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Remarks as Prepared for Delivery by OVC Director Jessica E. Hart During a Human Trafficking Roundtable in Georgia

Good afternoon, everyone! Thank you all for being here today, and more importantly thank you for your continued efforts combating human trafficking.

Thank you especially to Governor Kemp for hosting this discussion. I greatly appreciate everything you have been doing to make combatting trafficking a top priority in Georgia.

Also, a special thank you to First Lady Marty Kemp who has been with us throughout the day today. I greatly appreciate your time and dedicated service to this issue.

I look forward to learning more about the GRACE Commission from the First Lady and the Commission’s members, including Lieutenant Governor Duncan. Public/private partnerships between government agencies, law enforcement, local organizations, NGOs, and faith-based institutions are vital in the battle to hold traffickers accountable and ensure justice for victims.

I’m also interested in hearing about the new awareness trainings you implemented this year. Human trafficking awareness and training is such an important piece in this fight because it often leads to identification of trafficked victims and perpetrators, which is the first step in bringing traffickers to justice. 

I also want to give a warm welcome to my colleagues from the Department of Justice—Associate Deputy Attorney General Stacie Harris, who I’ve had the honor to get to know and work with for the last few years. Stacie is a dedicated public servant and a real asset in this fight. Also, U.S. Attorneys BJay Pak, Charlie Peeler, and Bobby Christine.

The fact that we are all here is a demonstration of the Department’s commitment to this issue.

I also want to recognize and thank the other experts in the room who are invaluable to our discussion. 

Specifically, Attorney General Carr and Director Reynolds, I’m sure this roundtable comes at a particularly poignant time for Georgia, as it follows the recent recovery of 39 missing children, nearly half of whom were trafficked for sex. Those children are safe and receiving the care they so desperately need because of the successful joint operation that involved the U.S. Marshals, and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, and others. Thank you.

Finally, I can’t thank the staff at Wellspring Living enough for hosting us throughout the day. Mary Francis, I can only imagine the amount of coordination that it took on your part. I so appreciated the opportunity to tour the facilities and hear more about the great work you are doing.

As the Director of the Office for Victims of Crime, I’m honored to be with such an exceptional group of anti-human trafficking professionals and eager to hear more about your response to human trafficking especially in the face of the pandemic.

We’ve already heard from so many in the field that the pandemic is stretching resources and presenting challenges.

We know that lockdowns and social distancing can make it harder for trafficking survivors to escape their abusers and seek help.

Law enforcement may be experiencing unprecedented resource strains and staff shortages.

And service providers and shelters are having to implement new safety protocols, all of which put pressure on the system designed to help trafficking survivors rebuild their lives.

My hope is that our collective knowledge and action will spur even more innovation than what we’ve already seen.

Last week, many of you were in attendance when Attorney General Barr and Advisor to the President Ivanka Trump announced over $97 million dollars in Office for Victims of Crime funding to combat human trafficking and to provide vital services to survivors throughout the United States.

Attorney General Barr was quoted as saying, “The Department of Justice is relentless in its fight against the perpetrators of these heinous crimes. Working with state and local law enforcement and community victim service providers, we will continue to bring these criminals to justice and deliver critical aid to survivors.”

There’s no question that the importance of public/private partnerships is recognized by the top law enforcement official in the federal government and his words underscore the value of our meeting today.

Even prior to this announcement, my office was the largest federal funder of services for human trafficking victims in the U.S.

And with these awards, we now support grantees that provide services to victims of human trafficking in 46 states, one territory, and the District of Columbia, representing more than 400 awards totaling over $270 million dollars.

Our funding goes towards a broad range of victim services, including: housing assistance; specialized responses for youth and minor victims; a catalogue of trainings to support all core multidisciplinary partners and operational topics; continued task force support; and prevention.

The variety and breadth of our funding best positions OVC to support Attorney General Barr’s efforts to use every means at the Department’s disposal to bring traffickers to justice and serve trafficking victims.

We remain ready to serve the countless victims of this terrible crime, and all of you who are on the front lines combating it.

I look forward hearing from each of you today, and continuing to work with you on this important mission.

Thank you all in advance for sharing your time and expertise.

Date Created: September 30, 2020