In recognition of that fact, and to speak out for the victims, January has been declared National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month by the U.S. government. Human trafficking can take many forms, from forced servitude to sexual exploitation of children, and the FBI is fighting these crimes on every front (see bellow).
The Botsvynyuk brothers created many victims. Based on trial transcripts and other public records, from approximately 2000 to 2007, the Ukrainians recruited their young countrymen to work in the U.S. in their businesses cleaning large retail stores at night. They promised good jobs, usually with salaries of $500 per month. The victims were told that room and board would be provided as well as all travel expenses. They were also told that they could earn $10,000 after two or three years of working.
Many of those who signed up for these jobs were uneducated and desperate for work. "They believed it would be a much better deal than what they had in the Ukraine," said Special Agent Ned Conway, who has been investigating this case out of our Philadelphia Division for nearly a decade.
Instead of entering the U.S. legally, many of the victims were smuggled through Mexico and ended up working 10- to 12-hour days, seven days a week. They lived up to five people in one room, slept on dirty mattresses on the floor, and most were never compensated—on the contrary, they were told they had to work for the brothers until their debts, ranging from $10,000 to $50,000, were paid.
Worse, the Botsvynyuks used physical force and sexual assault to keep victims enslaved. They also threatened violence to victims' families still in the Ukraine.
"Some women were raped on their arrival in the U.S., and many of the men were beaten," Conway said. "There was an element of fear right from the start." Most of the victims didn't speak English and felt they had nowhere to turn. And they were afraid for their families back home.
Over time, though, some victims were detained at the border trying to gain entrance into the country, and other victims came forward. In 2010, all five brothers were indicted for human trafficking—specifically for conspiracy to violate the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act. Stepan and Omelyan Botsvynyuk were convicted in 2011, and in 2012, Stepan was sentenced to 20 years in prison. Omelyan received a life sentence.
Two other brothers, Mykhaylo and Yaroslav, fled to Canada. They were extradited in 2013, and their trial is set to begin this week in a Philadelphia federal court. The last brother, Dmytro Botsvynyuk, remains a fugitive in the Ukraine.
The damage caused by the Botsvynyuk brothers to perhaps 70 or more Ukrainian victims is staggering to contemplate. "The sexual assaults on the women were brutal," Conway said, "and some of the men were psychologically broken. What happened to these innocent victims is a real tragedy. For some, their lives were destroyed."
But there were a few bright spots to the story as well, Conway added. Some victims found the courage to testify against their abusers. And as victims of human trafficking, they also qualify for the right to apply for visas and stay in the U.S., which had been their dream all along.
"Without the brave cooperation of some of the victims," Conway said, "it would have been more difficult to shut down the Botsvynyuks' operation."
Efforts to Stop Human Trafficking
The FBI has a range of resources to counter human trafficking, from agents who investigate child sexual exploitation cases to specialists from our Office for Victim Assistance who help victims get their lives back on track.
Below are some of the Bureau's anti-human trafficking efforts and accomplishments in the last fiscal year:
- The Violent Crimes Against Children Section leads 71 Child Exploitation Task Forces across the country and partners with 400 local, state, and federal agencies in targeting those who victimize children through commercial sex trafficking. During fiscal year 2014, the FBI opened more than 500 child sex trafficking investigations and convicted more than 350 subjects for their roles in the commercial sexual exploitation of children.
- The FBI's Civil Rights Unit—together with special agents throughout the country—participates in more than 100 human trafficking task forces and working groups to address all forms of the crime. In the last fiscal year, more than 600 victims of human trafficking were identified by the FBI in nearly 400 separate cases.
- In fiscal year 2014, FBI victim specialists provided more than 31,000 direct services—including on-scene response, crisis intervention, accompanying victims to interviews, and providing referrals for counseling, medical, legal, and financial assistance—to more than 5,000 victims involved in 800 ongoing investigations.
- FBI subject matter experts—investigators, analysts, victim specialists, program managers, and child/adolescent forensic interviewers—delivered a range of training on human trafficking issues to our domestic and international partners. Training provided to the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service's newly formed Child Protection Unit, for example, helped officials there learn the fundamental components of forensic interviews and victim assistance for sexually exploited young people.
- In partnership with the Department of State and Department of Homeland Security, the FBI's Civil Rights Unit is involved in providing human trafficking training to various U.S. Embassies around the world. The initiative attempts to train embassy personnel to identify potential human trafficking victims before they enter the United States.