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'Pursuing justice in human trafficking is not just about holding traffickers accountable.'

US DOJ - Billy J. WilliamsDarryl Lamar Gartley, a 23-year-old Portland man who admitted to sexually abusing and prostituting two 15-year-old girls, was sentenced to prison last month in federal court. His crimes are tragic for his victims and society as a whole.

Sadly, our state, like many others, is no stranger to human trafficking. Despite its global reach, human trafficking, including both sex and labor trafficking, is a local crime.

Trafficking poses a grave public safety threat that extends far beyond individual victims. It's frequently paired with drug trafficking, gang violence, money laundering and other crimes that put entire communities at risk.

As a state and federal prosecutor, I personally worked on many trafficking cases and know firsthand the heartbreak they cause.

Combating human trafficking has always been a top priority for law enforcement in Oregon and beyond, and while we've made a lot of progress, challenges remain.

One key challenge persists: the ability to observe and identify a trafficking victim's subtle warning signs. In a notable restaurant, at a popular downtown hotel, or in your social newsfeeds, critical warning signs may be hiding in plain sight.

According to the Department of Homeland Security's Blue Campaign, looking for key indicators of trafficking is the first step in helping victims.

Victims may appear disoriented or show signs of physical or mental abuse. They may act fearful, timid or unusually submissive. They may be overly deferential to someone who they are with. And that person also may appear to control the victim's movements or what they say.

A child victim might have unexplained absences from school or extracurricular activities. They might have bruises in various stages of healing. At worst, like adult victims, they might show signs of being denied food, water, sleep or medical care.

As with many types of crime, stereotypes and misconceptions about trafficking victimization inhibit our ability, as a community, to recognize and address these crimes.

A common misconception is that trafficking victims will seek help when in public or online. This is false.

Many victims live in intense fear of their trafficker. They often are forced or coerced against their will with threats of violence or the fear of retribution. Threats to harm a victim's loved ones are uniquely cruel and effective drivers of silence.

As traffickers increasingly rely on mobile devices and social media to contact and coerce victims, federal law enforcement must continue to rely on partners to further our investigations.

Our urgent need to intercept traffickers on technology platforms and lawfully collect evidence from their devices underscores the importance of Attorney General William Barr's recent push to establish methods of lawful access to encrypted data.

Barr said, "making our virtual world more secure should not come at the expense of making us more vulnerable in the real world." This is doubly true for vulnerable victims of human trafficking.

I recently traveled to Washington, D.C., to attend a Justice Department summit in honor of National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month.

Many experts, advocates and courageous survivors addressed the summit and a key theme emerged. Pursuing justice in human trafficking is not just about holding traffickers accountable. It's about supporting survivors and helping them rebuild their lives.

While many of us may never meet or know a survivor of human trafficking, we cannot be blind to their needs as they suffer in the shadows. Please consider contributing your time or resources to one of the many organizations in our community working to support survivors.

To report suspected human trafficking to federal law enforcement, please call 866-347-2423.

Billy J. Williams is the U.S. Attorney for the District of Oregon.

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