A Q&A with Laura Lederer

The new Senior Director for Global Projects on Trafficking in Persons at the U.S. Department of State offers sobering information and empowering hope.

Part of the problem is trafficking cases aren't always covered in the media. A huge domestic trafficking case in Atlanta, where pimps trafficked 9- to 12-year-old African American girls, went through the entire criminal justice system without hitting the papers until the judge had trouble finding help for these young girls and sought out a friend who's a newspaper reporter. While the public's becoming more conscious of the problem, we still have more awareness raising to do.

How prevalent is trafficking in the States?

The State Department estimates between 14,500 and 17,500 people are trafficked into the U.S. annually. That number includes both sex and labor trafficking, and doesn't include people trafficked within the U.S.

But the Department of Justice recently noted we don't have all the data yet. For example, in Rosa's case, officials rescued 40 young women. By the time of the trial, only 14 girls testified. A couple girls returned to Mexico; others simply disappeared. One of the young women who did testify told us this trafficking ring had been operating for years and had victimized hundreds of women. Because we've only been tracking and prosecuting trafficking cases since 2000, and because convincing victims to testify is difficult, it's a challenge to get a true sense of the numbers of people impacted. That said, we know trafficking is widespread; the Justice Department's head of the new human trafficking unit told me they have a case of trafficking in every state of the country now.

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