District Attorney Vance and Thomson Reuters Foundation Launch Financial Working Group Against Human Trafficking

April 25, 2013

The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office and the Thomson Reuters Foundation today hosted a high-level roundtable with representatives from some of the world’s leading financial institutions, as well as law enforcement agencies and corporations, to discuss ways to collaborate in the fight against global human trafficking. The objective of this meeting, which was held at the Thomson Reuters Building in Times Square, was to assist corporations in identifying irregularities in financial transactions by potential traffickers, share financial and technical expertise, and discuss cross-border solutions to combatting this crisis, which victimizes countless individuals every year through forced labor, sexual exploitation, and other forms of servitude. The parties have committed to working together going forward to help solve the issue of human trafficking and plan to meet again in July, when they will be joined by representatives of some of the world’s leading NGOs working with trafficking victims.

While estimates of human trafficking vary widely from state-to-state and even country-to-country, there is consensus that this crime is on the rise. The U.S. Department of State and International Labour Organisation estimate that worldwide trafficking is a roughly $32 billion-a-year industry. Federal statistics also suggest that between 14,000 and 17,500 foreign nationals are trafficked into the U.S. each year, and tens of thousands of youth born in America are at risk of sexual endangerment or exploitation.

“Trafficking at its heart is a crime motivated by money, and we have seen over the course of our prosecutions that there is much to be made,” said District Attorney Vance. “Human traffickers prey upon some of the most vulnerable members of our society, and their actions leave deep physical and psychological scars upon victims, many of whom remain silent and hidden. Financial institutions are in a unique position to spot red flags in banking activity and report them to law enforcement. Efforts like today’s roundtable, coordinated by our partners at the Thomson Reuters Foundation, play a vital role in bringing this crime out of the shadows, which helps us hold traffickers criminally responsible.”

Monique Villa, CEO of Thomson Reuters Foundation, said: “Human trafficking is one of the most hideous and profitable crimes of our times. The commitments taken today by the financial industry represent a huge step forward in using innovation and shared knowledge to attack human trafficking. This meeting was one of the biggest actions taken at the Trust Women Conference last December, and I am glad that we are working together with the largest financial organizations and Manhattan District Attorney Vance to effectively tackle the trafficking business.”
Martina Vandenberg, Founder and President of The Human Trafficking Pro Bono Legal Center, said: “I don’t see bankers as people with money, but as people with data. We have never before bridged this idea of financial crime and human trafficking. Bringing these two worlds together will increase the number of trafficking prosecutions in the United States and around the world.”

Marcy Forman, Managing Director of Global Investigations at Citigoup, said: “It’s critical to identify trends and patterns that might be indicative of suspicious activities which might include human trafficking, and that we look at data collectively to identify anomalies in transactions that might contain elements of trafficking.”

Representatives from the following corporations, law enforcement agencies, and foundations participated in today’s roundtable, organized by the Thomson Reuters Foundation and the Manhattan District Attorney.

American Express
Bank of America
Human Trafficking Pro Bono Legal Center
JPMorgan Chase
Tau Investment Management
TD Bank
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement
Wells Fargo
Western Union

Prosecutors from the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office’s Human Trafficking Program, Major Economic Crimes Bureau, Financial Intelligence Unit, and Trial and Investigation Divisions took part in today’s event.

About the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office’s Human Trafficking Program

In March 2012, District Attorney Vance created the Human Trafficking Program within the Office’s Special Victims Bureau to investigate and prosecute sex and labor trafficking cases, better identify trafficking victims, provide greater support for victims and their families in partnership with those in the victims’ advocate community, and educate law enforcement and the public about trafficking and related issues through community outreach, workshops, and seminars. The Program also works to identify cases that may involve elements of trafficking from hundreds of street arrests that come in through other areas of the Office.

Earlier this month, a convicted human trafficker was sentenced to 50 years in state prison for operating a sex trafficking ring out of his Upper East Side apartment. On October 24, 2012, a jury in New York State Supreme Court found Donnell Baines guilty Rape in the First Degree, Sex Trafficking, and Promoting Prostitution, among other charges, for using physical force and threats of violence, in addition to other forms of coercion, to compel women to continue to engage in prostitution.

District Attorney Vance strongly encourages victims of sex trafficking and forced prostitution to call the Office’s Human Trafficking Hotline at (212) 335-3400, regardless of immigration status. 

About the Thomson Reuters Foundation

Established in 1983, the Thomson Reuters Foundation leverages the skills, values and expertise of Thomson Reuters to run a number of programs that trigger change and empower people across the world: free legal assistance, media development, and in-depth coverage of the world’s under-reported stories. The Foundation stands for human rights, women’s empowerment, anti-corruption and for the rule of law. 

Last December, the Thomson Reuters Foundation and the International Herald Tribune hosted the first Trust Women Conference in London, bringing together business, government and civil society leaders, sparking concrete commitments to action to help women defend their rights. Today’s roundtable represents one of the key outcomes of the Trust Women Conference.

For more information, visit www.trust.org.