What Is Human Trafficking Under Federal Law?

Stopping and penalizing human trafficking has become a top priority of the federal government. Every state has criminal laws prohibiting human trafficking and imposing severe penalties, including Florida, FS 787.06. Federal law enforcement focuses its efforts primarily on human trafficking activities that involve international or interstate human trafficking operations.  


Human trafficking involves the transportation of human beings across international or state borders for the purpose of sexual exploitation or coerced labor.  


Penalties for violating the federal anti-human-trafficking laws can be up to 20 years in federal prison for some offenses and in some cases up to life in prison. When the victims are minors, the penalty is enhanced to reflect the general societal view that the offense is egregious.  



Who Can Be Prosecuted for Human Trafficking Under Federal Law? 


There is no single profile of a human trafficking defendant. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, convictions for violating the federal anti-human-trafficking law have been won against foreign nationals, U.S. citizens, family members, partners, acquaintances, and strangers. Some defendants acted alone, while others were part of an organized criminal enterprise. Traffickers can be male or female, pimps, gang members, diplomats, or farm or factory owners.  


Federal Statutes Criminalizing Human Trafficking  


In 1910, Congress enacted the Mann Act, the first legislation to punish the interstate transportation of a person for the purpose of coercing them into prostitution. Over time, the statute was used to impose criminal sanctions on people whom the government concluded were adult couples traveling across state lines for immoral purposes, including adultery or premarital sex. The statute remains in force today with amendments eliminating earlier racially discriminatory applications. 


Today, federal prosecutors rely on the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) of 2000 as the primary vehicle for criminal prosecution and convictions. Congress reauthorized the statute many times, each time adding provisions either clarifying or expanding the law’s protective reach and effectiveness. 


What Is Human Trafficking? 


As defined in federal law, human trafficking includes both sex trafficking and labor trafficking. 


Sex Trafficking is defined as “the recruitment harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for a commercial sex act in which ‘the commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such an act” is younger than 18 years old.  


Typically, sex trafficking victims are recruited to enter the U.S. with the promise of a job, only to find out that they are trapped into performing prostitution to repay the alleged debt incurred by the people who trafficked them into the country. They are often detained by physical confinement or controlled by threats of violence against themselves or their families. 


Labor Trafficking is covered by 22 U.S.C. 7102 and 18 U.S.C. 1590. It is defined as “the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery.” 


The forms of labor trafficking are distinguished from one another in the law to ensure that the statute covers every category of the illegal labor market. 


Peonage is the practice of forcing someone into servitude to pay off debt as an indentured servant. Another form of human trafficking involves selling another person into involuntary servitude. The sale of the person to someone who holds them in a state of compulsory labor by threatening them or their loved ones with harm if the worker resists or refuses to comply. 


Under 18 U.S.C. 1583, enticing a person into slavery is kidnapping or holding someone as an enslaved person or otherwise enticing them into a condition where they will be enslaved, such as with promises of a job, living quarters, or other rewards, only to be forced into slavery. 


Finally, forced labor is criminalized under 18 U.S.C. 1589, which penalizes making someone work under threat of harm, physical restraint, or legal retribution. 


Federal Criminal Penalties for Human Trafficking  


Sex Trafficking of Children or by Force, Fraud, or Coercion: 


Up to 20 years in federal prison, plus fines. If the defendant uses the mail or any form of electronic communication to knowingly entice, induce, coerce, or persuade a minor under 18 to engage in prostitution or any other criminal sex act, a conviction is punishable by imprisonment ranging from 10 years to a life sentence and a fine. 


Transporting a minor in interstate or foreign commerce for prostitution or other criminal sexual activity: 


Up to 10 years in federal prison and a fine. 


Engaging in “illicit sexual conduct” while traveling in interstate commerce or entering the U.S.: 


Up to 30 years in federal prison plus fines. 


Peonage, Slavery, Involuntary Servitude, or Forced Labor: 


Up to 20 years in federal prison and a fine. If the victim’s death results, or if the crime includes kidnapping, attempted kidnapping, aggravated sexual abuse or attempted sexual abuse, or an attempt to kill, then the penalty may be any number of years up to life in prison. 


Defending Federal Human Trafficking Charges 


Federal human trafficking charges are extremely serious and can quickly threaten to result in a defendant’s incarceration in federal prison for decades. Only the most experienced federal criminal defense lawyers are competent to represent a person charged with offenses carrying such long penalties. 


In Tampa and St. Petersburgh, and throughout Hillsborough County and Pinellas County, the lawyers at Stechschulte Nell, Attorneys at Law, are ready to defend human trafficking charges forcefully and effectively. Contact Tampa’s Stechschulte Nell Law for a case review today at 813-280-1244.  


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