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Trump administration highlights fight against human trafficking

Updated October 29, 2019 - 5:44 pm

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump highlighted his administration’s commitment to fighting human trafficking Tuesday, meeting in the Oval Office with recipients of an award to fight the practice.

Later, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo presided over a meeting of the president’s task force to address trafficking.

The issue has become a signature cause for Trump, as well as his daughter Ivanka Trump, a senior White House adviser, who sat next to Pompeo during the 75-minute session in the Indian Treaty Room.

Secretaries and undersecretaries from 19 departments and agencies explained what they are doing to stop sex trafficking, human smuggling and labor trafficking by funding a program to end modern slavery, enforcing borders, developing a tool kit for students to increase their awareness of the problem and “looking deeper into supply chains” to stop slave labor.

White House domestic policy director Joe Grogan summed up the problem when he lamented, “We have almost 5,000 shelters for animals who have been abused in the United States and fewer than a thousand beds for children who were trafficked sexually, many of those by their own families.”

On the law enforcement end, Assistant Attorney General Beth Williams and FBI Deputy Director David Bowditch pitched the ability to break encryption mechanisms as a means to thwart sex trafficking and child exploitation.

Since he became the nation’s top lawman, Attorney General Bill Barr repeatedly has advocated for a “back door” that would allow law enforcement to break into encrypted message services like WhatsApp to thwart terrorist and criminal organizations.

After the event during a session with reporters, John Richmond, ambassador-at-large to monitor and combat trafficking in persons, said, “Encryption’s an issue if traffickers are using it.”

Richmond then added, “Most traffickers are operating cash-based businesses. It’s one-on-one engagement with the workers they’re exploiting and forced labor.” Often such cases lead law enforcement to act with “simple, good, just shoe-leather investigative work.”

According to the White House, organizations awarded grants by the Department of Justice to support human trafficking victims reported nearly 9,000 cases from July 1, 2017, to June 30, 2018.

A recipient of the human trafficking award, Kendis Paris of Truckers Against Trafficking, said that truck and bus drivers involved with her group primarily find “victims of commercial sexual exploitation,” although they do also look for other trafficking victims.

Paris rejected legalized prostitution — which exists only in certain rural counties in Nevada — as a solution to the problem. She instead called for the legal system to “take away any kind of protection for the pimp, for the trafficker and for the buyer who fuels this whole system. And we need to put that money, time, legal access into helping people leave the sex trade and not again further it.”

Contact Debra J. Saunders at dsaunders@reviewjournal.com or 202-662-7391. Follow @DebraJSaunders on Twitter.

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