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Welcome to "Ask the White House" -- an online interactive forum where you can submit questions to Administration officials and friends of the White House. Visit the "Ask the White House" archives to read other discussions with White House officials.

John R. Miller
John R. Miller

March 22, 2004

John R. Miller
It is great to be with you and I'm looking forward to talking with you about the emerging human rights issue of the 21st century.

Walter, from Rotterdam, The Netherlands writes:
Does US policy include the European theatre? Here in North Western-Europe we have a growing problem with trafficking in (young) girls from the Ukraine, Poland, the Baltic states for prostitution in Germany, The Netherlands, Scandinavia and so on. Does the US recognize these problems or is the US focussing on the trafficking of persons along its Southern border. Please don't get me wrong, eitherway is fine by me, however since the US has increased it's attention for the world the last 60 years I would expect the US to take an interest in to human trafficking In Europe and other parts of the world.

Kind regards, Walter van Vliet

John R. Miller
Yes. This problem does not just exist in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and North America but also in Europe. Our annual report evaluates what's going on in European countries. Right now we are about to work closely with the government of Sweden in efforts to combat trafficking and the causes that contribute to trafficking of persons.

Marcus, from Augusta County writes:
Not being an expert, but as someone who pays attention to the human trafficking problem -- Asian countries have a problem with this issue. Have you met with counterparts in the Far East? How are their efforts to stop this hideous crime compared to the US?

John R. Miller
Yes, I have met with my counterparts in the far east. I just got back from a trip where I visited Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Cambodia and Japan.

Some of these countries such as Indonesia and Combodia are what we call source countries. Many of the slaves originate from there. Japan, Singapore and Malaysia are like the US -- they are destination countries. Slavery is taking place there but the victims are mostly foreign.

I thought that the country that surprised me the most was Japan. Because there was a tremendous gap between the size of the slavery problem and the amount of resources and effort devoted to it.

Japan is a leading and wealthy democracy in Asia so I am hoping for better efforts out of Japan.

Robin, from Houston writes:
A couple questions about US involvement: 1. Are US citizens ever victims? It seems like this is a crime that happens in poorer countries?

2. Are these victims ever taken to the US? Are their instances where people have brought these slaves to the US?

John R. Miller
Robin is very perceptive. US has a slavery challenge just as I believe every nation does. Sometimes US citizens are victims but many victims in destination countries whether it be the US, Japan or the Netherlands-- the victims are from abroad.

The US at the direction of the President has dramatically increased our prosecutions of traffickers in the past year. We have stepped up our efforts in shelters for victims, and we have also just initiated through our Department of Health and Human Services a media education campaign directed at warning victims.

President Bush wants us to do more to address sex-tourism, child sex-tourism which is leading many children into prostitution around the world. So the President has signed a law that makes it easier for us to prosecute American sex-tourists who go abroad to abuse children.

And we are working with other countries to cooperate with these prosecutions.

Lisa, from Ft. Worth, TX writes:
Do you use the media and information to combat human trafficking? Can you explain how. Thanks.

John R. Miller
The answer is "yes." We need to get the news media even more involved. Every time I meet with people from the news media I tell them that when you write about slavery you are increasing public awareness and helping to free the slaves.

During the past year, we have been involved in the publication of more than 50 articles and columns on this issue as well as on NBC Dateline which focused on slavery.

Vladimir, from Martinsville writes:
I remember when you served in Congress, Congressman Miller and I wonder if your experience in Congress led you to your current position? Howwhy did you get involved in this effort? Has your job been satisfying?

John R. Miller
Well, Vladimir, you are right. I was very involved in human rights issues although the slavery issue was not getting the attention it is getting now. But that did lead to my current position.

And this job has been satisfying probably more than any job I've ever had. When you meet with victims around the world as I have and you feel you have a chance to help them, the job is satisfying.

There are frustrations, but it is very meaningful. Just about every victim I meet with whether it be the Netherlands or Cambodia or India or Greece, they always ask what is the US doing and they always thank us for what we are doing and ask us to do more. Because they realize that on a human rights issue like this, the President and our Congress has a unique role to play.

Jessica writes:
How have the trends of trafficking humans changes over the past 100, 50, 20 years?

What are examples of countries that have resolved trafficking problems that now stand reputable in the global arena?

John R. Miller
It is very hard to measure trends to measure trends over the past 100 and 50 years. It is hard because victims don't stand in line and raise their hands.

It is hard because people were not paying attention to this even 20 years ago as much as they are paying to this issue today.

Today the US government believes between 800,000 and 900,000 people are trafficked across international borders a year. There are all kinds of slavery -- sex slavery which is most linked to organized crime, forced labor slavery, domestic, child soldier slavery and many other kinds.

All these forms of modern day slavery pose 3 dramatic challenges around the globe.

First, of course, there is the human rights challenge. This is the challenge to human dignity.

Second, there is the health challenge. When you talk about sex-slavery, you are talking about HIV AIDS and what it does to countries.

Third, there is the challenge to national security because of the link to organized crime. Trafficking in people is the 3rd biggest source of revenue after trafficking in drugs and arms.

Jessica, slavery exists in almost every country in the world. I don't believe any country has completely resolved problem. But many countries have undertaken significant efforts.

Kim, from Lansing , MI writes:
Is there anything the average American can do to help stop this epidemic? Also, are there any certain areas in the United States that the trafficking repeatedly occurs?

John R. Miller
That's a good question. There has been some trafficking in most major US cities. I'm from Seattle. And a little over a year ago, the Justice Dept indicted eight men in running a sex slavery operation. They had brought young Asian women and girls into the US with promises of restaurant jobs, they seized their passports, raped them and imprisoned them and ran them between Seattle, Portland and LA.

No city is immune. What can we do? Obviously, government should be active in prosecutions. We've seen a tremendous increase in this -- a tripling.

We have to do more in helping victims. We have to do more in searching out victims.

What can citizens do? Citizens can talk with their neighbors and in churches, synagogues, civic groups -- these groups are doing things. Faith based groups are helping victims around the world.

Talk to their local officials and federal officials -- because it focuses attention on the issue. Then local police become more aware. Maybe local charitable groups become more involved.

Sally, from Princeton, West Virginia writes:
John What countries have taken the best steps to combat human trafficking and which countries still have a lot of work to do?

John R. Miller
In our annual report, we try to list best practices to encourage nations to pursue along those courses.

Here are a few examples.

Sweden has passed a law in regards to sex slavery where they have decriminalized the conduct of the victim and criminalized the conduct of the trafficker, the pimp, the brothel owner and the customer/exploiter. This is a new effort that appears to be reducing the number of victims in Sweden. Many countries are watching closely.

Looking at Africa, the government of Benin got their taxi drivers together and educated them to look for signs of trafficking as they picked up passengers. They used local committees in the villages with chiefs to spread the word.

Nepal took victims of trafficking to their borders with India to help border patrols identify traffickers.

There are many interesting practices which have been started.

In last year's report, we identified 15 countries that have a lot of work to do -- including friends and allies. I'm delighted to say 3 months after the report, many countries did a lot of things.

Law enforcement training courses, massive arrests of traffickers, instituting new procedures for police. Some of these countries really stepped up.

Greece, Turkey, Georgia, Kazakhstan and several others. This battle goes on on a global scale.

Pam, from Georgia writes:
Have you ever met with one of these human traffickers?

What was it like? Do these people have no soul?

I just wonder how a person turns into such an animal.

John R. Miller
This is a good question. While I have met with many victims, I have not met with a trafficker. Although I have read accounts of their testimony.

I think many of these traffickers are motivated by greed. That is the primary motivation. This is such a huge source of revenue to organized crime.

As to whether they have no soul, that's a good question.

I think of Sasha who I met with in Amsterdam. She, 10 years earlier, lived in the Czech Republic, and she had a 2 year old daughter. A friend who had no soul, suggested going to the Netherlands and would introduce her to someone who could help her make money in restaurants.

A trafficker took Sasha and several other young women. They met a Dutch trafficker, the two took the young women to a brothel. Sasha said, "I won't do this."

The trafficker said, "This is what you are going to do. We own you now. You owe us thousands of dollars for getting you here."

She said "I will not do this."

The trafficker said, "If you want your daughter to live, you will."

And she did. For several years. Sasha is one of the lucky ones. She got out.

The victims I've talked to have gotten out.

When you meet with these victims -- you ask yourself, do these traffickers have any soul?

Chris, from Missouri writes:
Where does the most trafficking come from?

John R. Miller
Well, Chris, there is no answer to that question and I'll tell you why.

It comes from all over and in takes place all over.

Which continent? We may get some new figures in the next month which will answer that question. Right now, it is too difficult.

If you count internal slavery and trafficking across borders. Maybe there is more trafficking in Asia -- because they have more people. It goes on in every continent of the world.

Tomas, from New Mexico writes:
Are there actually governments out there that look the other way? That almost condone this activity?

John R. Miller
Well, I think the answer to that is at least partly yes. No government officially supports slavery. However, slavery in many places goes on because government in the person of local law enforcement may be looking the other way.

After all, you take something like sex slavery -- the people that run the brothels -- they have to reach out to the public, so in many countries that I've seen there is a challenge in getting law enforcement to be more vigilant.

Corruption is a problem and we've identified that in many countries in our report.

Our report is coming out in the beginning of June, so we are preparing it now. This report will evaluate most countries in the world and the Justice Department put a report out on the US.

Both will be available on the Internet. The State Department web site has both reports.

Jeremy, from South Korea writes:
American soldiers frequent prostitution establishments in foreign countries. What role are these soldiers playing in human trafficking? How do you deal with this issue in a time when American soldiers are so highly praised by the public?

John R. Miller
It is a regrettable fact that soldiers, not only from the US, but all countries -- peacekeeping forces, international forces and international aid workers have over the past 20 or 30 years, certainly been involved in prostitution establishments and by doing so have contributed to trafficking of persons.

They may not know it, they may not know they are interacting with a victim -- against their will. How do we deal with it? The answer is, the Department of Defense through Deputy Sec Wolfowitz just issued an order calling for zero tolerance in trafficking of persons.

The military is making it clear to our personnel around the world that this is a serious issue. In Korea, the US military is now working with the Korean government, establishments have been declared off limits, and there has been the disciplining of personnel. We have a responsibility here and I believe we will exercise this responsibility.

Matthew, from Southern California writes:
From my point of view there really is nothing the Department of State can do to combat trafficking in persons. You can only place pressure on foreign governments to treat their citizens better.

John R. Miller
Well, that is what the State Dept does. We interact with foreign governments to get them to treat their citizens better, to take vigorous prosecution actions, -- whether it be law enforcement, protection in victims or education in warning of the dangers.

And the Congress and the President has asked the State Dept and my office to go around the world engaging with governments, use the report as a tool. They've even asked in really bad cases, we consider reducing or cutting off US aid.

And the Congress and President have also appropriated millions of dollars to help on programs in the US and abroad toward programs in prosecution in traffickers, or educating the public.

John Miller
Thank you for your questions. People are getting involved in non-profit groups, faith-based groups and community groups to do more. This is exciting progress. Many thanks again for your questions. Hope to do this again soon.