On Dec. 30, the Biden administration issued a proclamation on National Human Trafficking Prevention Month (January) stating that “We all have an important role to play in preventing” human trafficking just hours before Denise George, then-Virgin Islands Attorney General was fired after filing a lawsuit against JPMorgan Chase, accusing the financial giant of turning a “blind eye” to, and helping facilitate, now deceased Jeffrey Epstein’s human sex trafficking ring.
On Dec. 27, George filed a heavily redacted 30-page lawsuit against JPMorgan Chase. The suit, filed in a Manhattan federal court, accuses the financial institution of providing financial services for Epstein, despite being a registered sex offender in the U.S., following his 2008 conviction for soliciting a minor for prostitution in Palm Beach, Florida.
Lawyers allege that JP Morgan willingly “turned a blind eye to evidence of human trafficking for more than a decade,” due to Epstein’s ability to consistently bring profitable business deals and clientele to the financial institution.
While there is no firm connection between George’s firing and the lawsuit, U.S. Virgin Islands Gov. Albert Bryan’s communications director, Richard Motta Jr., told Fox News Digital that he was not at liberty to discuss details on personnel matters but did say that “media reports indicating the JP Morgan lawsuit as the the reason are not entirely accurate” indicating that there may be some connection.
In addition, the Virgin Island Consortium, which was first to report George’s firing, citing a person with knowledge of the matter, said George filed the lawsuit “without first informing Governor Bryan of such a major action,” according to Fox News.
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George alleges in her lawsuit that JPMorgan Chase contravened at least three pieces of legislation in its dealings with Epstein including the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, the Virgin Islands Criminally Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, and the Virgin Islands Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act.
Human trafficking rampant across the globe
While exact numbers that detail just how many people across the globe fall victim to human trafficking are hard to determine, the Human Trafficking Institute estimates that at least 25 million people annually are impacted; 20.1 million exploited for their labor and 4.8 million forced into sex work.
Victims can be any age, race, or ethnicity but, according to the U.S. Department of State individuals vulnerable to human trafficking include “children in the child welfare and juvenile systems, including foster care; runaway and homeless youth [and] unaccompanied foreign national children without lawful immigration status,” indicating many of the victims are minors.
The traffickers exploit their victims with coercive and deceptive practices and can be strangers, acquaintances, or even family members that prey on the vulnerable and those seeking opportunities to improve their living conditions.
Forced child labor are schemes that traffickers use to compel children to work. Traffickers often target children because they are the most vulnerable. Although some children may legally engage in work it becomes illegal when the child is forced or coerced. Indicators of forced child labor include “situations in which the child appears to be in the custody of a non-family member and the child’s work financially benefits someone outside the child’s family; or the denial of food, rest, or schooling,” the U.S. Department of State says.
Child sex trafficking occurs where an individual engages in specified acts with a child under the age of 18 regardless of whether evidence of force, fraud, or coercion exists. “The use of children in commercial sex is prohibited by law in the U.S. and most countries.
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The fight against human trafficking
On Dec. 27, President Biden signed the “Countering Human Trafficking Act of 2022” which both codified and expanded the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Center for Countering Human Trafficking (CCHT).
“This is a significant milestone in the continued growth and advancement of the CCHT mission,” said Steve Francis, Acting Executive Associate Director for Homeland Security Investigations (HSI). “The signing of this legislation marks an important day that institutionalizes the DHS counter-trafficking mission, including victim identification and screening, victim protection and assistance, investigations and enforcement, and training, outreach, and engagement. I would like to highlight the importance of our partnerships with non-government organizations and their critical role in HSI’s victim-centered approach to human trafficking investigations.”
According to the DHS, the mission of the CCHT is “to advance counter human trafficking law enforcement operations, protect victims, and enhance prevention efforts by aligning DHS’s capabilities and expertise.”
In fiscal year 2022 the CCHT says it helped secure more than 3,600 arrests and 600 convictions, representing a more than 50 percent increase in human trafficking arrests and an increase of more than 75 percent in human trafficking-related convictions compared to FY 2021.
Organizations fighting human trafficking
In addition to efforts by the U.S. government, and other governments, there are at least 60 organizations established around the globe with a primary, or significant, commitment to ending human trafficking including the 8th Day Center for Justice, a Roman Catholic organization based in Chicago and The Exodus Road, a non-governmental 501(c)(3) organization that works to combat the issue through prevention, intervention, and aftercare programs.
The Exodus Road (TER) not only raises awareness concerning the issue but also conducts live rescues in many Asian countries as well as the United States.
Their “intervention programs” have been in operation since 2012 and focus on training local investigators to pose as clients in brothels. The “undercover operatives” identify victims and build case files that are then handed over to law enforcement. This information is then utilized to conduct raids in partnership with law enforcement to arrest alleged traffickers.
In the fall of 2021, TER opened Freedom House, a safe house and mentorship program in Thailand that functions as an immediate shelter for adult female survivors of sex trafficking and sexual exploitation and their dependents.
Freedom House provides survivors “trauma-informed therapy, life skills classes, counseling, medical care, community internships and job skills training.”
The Exodus Road used a $60,000 grant from the UN Voluntary Trust Fund for Victims of Human Trafficking (UNVTF) which is managed by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.