Last month, with much fanfare, Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. announced what he called a “major initiative to curb human trafficking” in the USVI. There is no question that human trafficking is an atrocity which should be addressed head-on and not only “curbed” but rooted out at its base and expunged from the territory.
After doing a bit of research, it surprised me to find that the Virgin Islands already has a comprehensive law entitled “Prevention of and Remedies for Human Trafficking,” which can be found at Title 14 Section 3A of the Virgin Islands Code. This law was enacted in July 2018 during the final months of the Mapp administration.
So, for his entire time in office, Gov. Bryan has had at his disposal an arsenal of legal weaponry to counter human trafficking. And with the brutal historical legacy of the trafficking of enslaved African people through the Middle Passage, one would think that the Virgin Islands of the United States would have long ago obliterated human trafficking from our shores.
With the necessary laws already in our code, how has the USVI performed over the past five years in the prosecution of human trafficking cases?
The “Human Trafficking Institute” publishes annual reports on the performance of all states and territories in bringing new cases and securing convictions against human traffickers. Here are some highlights of their reports on the Virgin Islands:
- The 2018 report of the Institute states that “The Virgin Islands has 0 criminal human trafficking cases active in 2018, ranking it last in the nation with 4 other states and territories.”
- The 2019 report states that “Courts in the Virgin Islands convicted 0 defendants in human trafficking cases in 2019, ranking it last in the nation for number of defendants convicted.”
- And the 2021 report states that “In the Virgin Islands, zero new criminal human trafficking cases were filed in federal courts in 2021. Federal courts in the Virgin Islands last ordered a convicted human trafficking defendant to pay restitution in 2017.”
These facts and figures raise some serious questions. If there is no human trafficking taking place in the USVI (an unlikely premise) why is the governor making such a public issue of it today? And if there is trafficking of vulnerable people taking place, why has the GVI done little or nothing about it in the five years since the local statute was enacted?
This does not appear to be a matter of lack of laws — it is clearly a matter of the lack of enforcement of laws already in place.
Now, we all know that the USVI has been under an intense spotlight of sex trafficking news stemming from the Jeffrey Epstein crimes and the allegations of complicity by various people in positions of political power in the territory. With the comprehensive legislation already at his disposal and the history of worst-in-the-nation enforcement, one would think that the first and most significant step to be taken by the governor would be to request that the Virgin Islands Department of Justice (which reports directly to the governor) appoint an independent prosecutor to investigate all allegations of complicity in human trafficking directed at current and past political power brokers in the USVI.
That would be ACTION, not WORDS. That would directly respond to the tarnish which the entire Epstein affair has cast on our reputation. That might, of course, implicate some close associates of the current political elite, but wouldn’t those people whose names have been mentioned want to fully exonerate themselves? A special prosecutor not only brings charges against those who may have committed crimes, the special prosecutor can also clear the names of those who are innocent.
This week documents were published in the USVI v. JP Morgan case which include statements made by ex-Attorney General Denise George in her deposition in that case. Attorney George describes how she was asked by Gov. Bryan to consider a waiver of travel restrictions for Jeffrey Epstein. She states that she refused to consider this because there was no justifiable reason and she resisted the political pressure coming from the Office of the Governor. When asked by the attorney for JPMorgan if her refusal might have been one of the factors in her eventual firing, the attorney for the USVI objected to the question and instructed George not to answer.
If we don’t meticulously clean our own house first, how can speeches and pronouncements be seen as credible? Are the governor’s words simply public speech attempting to take the moral high ground in current litigation?
I commend every step taken to root out human trafficking of vulnerable people, to prosecute to the full extent of the law, and spare no measures to ensure that the Virgin Islands of the United States shall never again be a safe haven for notorious sex trafficking. But this will take actions, which are infinitely more powerful than mere words.
— David Silverman, Coral Bay, St John
14 V.I.C. § 131, “Virgin Islands Uniform Prevention of and Remedies for Human Trafficking Act”, Enacted July 9, 2018, Act No. 8059
The Human Trafficking Institute, https://traffickinginstitute.org/state-reports/vi/
Attorney Denise George, Deposition Extracts, https://tinyurl.com/DG-deposition