Every year, families are ripped apart as loved ones of all ages and genders are abducted and forced into human trafficking. This crime has become a global epidemic, which affects mainly children and women who are forced into sexual exploitation and slave labor.

Human Trafficking Explained

A modern-day slave trade, human trafficking involves illegal trading of people - men, women and children - for sexual exploitation, forced labor, and reproductive slavery.

Criminals kidnap and abduct people to be used as forced manual labor, slavery, involuntary servitude, sexual objects, or even for the removal of vital organs. Sometimes, people are coerced or deceived, instead of being abducted or kidnapped. Victims of human trafficking are often drugged using highly addictive substances, and when they are dependent on drugs, that is used as a tool to control them.

The global human trafficking industry is the fasted growing of all criminal industries, with the estimated profit from trafficking exceeding $31 billion. The United Nations estimated that, in 2008, approximately 2.5 million individuals became victims to human trafficking. These people were either lured, kidnapped or abducted from 127 countries, and trafficked or smuggled into 137 countries around the world. Brazil and Thailand are the countries with the worst records of child trafficking in the world.

However, human traffickers find it extremely easy to conceal human trafficking victims in plain sight in any areas with:

  • extensive immigrant communities
  • extensive international borders
  • vast coastlines and major harbors
  • large airports

Trafficked humans are treated as though they were property, often changing hands, and upon reaching their destination, they are controlled by the trafficker and may not leave. They are typically forced to perform work in the sex trade, or to do manual labor, and are usually subjected to inhumane conditions, in which many perish. They may be forced to live in confined spaces, or chained to prevent them from escaping. They may be denied the use of a bathroom, starved and physically abused.

According to estimates by the International Labor Organization, approximately 246 million children ranging between the ages of five and seventeen are exploited in trades ranging from illegal drugs to child prostitution, child pornography and debt bondage.

In some cases, children are commercially exploited for:

  • illicit international adoption rings
  • early marriage
  • slavery
  • and organ removal.

Human Trafficking: A Federal Crime

Human trafficking, along with sexual tourism, child pornography and prostitution may fall under federal jurisdictions, for which prosecuting attorneys and law enforcement sho no leniency. Federal law considers human trafficking a crime against humanity. Human trafficking was first criminalized in Washington in 2003, and it is now illegal across America. The Commerce Clause and the Thirteenth Amendment, which abolished involuntary servitude or slavery. As such, it is argued that under the Thirteenth Amendment, any anti trafficking statutes that carry an element of coercion, fraud or force should fall under Congress' powers.

A criminal who is convicted of human trafficking is bound to spend years behind bars, in addition to mandatory sex offender registration, lenghty probation periods, and extensive fines.

Human trafficking offenses are typically investigated by various state and multiple federal agencies, including:

  • S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)
  • United States Attorney's Office
  • Homeland Security Investigations
  • Department of Justice
  • Local Police Departments
  • and DARPA.

The Department of Justice's Project Safe Childhood is used to help combat sex crimes perpetrated against children with the aid of technology.

Federal Definitions of Human Trafficking

A variety of statutes outline the federal definitions of human trafficking, including:

18 UC 1589 - This statute prohibits forced labor.

This statute defines the receipt and provision of forced labor. Federal courts recognize victim of forced labor by acts of:

  • force, or threats of force
  • abuse or serious harm
  • threats of legal process or abuse of law (threats of deportation)

Someone who is found guilty of abusing this statute can face as much as twenty years of imprisonment.

If the victim is kidnapped, endures aggravated sexual abuse, or perishes as the result of forced labor, the penalty could be up to life imprisonment.

18 USC 1590 - This statute prohibits trafficking involving peonage (slavery) and forced labor.

Trafficking is considered any acts of:

  • obtaining
  • transporting
  • harboring
  • recruiting a person to use as forced labor.

As per the 18 UC 1589 statute, someone who is found guilty of abusing this statute can face as much as twenty years of imprisonment.

If the victim is kidnapped, endures aggravated sexual abuse, or perishes as the result of forced labor, the penalty could be up to life imprisonment.

18 USC 1591 - This statute prohibits child sex trafficking by coercion, fraud or force.

Under this statute, federal law views any sexual act "on account of which anything of value is given to or received by any person" as a commercial sex act. The statute prohibits commercial sex acts where trafficking includes:

  • soliciting
  • transporting
  • harboring
  • and enticing someone to engage in a sexual act as defined above.

Federal law views coercion, including the use of threats of arrest of an immigrant, threats of force and the use of force to pressure someone to engage in commercial sex acts as a federal felony. A person who engages in any of the above actions in order to cause a child under the age of fourteen years to engage in commercial sex acts, or those who facilitate such acts, may face a penalty ranging between fifteen years to life imprisonment.

If the victim of commercial sex acts is older than 14 but younger than eighteen, the penalty may be between ten years to life in prison.

Anyone under the age of eighteen who is compelled to perform commercial sex acts are therefore victims.

According to 18 USC 1590(b) and 1591(d), individuals who are found guilty of obstructing law enforcement which prevents sex trafficking, or trafficking in terms of forced labor may face twenty years of imprisonment.

United States Sentencing Guidelines dictate that sex trafficking offenders are assigned a 34 offense level to start, provided that the crime did not involve force. If a child is involved, an offense level will begin at level 14. The Guidelines are one element of a sentence, and therefore, the minimum sentence for a level 34 offense is 151 months, whereas the minimum sentence under a level 14 crime is fifteen months. Since the statutory minimum sentence for human trafficking is ten years, that will be the minimum possible imprisonment, regardless of the recommendations of the Guidelines.

Since forced labor offenses usually start as level 18 offenses, and it is twenty-seven months under level 14. The statutory minimum sentence is 10 years, so that is the shortest imprisonment regardless of Guideline recommendations.

Who Can Be Targeted for Human Trafficking Charges?

Human trafficking is a complex industry, with many potential players, including people who are unaware of the human trafficking element of their crime. Some of the potential targets of human trafficking can include:

  • Producers and distributors of child pornography
  • Companions or bogus sponsors of underage victims
  • Solicitors seeking the services victims are forced to provide
  • Marketers of the services victims are forced to provide
  • Anyone who is suspected of aiding and abetting participants
  • Those who arrange travel
  • Sponsors of funds
  • Any conspirators
  • Recruiters

Prosecuting Human Trafficking Cases

Most of the human trafficking prosecutions in the U.S. were processed at federal level, but it has created a double standard. State courts are more experienced in terms of prostitution prosecutions. As a result, sexual human trafficking cases are often mistakenly treated as prostitution cases. As a result, sex trafficking victims - both foreign nationals and domestic citizens - may be viewed as prostitutes under local state laws and trafficking victims under federal law.

Federal law handles most labor trafficking prosecutions, as state prosecutors prefer to defer cases to state prosecutors for the reason that labor cases usually include immigration concerns. Immigration offenses fall exclusively within federal jurisdiction.

Lack of experience is the biggest obstacle state prosecutors face. As such, they prefer to handle more familiar cases with existing laws, such as prostitution, kidnapping and rape.

Human Trafficking Defense

Human trafficking crimes are usually heinous in nature, and there is an obvious moral impetus. However, it should not be assumed that an accused person is necessarily guilty. Sadly, the same vulnerabilities that apply to any other crimes, also apply to human trafficking.

Sometimes, human trafficking is used as a tool for victims to apply for U-visas, that will allow noncitizens to stay in the US. However, it is typical for benefits to be abused. In this case, individuals may falsely claim to have fallen victim to human trafficking as a means to abuse the immigration system and remain in the United States. In some cases, individuals are already prostitutes in their home countries, and pay a smuggling fee to illegally enter the United States, to pursue their trade. Overzealous law enforcers and prosecutors may consider these prostitutes victims - who may qualify for visas thanks to their "victim" status -, while they are really committing immigration fraud.

An alleged victim's reliability and credibility can make or break a case. Since there is usually no scientific verification or physical evidence of prior acts of violence or accusations of threats, prosecution will be heavily reliant on the victim's word. Therefore, prosecutors must prove that the alleged trafficker was indeed aware of the crime and had the intent to enable it.

However, the human trafficking charge alone is enough to damage a person's reputation and life, even if the prosecutors are unable to make the charges stick. On the other hand, penalties for a conviction can be harsh.

Human Trafficking: Wrongful Convictions

While human trafficking is a terrible crime, it is important to understand that not all victims truly are victims. Likewise, not every person who is accused of human trafficking understands that it is a crime. A human trafficking defense attorney can help ward off unjust charges.

Many legitimate business unwittingly collaborate in human trafficking, including vehicle services. As such, human trafficking charges may hold legitimate businesses liable for their failure to investigate the way in which clients use their services.

As a marginal player, you may end up with equal charges, even if you were completely unaware of the crime.

Experienced counsel is imperative for anyone who is facing human trafficking accusations, or sex crime charges, particularly those that fall under federal jurisdiction. Find a lawyer who is experienced in investigating and trying both violent and sexually violent offenses, and who has significant trial experience. Don't wait until formal charges are filed.

Federal sex crime prosecutions usually involve serious federal offenses, or cases that have crossed state lines. Sex tourism has become more common in recent years, and it involves perpetrators traveling abroad to engage in sex acts that are legal in different countries, but unlawful in the US. An example of this might include someone traveling to a different country with (or to meet) a minor with whom they wish to engage in a sexual activity. The Federal Protection Act views sex tourism as a serious offense, and the court may impose a mandatory ten years of imprisonment for such a sex crime.

If you are being investigated for, or charged with, federal sexual offenses, we urge you to hire a sex crimes attorney right away. An experienced sex crimes attorney understands how such as unjust human trafficking charges can impact on your relationships with work associates, friends and family. The notoriety from a human trafficking charge can cling to you for the rest of your life, and long after the charges have been dropped, or after you have been acquitted.

We will work aggressively to challenge false statements and wrongful arrest procedures, and we will work aggressively to analyze the evidence presented against you, and to review the details of your case. You can trust us to provide you with a reliable defense strategy.

When it comes to human trafficking, we understand that your freedom and liberty are on the line. We know that it is more than just another case, and that's why we take our responsibility as your defense attorney extremely seriously. You can rely on our unwavering commitment to providing you with the most effective representation and the respect you deserve.

If you are facing unjust human trafficking charges, book an initial case review with one of our expert human trafficking and criminal defense attorneys by calling 888-666-8480 now.