Lawyers Can Fight the ‘Modern-Day Slavery’ of Human Trafficking, ABA CLE Speakers Say
Ending human trafficking, which President Obama and others have called “modern slavery,” can and should be a goal of everyone, particularly lawyers, panelists said at an American Bar Association CLE Premier Speaker Series webinar Oct. 15.
Experts estimate that at least 21 million people are victims of human trafficking at any one time. The crime includes forced sex and prostitution, as well as compelled labor and other forms of involuntary servitude in the United States and abroad, panelists said.
During the free webinar, nearly 2,000 ABA members heard experts from the U.S. Departments of State and Homeland Security, along with others who have worked in the area both domestically and internationally.
ABA President Laurel Bellows is urging lawyers to help combat human trafficking as a main focus of her term this year, noted moderator Martina Vandenberg of the Human Trafficking Legal Resource Center. The ABA Task Force on Human Trafficking is addressing the issue by developing business conduct standards, policies for companies to ensure clean supply chains, support for pro bono lawyers, legislation, public awareness and other projects.
Human trafficking “ought to concern every person, because it is a debasement of our common humanity,” Obama said in a September speech devoted to the topic, noted panelist Luis CdeBaca (see-duh-BAH-cuh), a former federal prosecutor who is now director of the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons.
“It ought to concern every community, because it tears at our social fabric,” Obama continued. “It ought to concern every business, because it distorts markets. It ought to concern every nation, because it endangers public health and fuels violence and organized crime. I’m talking about the injustice, the outrage, of human trafficking, which must be called by its true name: modern slavery.”
CdeBaca urged lawyers to learn more about human trafficking, raise awareness in their communities and provide pro bono assistance both to victims and to efforts to combat the crime. All lawyers can get involved, but those working in corporate compliance, immigration, civil litigation, criminal law and family law have especially relevant skills, he said.
“I think there’s a place for everyone in this,” CdeBaca said.
Law “truly puts words in the mouths of the powerless, and that’s our great weapon,” said panelist Anne Therese Gallagher, a former adviser to the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights who is considered the leading global expert on human trafficking.
Gallagher noted that human trafficking is a challenging crime to prosecute because it often occurs across international borders, and victims are often reluctant to or unable to identify their perpetrators. Panelists said that victims such as prostitutes may be criminals themselves, which is why it is important for prosecutors and others to be aware of signs of human trafficking in their cases, make appropriate prosecution decisions and provide needed services to victims.
“Human trafficking … is a hidden crime,” said Alice Hill, a retired Los Angeles County judge who now serves as chair of the Department of Homeland Security’s campaign to combat human trafficking. “Many don’t know it or recognize it when they see it. Victims go unidentified. And all of us can assist in the process of increasing the identification of trafficking victims.”
Hill also cleared up common misconceptions about human trafficking.
“One of them is that it only occurs in other countries,” Hill said. “If it does occur in the U.S., it’s assumed that victims are foreign born.
“Another false conception is that human trafficking is only in the sex industry,” Hill continued. “But human trafficking exists in every country, including the United States. It exists in our cities, our suburbs and our rural communities. The victims include young children, teenagers, students, women and men, runaways, new immigrants and U.S. citizens.”
Hill noted that Homeland Security is working with Truckers Against Trafficking and other organizations whose members are positioned to report suspicious activity to authorities. Other groups, like panelist Florrie Burke’s Freedom Network (U.S.A.), provide information and other resources to help those who want to join the effort against human trafficking.
“There is much work ahead,” Hill concluded. “I am hopeful that you will find ways to get involved and help combat human trafficking.”