Living Safer

America’s Invisible Crime: Human Trafficking

Many people would like to assume that slavery and human trafficking ended a century ago with a single constitutional amendment. However, human trafficking has always existed. Until recently, it has been largely invisible in the United States. Only in the last ten years or so have people started recognizing that human trafficking exists in the United States and that the abuses encompass forced labor, forced prostitution, and the commercial sexual exploitation of children. Over 100,000 children are forced into prostitution each year. This staggering number of children contributes to the more than $9.8 billion sex trafficking industry in the United States alone. Worldwide, an estimated 20.9 million adults and children are bought and sold and forced into sex slavery, or forced or bonded slavery. Women and young girls make up 96 percent of victims for human sex trafficking victims. Experts consider human trafficking to be one of the fastest-growing criminal industries in the world.

There are various forms of human trafficking. According to the United States Department of Justice, “human trafficking” is an everyday term to describe many forms of exploitation of human beings. More specifically, human trafficking is the illegal practice of recruiting, transporting, harboring, obtaining, and exploiting victims for the purpose of commercial sex, forced labor, or other services. For many these words often evoke images of smuggling victims across international borders. But the term has a different and highly specific meaning under the United States Criminal Code. Human trafficking crimes focus on the act of compelling or coercing a person’s labor, services, or commercial sex acts. The coercion can be subtle or overt, physical or psychological.

Just like their methods of coercion, the perpetrators themselves can be just as diverse and difficult to spot. Traffickers can appear to be every day, upstanding citizens. In many cases, traffickers will appear to be legitimate business owners who promise high-paying jobs or charming individuals who will show emotional attention and care to vulnerable victims. They will offer a loving relationship or new and exciting opportunities. Some traffickers may simply kidnap victims and use physical violence or illegal substances to control them. Alongside physical violence and psychological coercion, many traffickers will also deceive the victim into believing they are responsible for their own exploitation and will threaten to call the police and report them for any number of potential offenses. This reduces the likelihood that the victim will seek out assistance from law enforcement or a private attorney. Ultimately, there is not a particular type of trafficker as relatives, gangs, neighbors, friends, intimate partners, or criminals can all be offenders. We are currently seeing a huge paradigm shift; now we’re placing the blame squarely where it belongs—on the perpetrators.

Federal criminal law defines human trafficking and sets punishments for slavery accordingly. However, victims can also seek legal remedies through civil litigation. Particularly, victims of human sex trafficking may have a claim against the person or business profiting from the crime.

In 2003, Congress passed the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, which gives trafficking victims the right to sue their traffickers for damages. But in the past ten years, we have had just 117 cases brought in federal courts. It is unfortunate that so few trafficking victims know that they can bring charges against their traffickers and recover damages. Let us fight for your rights.

Because criminal cases can be difficult to prosecute, civil lawsuits are an important avenue for human sex trafficking survivors wanting help against those that hurt them. This can include:

· Handlers

· Hotels and Apartments (involved in conduct to allow illicit transactions to occur)

· Customers of Human Trafficking

· Websites (promotional advertising and marketing of human trafficking)

· Any Person or Group involved that may have profited from human sex trafficking

When a criminal case is not brought, then the victim’s only chance to receive justice is through a civil suit. Unfortunately, the anonymity that the internet and hotels or motels provide make it difficult to track down an offender. However, in many cases, civil remedies may be the only way to hold a trafficker accountable for the harm caused. If you, or a loved one, is a victim of human sex trafficking, you may have a claim against the person or people who committed the crime of human trafficking. In addition, you can hold the business profiting from the crime accountable. We can also assess your situation and give you legal advice about steps to take for your safety.

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