Home News Testimony Exploiting Americans on American Soil: Domestic Trafficking Exposed
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  • Chris Swecker
  • Assistant Director, Criminal Investigative Division
  • Federal Bureau of Investigation
  • Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe United States Helsinki Commission
  • Washington, DC
  • June 07, 2005

Good afternoon Mr. Chairman and members of the Commission. I appreciate the opportunity to speak before you today about the FBI’s efforts to address the exploitation of children and others in the United States.

According to a study by the University of Pennsylvania, a child is defined as any male or female under the age of 18, and with that, they have detailed there are approximately 300,000 youth currently at risk of becoming victims of commercial and sexual exploitation. Other organizations have estimated this number is as high as 800,000.

We do not currently have a definitive number for the serious problem of child prostitution itself, although judges, police, and outreach workers report both the increase in the numbers and a decrease in the ages of the children involved. Unfortunately, we know of no studies to date that specifically and primarily address juvenile prostitution. Accurately quantifying the existing problem of victimized children (as opposed to “at risk”) is difficult for a variety of reasons. For example, in the case of children exploited through prostitution, many of the prostituted youth are charged with some other offenses such as substance abuse; thus data that relies on crime reports masks the true prevalence of the problem.

According to the 2002 National Incidence Studies of Missing, Abducted, Runaway and Throwaway Children (NISMART II), 1.6 million children are estimated to run away from home each year, and it is estimated that approximately 40,000 of those children will have some type of involvement in or brush with sexual trafficking. Many of these victims are abandoned or neglected children who are usually not reported as missing to law enforcement or are runaways from their homes or the foster care system. Also, when arrested, many juvenile prostitutes have fraudulent identification and social security cards and are reluctant to help authorities determine their true age and identity. In addition, sexual trafficking, particularly of children, continues to move even further underground. With the increasing use of pagers, cell phones, and the Internet, victims are even less visible today than they were in the past.

The average age of a child first used in prostitution is 11 to 14, with some as young as 9 years of age. Children used in prostitution consist of both male and female victims and come from all ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds. A large percentage of these children left home because of physical, sexual, and psychological abuse. These children often have low self-esteem and are extremely vulnerable. These runaways become a prime target for sex offenders, pornographers, and pimps. Prostitution is a continuation of the victim’s sexual exploitation, not the beginning. According to U.S. law and international agreements, children can never consent to prostitution; it is always exploitation.

A review of current and historical intelligence regarding such criminal enterprises reveals juveniles are victims of trafficking for the purpose of prostitution in both major metropolitan areas as well as smaller communities. Typically, they are transported to lucrative venues including cities hosting major sporting or public events. These criminal enterprises are highly mobile and travel established routes throughout the United States. They frequently communicate with each other in order to set pricing for services; they identify new locations deemed profitable as well as discuss locations where law enforcement is active or lax. These criminal enterprises typically engage in multiple criminal activities and have extensive supporting networks. For example, approximately 55 percent of street gangs are involved to some degree in prostitution.

In response to this growing problem, the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division/Violent Crimes Section, in conjunction with both the Department of Justice/Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), implemented a National Initiative named Innocence Lost in June of 2003 to address child prostitution in the United States. Together, we developed a multi-faceted strategy to train personnel; establish task forces; share intelligence concerning pimps, juveniles used in prostitution, and criminal enterprises; and support long-term investigations with the requisite personnel and financial resources. An intensive curriculum was developed for a week long training class entitled Protecting Victims of Child Prostitution which was held at and sponsored by the NCMEC. This program brings state and federal law enforcement agencies, prosecutors, and social service providers from one city to the National Center where the group is trained together. This concept is designed to cultivate cooperation, partnership, and an effective integration between the critical enforcement entities in each city. To date, a total of 263 individuals have received this training.

The Criminal Investigative Division reviews and analyzes all intelligence received by the NCMEC thru their Intake and CyberTip reports. This information is in turn disseminated to the appropriate field offices. All NCMEC Intake and CyberTip Reports are maintained in the FBI’s Automated Case System database to provide electronic access to field offices. In addition, the Criminal Investigative Division provides extensive on-site analytical support to pending large-scale child prostitution investigations, including Intelligence Assessments, link charts, cross case analyses, and to support the field office.

Based upon an initial review of the available intelligence on child prostitution collected from ongoing investigations, human source information, information provided by numerous local and state law enforcement agencies, and the NCMEC, 14 FBI field offices were identified as having the highest incidence of children used in prostitution. The 14 FBI offices identified were: Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis, New York, San Diego, San Francisco, St. Louis, Tampa, and Washington, D.C.

Task forces or working groups were subsequently established in Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Honolulu, Houston, Indianapolis, Miami, Newark, New York, Oklahoma City, Philadelphia, Portland, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C. Efforts are ongoing to establish task forces and/or working groups in all field offices in which our intelligence supports a significant investigative increase into the exploitation of children whom are engaged in prostitution. According to the FBI’s Violent Crimes Section, in June of 2003 all field offices were advised that crimes against children, and specifically the prostitution of children, were a high priority within the Violent Crimes Program, and were directed to determine whether their divisions had a significant child prostitution problem and address it with the appropriate resources. These offices were further directed to focus their efforts on the identification, investigation, and prosecution of criminal enterprises, including gangs, involved in child prostitution. Sex traffickers or pimps debriefed by the FBI indicate approximately 20-40 percent of the victims forced/recruited into prostitution are juveniles. As of today, 25 field offices are investigating child prostitution matters in support of the Innocence Lost National Initiative.

The Enterprise Theory of Investigation is the standard investigative model the FBI employs in these cases. This approach requires the investigation be intelligence driven, seeks to discover the full scope of the criminal organization and its member activities, and requires strategic planning and a long-term focus. Evidence must be gathered that identifies the predicate crimes of the organization, demonstrates the existence and structure of the organization, identifies the individuals commanding and controlling the organization, and dismantles the organizations through successful prosecution of its members and seizing the economic resources of the enterprise. These investigations are manpower intensive and make use of sophisticated investigative techniques.

During FY 2004, the Criminal Investigative Division initiated 67 Innocence Lost investigations which led to 118 arrests, 26 indictments, and the conviction of 22 pimps and madams. To date in FY 2005, 31 additional cases were opened and there have been 163 arrests, eight complaints, 13 indictments, and 10 convictions. Since the inception of Innocence Lost, 80 children have been recovered as a result of this national initiative.

Two successful investigations and prosecutions highlight the impact of the Innocence Lost National Initiative. The Oklahoma City Division conducted a large-scale child prostitution investigation focused on the interstate prostitution of children at truck stops and through call services nationwide in an investigation named, STORMY NIGHTS. A total of 11 federal arrest warrants and three federal search warrants were executed in and around the Oklahoma City area. The case identified a total of 48 pimps, 24 of which exploited juveniles. Sixteen juveniles were recovered as a result of this case. The people used in prostitution were recruited from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma and traveled to truck stops and known prostitution areas in Denver, Colorado; Miami, Florida; and Houston and Dallas, Texas. Nine defendants were charged with sex trafficking of minors and transporting juveniles for use in prostitution. Eight defendants pleaded guilty and a ninth was convicted at trial in 2005. Sentenced defendants have received prison terms of up to 210 months.

In United States v. Curtis (District of Columbia), on December 3, 2004, a seven-count indictment was returned charging Carlos Curtis with sex trafficking, transporting a minor in interstate commerce for prostitution, and production of child pornography. Curtis and other associates recruited a 12-year-old girl in Times Square in New York and brought her to a hotel room in Brooklyn, where he photographed the girl engaged in sexually explicit conduct with an adult used as in prostitution. A superseding indictment was returned March 31, 2004 charging Curtis with obstruction of justice as a result of his efforts to get the victim to change her testimony at trial. Following a two-week jury trial, Curtis was convicted on July 2, 2004. He faces up to life imprisonment. Sentencing has been continued to 2005 with no date set.

In addition to investigating those who exploit children, the FBI, through its Office of Victim Assistance, attempts to assist child victims of prostitution in FBI investigations. With the launch of the Innocence Lost initiative the FBI task forces have encountered significant problems in identifying and providing services for these victims. Juveniles who become involved in sexual trafficking face a myriad of obstacles and enormous needs if they want to leave that life, including very basic needs such as safe housing, subsistence, and schooling. In addition, they may need drug treatment, medical treatment, and mental health services. They may have problems related to victimization prior to their life on the streets. Most cannot return to their family of origin, so they need help to prepare for independent living. Some of the needs identified by the FBI through involvement in prior cases include:

  • Safe housing away from traffickers and their associates while their cases moves through the system.
  • Medical care and substance abuse treatment.
  • A range of placement options including locked facilities. Our experience shows us that the majority of the juveniles placed in un-locked treatment facilities will walk away or runaway within a very short period of time. In many instances they runaway, leaving the state and we never find them again. Many return to the individuals who exploit them because they have so few options.
  • Specialized mental health treatments for these victims, since traditional counseling modalities have little success with these victims.
  • Assistance with transportation to access specialized programs and with local transportation to medical services, counseling, interviews, and court.
  • Life skills and vocational training.
  • New Social Security numbers, since traffickers often keep birth certificates, drivers’ licenses, and Social Security cards of the victims and use these documents to track their whereabouts when they flee.
  • Better training for law enforcement officers, mental health providers, juvenile justice officials, and child protective services workers on the dynamics of sexual trafficking and needs of victims.

The FBI’s Civil Rights Program also addresses International Trafficking of persons; elements of which occur within the United States. International Trafficking primarily involving aliens, immigrants, and other economically disadvantaged individuals, particularly women and children. Most of these cases involve immigrants or aliens transported into the United States, who are forced to work in poor, unsafe conditions as prostitutes, domestic servants, migrant farm workers, laborers, or employees in restaurants and small retail shops. The rate of immigrants who fail to report these types of crimes is underreported, because they fear deportation or are afraid of violent retaliation against themselves or their families.

In June of 2004, the FBI, in cooperation with other local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies, to include Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP), and victim-based national advocacy groups began an Involuntary Servitude and Slavery/Trafficking in Persons Initiative to more aggressively combat this problem. As a result of this initiative, the FBI is now engaged in 21 Human Trafficking working groups around the country.

In addition, the National Hispanic Sex Trafficking Initiative was created by the FBI on December 8, 2004, in order to combat the sex traffickers who are bringing increasing numbers of female victims into the U.S. primarily from or via Mexico and Central and South America. A primary focus of this initiative is the collection, analysis, and dissemination of intelligence from all pending and recently closed cases targeting Hispanics involved in sex trafficking to identify major players, organizations, and locations of Human Trafficking activities and to determine the degree of communication, coordination, and/or connection between these trafficking groups.

Major United States cities such as Miami, Los Angeles, San Diego, Charlotte, Phoenix, New York, and eleven additional cities will serve as the focal points of the FBI’s intelligence collection, analysis, and assessments. The resulting intelligence will be used to further drive and focus our investigative efforts in this area.

As a result of this awareness, these initiatives and increased emphasis and training in support of these initiatives, the FBI has expanded its efforts in investigating Human Trafficking. In FY 2003, the FBI opened 65 Human Trafficking investigations, of which 17 cases have thus far resulted in convictions. In FY 2004, 20 convictions were secured thus far from the 86 cases that were opened, and in the first half of FY 2005, the FBI has already opened 72 investigations and secured 6 convictions. Also, out of these investigative numbers, the FBI has a total of 125 pending Human Trafficking investigations.

The FBI also participates in the Human Smuggling Trafficking Center (HSTC), signed into existence by the Secretary of State, Secretary of Homeland Security, and the Attorney General in July 2004. It was established as a fusion center to bring together analysts, officers, and investigators from various agencies, including DHS, FBI, CIA, and the Department of State, ensuring information sharing on human smuggling and trafficking, especially smuggler support of clandestine terrorist travel. The FBI has two analysts from its Criminal Intelligence Section assigned to the HSTC.

In conclusion, I want to thank you again for the opportunity to appear here today and speak to you about the FBI’s investigative efforts, in conjunction with other government agencies and community partners, to address some of our programs to identify, investigate, and prosecute those responsible for victimizing and exploiting children and trafficking in human misery.

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