sanders, an attorney with Catholic Charities.

The computer program is being translated into several languages and will soon be available internationally.

John Morton with US Immigration and Customs Enforcement says it's also important to stop these crimes before they happen.

"The key to long term success in this area is our outreach with foreign governments," said Morton.  "We don't want the girl to get on the plane in the first place."

The U.S. has started an ad campaign to educate the public.  It includes Information cards in 16 different languages that will be provided to law enforcement officers.  The U.S. is also partnering with Mexico, Guatemala and El Salvador, airing TV and radio ads to keep people from being victimized.

Within the U.S., officials say they will investigate and prosecute more human traffickers.

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