As an undergraduate at Baylor, Victor Boutros ’98 had his eyes opened to the idea of something larger than self.
“I began to dream more seriously about how my skills could be used to serve others,” Baylor’s 2015 Young Alumnus of the Year said. “That was a huge launching pad.”
That orientation was in place a couple of years after graduation when, while in graduate school at Oxford University, Boutros heard the story about a 12-year-old girl from India who, after working for a summer to earn money for her family, was kidnapped and forced into prostitution.
“It’s horrific and, over time, I learned that her story is replicated on a large scale around the globe, that there are 25 million people who are experiencing some form of modern slavery,” Boutros said.
The girl’s story eventually transformed the life of Boutros, who recalled even as a child in Texas, being captivated by how he would have responded had he been alive during the fight against slavery in the United States.
He left Oxford, took a law degree from the University of Chicago, worked as a federal prosecutor and, in 2016, founded the Human Trafficking Institute outside of Washington, D.C. He is the chief executive officer of the organization, which also works in Belize and Uganda. It exists “to decimate modern slavery at its source by empowering police and prosecutors to stop traffickers.”
“This is where my set of skills and gifts and interests come together with this incredible need and I don’t want to miss it,” Boutros said. “I feel like this is a disaster that’s happening on our watch and we can be a part of ushering it into the dustbin of history.”
According to the latest estimate by the Geneva, Switzerland-based International Labour Organization, an arm of the United Nations, in 2016 there were 25 million victims of forced labor in the world. That is, they were “forced to work under threat or coercion as domestic workers, on construction sites, in clandestine factories, on farms and fishing boats, in other sectors, and in the sex industry.”
“It is a hidden crime, it’s very hard to see,” Boutros said. “The trafficker takes efforts to keep it from you and, in a tragic irony, the victims also often don’t want you to know about it because they feel so embarrassed and ashamed by the abuse they suffered. And so for that reason, it does require proactive investigations — you’ve got to go out and find it. You see this very predictable pattern, which is the business of trafficking just explodes wherever the laws are not enforced.”
According to the institute, trafficking is the fastest-growing criminal enterprise in the world, with traffickers earning more annual profits than Apple, JP Morgan, Samsung, Wells Fargo, and Microsoft combined. And in developing countries, “traffickers are more likely to be struck by lightning than go to jail for openly owning a slave.”
The Human Trafficking Institute trains law enforcement professionals in what Boutros said is the very specialized work of investigating and prosecuting human traffickers, including finding the traffickers, how to develop search warrants and how to work with victims, whose testimony is crucial.
The institute says it developed a model that was used by six U.S. Department of Justice prosecution districts and within two years, those districts increased the number of human traffickers charged by 114% while the remaining 88 districts only saw a 12% increase. The institute also hires former FBI agents to go overseas and work with law enforcement to improve their investigations.
One recent success story: Criminal charges filed in 2019 against Bernhard Bery Glaser, a German national accused of sexually abusing and trafficking girls in Uganda who had several years earlier evaded prosecution. He allegedly lured girls to his home under the guise of providing assistance to victims of sexual abuse and trafficking.
USA Today reported in July 2019 that there are more than 4 million victims of sex trafficking globally and that one in seven reported runaways in the U.S. in 2018 is likely a victim of child sex trafficking.
Milwaukee journalist Tom Kertscher was a 35-year newspaper reporter, finishing that career at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Now a freelance writer, his work includes fact-checking for PolitiFact and sports reporting for Associated Press. His reporting on Steven Avery was featured in Making a Murderer. Kertscher is the author of sports books on Brett Favre and Al McGuire. Follow him at TomKertscher.com and on Twitter: @KertscherNews and @KertscherSports.
More on Victor Boutros
Book: Co-author of The Locust Effect: Why the End of Poverty Requires the End of Violence
Video: Interviewed on the Eric Metaxas show