Monday, the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute (BCRI) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)’s Birmingham Division issued a joint statement calling for greater public awareness and engagement on the crime of human trafficking. The statement comes in conclusion of the 13th annual BCRI-FBI joint conference held in Birmingham on September 16 and 17.
FBI Special Agent in Charge Johnnie Sharp Jr. and BCRI President and CEO Andrea Taylor said in their joint statement, “Human trafficking is slavery. It involves the use of force, fraud, or coercion to obtain free or cheap labor or commercial sex. It happens everywhere across all socioeconomic backgrounds. The chances are high that most of us unknowingly come in contact at least one person directly impacted by either labor or sex trafficking on any given day. We ask that the public become familiar with the warning signs of human trafficking and report suspicious activity of any kind.”
Keynote speaker Elizabeth Neumann, Assistant Secretary for Threat Prevention and Security Policy, Department of Homeland Security Office of Strategy, Policy and Plans urged conference attendees to respond with a call to action and a commitment to building a new sensitivity to addressing the societal consequences of human and labor trafficking in their networks.
“Labor trafficking is a serious problem locally as well as across the nation,” Sharp and Taylor continued. People are profiting from the de facto imprisonment of fellow human beings and are using every conceivable method to continue these practices unnoticed. We need both our law enforcement partners and the entire community to work together with us in this alarming phase in the fight for human rights. If you see signs of anyone who may be abused or who seem to be unduly under the control of someone else, please report it to your local law enforcement office, the FBI or DHS Homeland Security Investigations.”
During the 2018 Legislative Session, the Alabama House of Representatives gave final passage to a bill that established more severe penalties for those found guilty of obstructing an investigation into human trafficking.
The bill, SB179, was sponsored by State Senator Cam Ward, R-Alabaster. It also targeted those involved in child sex trafficking rings. The legislation was a part of the Senate Republicans’ “Fighting for Alabama” agenda during this year’s legislative sessions.
“We want to give law enforcement every tool they need to ensure no child is ever harmed in this manner,” Ward said.
Even though it was a Republican “Fighting for Alabama” agenda item, the bill received broad bipartisan support from both chambers.
Previously the offense was only a Class C felony, punishable by only a year in prison. SB179 made the maximum offense of first-degree obstructing a human tracking investigation a Class A felony instead, meaning a conviction would likely result in more than ten years in prison.
Ward said at the time, “By increasing penalties for those who would aid traffickers, we will hold them just as accountable as the traffickers themselves.”
The average age of a sex trafficking victim is between 11 to 14 years old, according to the Alabama Human Trafficking Task Force, and it is estimated that two children are trafficked into sexual exploitation every minute.
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The Blue Campaign is the unified voice for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) efforts to combat human trafficking. Working in collaboration with law enforcement, government, non-governmental and private organizations, the Blue Campaign is working to protect the basic right of freedom and to bring those who exploit human lives to justice.
Through the Blue Campaign, DHS raises public awareness about human trafficking, leveraging partnerships to educate the public to recognize human trafficking and report suspected instances. The Blue Campaign also offers training to law enforcement and others to increase detection and investigation of human trafficking, and to protect victims and bring suspected traffickers to justice.
DHS is responsible for investigating human trafficking, arresting traffickers, and protecting victims. DHS also provides immigration relief to non-U.S. citizen victims of human trafficking. DHS utilizes a victim-centered approach to combat human trafficking, which places equal value on identifying and stabilizing victims and on investigating and prosecuting traffickers. Victims are crucial to investigations and prosecutions; each case and every conviction changes lives.
The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute (BCRI) is part of the Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument. The BCRI is a cultural and educational research center that promotes a comprehensive understanding for the significance of civil rights developments in Birmingham that changed our world. Celebrating its 26th anniversary, BCRI reaches more than 150,000 individuals each year through teacher education (including curriculum development and teacher training), group tours, outreach programs (school and community), award-winning after-school and public programs, exhibitions and extensive archival collections.
The FBI is the primary federal agency responsible for investigating all allegations regarding criminal violations of federal civil rights statutes. The FBI is also responsible for investigating human trafficking, the illegal “business” of trafficking persons into forced labor and prostitution,
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Original reporting by the Alabama Political Reporter’s Chip Brownlee contributed to this report.