Prior to Winter Storm Jonas shutting down much of the Washington, D.C. area in late January 2016, Attorney General Sean D. Reyes had been scheduled to testify on human trafficking before the Tom Lantos Commission on Human Rights. Due to a calendar conflict when the hearing was rescheduled, Attorney General Reyes’ testimony was submitted to the commission for entering into the Congressional Record.
The following are excepts from the written testimony Attorney General Reyes submitted to the Tom Lantos Commission on Human Rights on March 1, 2016. A link to the full testimony will be added when available.
Human trafficking is a form of modern day slavery that exists around the world. By many accounts, it is the fastest growing and second most lucrative international crime, surpassing multi-billion dollar enterprises like counterfeiting and gun running/arms dealing and trailing only the sale of drugs in terms of sales volume. Some believe it has already caught up with and perhaps surpassed drug dealing. In a number of ways, it is more devastating to the victims than any of the other aforementioned crimes. Depending on the reporting agency or organization, anywhere from 20-40 million people are currently victims of trafficking worldwide. A disproportionate number of victims are women (though male victims do exist) and a significant number of victims are children. The toll on individual victims is incomprehensible while the dollar costs to society to deal with the short and long term, evident and latent effects of physical, mental, emotional and psychological servitude can be calculated in hundreds of millions of dollars in health care and other resources.
The majority of trafficking involves sexual slavery, with victims either being sold for sex, exploited as objects of pornography or often subjected to both horrors. But sex exploitation is not the only manifestation of this great evil. A significant number of victims are impressed into servitude as labor trafficking victims, working under life threatening conditions with no hope of escape. Other victims fall prey to the black market human organ trade, to illegal adoptions or are bought and conscripted into the armies of warlords, pirates and organized crime around the world. Yet others are purchased like toys for thousands or as little as hundreds of dollars by terrorists and in some cases utilized involuntarily as suicide bombers. Some victims of sex trafficking have told me (and one testified with me before another U.S. Congressional Committee) that they are forced to have sex with dozens or even scores of “johns” daily, which can amount to thousands or tens of thousands of forced sexual relations over years. Imagine
not only the physical abuse but the ravaging of one’s spirit and soul having to endure such torture.
The chances of escape or survival are both slim. Even when opportunities present themselves for escape, too often the victims remain in the hell they are living for fear that the perpetrators will harm family members in their country of origin or family that is nearby. Of all the crimes I fight on a daily basis, human trafficking, is a form of terrorism and torture that needs our attention.
Fighting trafficking is not a Democrat issue or Republican issue, but a humanitarian issue[.]
The cold, indiscriminate hand of trafficking can reach out and torment rich and poor alike, men and women, young and old, developed nations or emerging ones. It is no respecter of persons, rank or station. But one silver lining that it presents is the chance to galvanize disparate interests around one cause. It can unite us in an often divided and partisan nation and world.
Human Trafficking is one of the great pandemics of our time—an evil, sui generis, that deserves our most serious attention. Only by working together with influential bodies like the Lantos Commission on Human Rights will we be able to marshal properly the resources and resolve of our worldwide brothers and sisters to end this fight one day with victory. The Great Kamehameha I, uniter of the Hawaiian Islands and my ancestor, once summoned his male and female warriors in the pivotal battle of Iao Valley, severely outnumbered. “Imua e na poki’I, a inu i ka wai ‘awa’awa” he exhorted. Come forward my brothers and sisters to battle. And then he encouraged, “Let us taste of the sweet waters of battle, because there is no turning back.” Never have those words been more appropriate to this test we face. Many in this fight feel alone and incapable of defeating this dark institution. They are not alone. We are not alone in this fight.