An often invisible crime occurs closer than we think and to more people than we realize. Its victims number an estimated 20.9 million people globally. These victims commonly eschew help, fearing reprisals from not just the perpetrators but also law enforcement. Many victims and the societies they’re a part of misunderstand and fail to see the crime and, inevitably, the victims for what they truly are. What’s more, despite being largely inconspicuous, this crime generates billions of dollars in annual profits, only coming behind drug trafficking as the most profitable form of transnational crime.
So what crime could be so pervasive and profitable yet remain in the shadows and, in some cases, be socially acceptable? January was National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, and while the month has past, I want to take a moment to reaffirm our dedication to protecting victims of human trafficking and bringing their perpetrators to justice. The DHS Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) has had a long history of developing and bringing technology to the frontlines of this fight:
- The Port of Entry Forensics and Investigations Program helps combat transnational crime and investigate child exploitation and human trafficking through open source data and forensic analysis of material collected from suspicious packages and cargo.
- Igloo, a data analytics software program, allows law enforcement officers to scour multiple data sources and then track, triangulate, and swiftly translate the telltale signs of criminal activity into actionable intelligence.
- Rapid DNA, technology that expedites the testing of DNA, can support efforts in immigration, human trafficking prevention, reunification of family members following mass casualties, and DHS law enforcement investigations.
Today, our commitment to helping the women and men at the forefront of combatting human trafficking remains steadfast. We continue to identify technology that can be quickly deployed and to develop technology that can disrupt human trafficking on a large-scale – ensuring we use modern means to remain ahead of an ever changing criminal landscape. We are also determining what resources are already available, understanding who the organizational players are, and accounting for both the domestic and international perspectives of this transnational crime. We are helping to set metrics and measures that can be used to enhance the coordination of resources, as well as engaging academic institutions through our Criminal Investigations and Network Analysis Center of Excellence to innovate our approach to challenges in this area.
Ultimately – in spite of all this work to enhance coordination, strategy, and technology – we must remember that putting an end to human trafficking starts with awareness and acknowledging its existence in our communities. Let’s ensure we remain alert for those around us who may need help but don’t ask for it or who may simply not know they are victims.