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Advancing Justice: The Fight Against Human Trafficking

A. Marisa Chun, Deputy Associate Attorney General, writes about the Department of Justice's work in combating human trafficking.

The U.S. Department of Justice’s (DOJ) mission is to “enforce the law and defend the interests of the United States according to the law; to ensure public safety against threats foreign and domestic; to provide federal leadership in preventing and controlling crime; to seek just punishment . . . and to ensure fair and impartial administration of justice for all Americans.” 

Having spent part of my childhood in Seoul, Korea, only 35 miles from the Demilitarized Zone separating North and South Korea and where fewer opportunities for girls and women were the norm, the Department’s mission resonates with special meaning.  It has been an honor to serve under several administrations to help advance DOJ’s critical mission. 

The efforts of the Department’s dedicated attorneys and agents to advance DOJ’s mission touch the lives of many Americans, including the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community.  The Department prosecutes hate crimes, combats unlawful discrimination, and strives to improve access to critical federally-funded services for persons with limited English proficiency, such as sexual assault survivors.  

One important area of work has been DOJ’s leadership in combating human trafficking.  The term human trafficking includes a variety of crimes that exploit the most vulnerable among us – often, but not always, women and children.  It can be the American-born runaway girl in Virginia, desperate for help, who accepts a place to stay from gang members only to find herself being abused and sold for sex.  Or it can be the worker from China, the Philippines, or Micronesia tricked into forced labor at factories in the American Samoa, in the home of affluent professionals in Wisconsin, or in bars in Guam. 

The Department of Justice’s commitment to prevent and combat human trafficking in all its forms has never been stronger.  It is a commitment shared across the United States Attorney’s Offices, the Civil Rights Division’s Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit, the Criminal Division’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Office of Justice Programs.  DOJ also collaborates with other federal, state and local law enforcement agencies and non-governmental organizations to help prevent and identify such crimes. 

Last year, DOJ, in collaboration with the Departments of Homeland Security and Labor, launched a Human Trafficking Enhanced Enforcement Initiative.  We selected six pilot Anti-Trafficking Coordination Teams (“ACTeams”) across the country, aimed at streamlining federal criminal investigations and prosecutions of human trafficking offenses.  We also provide grant funding to victim service organizations, such as Asian Pacific Islander Legal Outreach (APILO) in the San Francisco Bay Area, so that critically needed services can help victims heal and rebuild their lives.

These efforts are making a difference.  Over the last three years, the number of forced labor and adult sex trafficking prosecutions charged has increased by more than 30 percent.  In 2011 alone, DOJ charged nearly 120 defendants – an all-time high – in forced labor and adult sex trafficking cases.  But more work remains to be done.

As we celebrate AAPI Heritage Month, let us also reaffirm our resolve to make real for all Americans the promise of safety and justice reflected in the Department of Justice’s mission, including for those who yearn to be free from the scourge of human trafficking. 

A. Marisa Chun serves as Deputy Associate Attorney General.  She is also a Special Assistant United States Attorney at the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia.