Ambassador Mark P. Lagon
Remarks at swearing-in ceremony
July 9, 2007
Benjamin Franklin Room, U.S. State Department

Thank you, Madam Secretary. Your confidence in me is quite an honor.

It is a joy to be with all of you today.

People I love. People I respect.

Leaders in the movement to end modern-day slavery who are the eyes and
ears, feet and hands of an indomitable force.

Colleagues, from offices past, who helped me look good.

And people I’ve already come to depend on in the Office to Monitor and
Combat Trafficking in Persons.

I have my big-hearted and bold wife, Susan, to thank for so many things. I
wouldn’t be a practicing, confirmed Christian if not for her.

Susan cautions against focusing too much on ideological abstractions, and
has long reminded me that living a good life requires doing real, tangible
good for particular people. Few jobs embody this wise counsel as much as
the effort to help rescue women, men, and children from veritable
enslavement.

Elena, my multi-talented 14 year old daughter, is very morally inclined and
religious, like her mother. I’m very happy to be working on an issue that
has captivated her and Susan. That they approve so heartily will help them
put up with my hours away from them at the office or abroad. Thank you.

It is a great blessing to be allowed the chance to benefit the lives of the
most degraded, most exploited, most dehumanized people in the world.

Although I’ve been on the job less than six weeks, my life has already been
deeply changed.

Last week in Southeast Asia, I met Aye Aye Win, a young Burmese woman who
dared to search for work beyond her own tortured country. A recruiter
painted a beautiful picture of work in a neighboring country. Aye Aye
assumed substantial debt to cover up-front costs required by the
recruiter.

Together with some 800 Burmese migrants, including many children, Aye Aye
was “placed” in a shrimp farming and processing factory. But it wasn’t a
job. It was a prison camp.

The isolated 10-acre factory was surrounded by steel walls, 15 feet tall,
with barbed wire fencing, located in the middle of a coconut plantation,
far from roads. Workers weren’t allowed to leave and were forbidden phone
contact with any one outside.

Aye Aye is a brave, daring soul. She tried to escape with three other
women. But factory guards caught them and dragged them back to the camp.
They were punished as an example to others, tied to poles in the middle of
the courtyard, and refused food or water. Aye Aye told me how her now
beautiful head of hair was shaved off to humiliate her. And how she was
beaten for trying to flee.

Beaten. Tortured. Starved. Humiliated. Is this not slavery??

Yet in meeting Aye Aye Win, I saw encouraging signs.

First, the shelter where I met her is a wonderful place. It is fully funded
by the Government of Thailand. Around the world, there are far more
shelters and programs to serve victims of human trafficking, many run by
faith-based organizations.

Second, Aye Aye was rescued in a raid led by Thai police. Raids such as
this one were unheard of just four or five years ago.

Around the world, as a function of U.S. leadership, there has been a real
paradigm shift in awareness about human trafficking. There is a growing
refusal to accept enslavement as an inevitable product of poverty.

It is never negotiable to treat people as less than human, as property.
Slave laborers in brick kilns in India or China are not disposable; they
are people.

Central American girls sexually consumed by predatory tourists are not
disposable; they are people.

South Asians abused as domestic servants in the Persian Gulf are not
disposable; they are people.

Child soldiers in Burma and Uganda are not disposable; they are people.

American citizens exploited in prostitution in Las Vegas are not
disposable; they are people.

What “happens” in these places does not “stay” in these places. It is a
stain on humanity. Every time a woman, a girl, a foreign migrant is
treated as less than human, the loss of dignity for one is a loss of
dignity for us all.

The lessons we have learned about the brutality of sex trafficking around
the world apply equally to the prostitution of women and girls in the U.S.
A 14 year old girl, arrested in a vice raid ten or twelve blocks from here,
is, by law, a victim of human trafficking, not a criminal.

I pledge to you, as chair of the inter-agency anti-trafficking group, I
will encourage domestic agencies and public-private partnerships to
influence American popular culture. It’s high time we treat pimps as
exploiters rather than hip urban rebels. When a pimp insists his name or
symbol be tattooed on his “girls,” he is branding them like
cattle­dehumanizing them, treating them like property.

And I pledge to fight labor trafficking with the same focus and diligence
as we confront sex trafficking. What’s most discouraging about the shrimp
factory from which Aye Aye Win was rescued, for example, is that it hasn’t
been shut down.

Typically, labor trafficking violations, around the world, are not fully
criminalized but are considered civil, regulatory offenses. That’s not
right.

The President and Secretary Rice have rightly elevated democracy and the
rule of law to be the centerpiece of U.S. foreign policy­to promote
pluralism, peace, and prosperity.

Fighting human trafficking is intimately connected to this agenda. On one
hand, in order to fight human trafficking we need democratic justice –
fully enforced. And we must replace corruption with rule of law so that
officials “on the take” all over the world stop enabling those exploiters.

Conversely, as my valued friend Michael Horowitz has driven home for me,
fighting human trafficking is essential to democracy promotion. By
confronting the fact that the vast majority of trafficking victims are
women and girls, and by ending this servitude, we strengthen democracy.

Democracy cannot flourish without the voice of half of humankind. Human
trafficking represents the antithesis of the women’s empowerment needed to
make democracy whole.

Human trafficking is in essence modern-day slavery. It shouldn’t be
regulated or merely mitigated; it must be abolished. The exploited should
be treated as victims to be helped, not as criminals or illegal aliens.
Exploiters must be stigmatized, prosecuted, and squeezed out of existence.

A movement of faith-based groups, feminists, government officials,
legislators, international agencies and brave advocates have closed ranks
to do so. Thank you for having faith in my ability to contribute to this
movement.

May God bless our efforts.

And, soon, for goodness sake, “Eat! Eat!”