Slavery and human trafficking are activities many people would prefer to believe took place a long time ago. However, despite the Constitution's Thirteenth Amendment, which, amongst other things, made slavery illegal, people are still held against their will and forced into labor.
Modern human trafficking takes many forms and often involves sex work and other forms of physical labor. Vulnerable populations, such as minors, Native Americans, Native Alaskans, and undocumented immigrants are disproportionally impacted by human trafficking.
Forced Labor and Human Trafficking
Federal statute defines forced labor, as known as human trafficking, as labor obtained from a person by means of coercion, harm, threats of harm, or harm/threat of harm to someone else. Importantly, a person who previously agreed to a job can still fall victim to human trafficking if the trafficker begins to obtain the worker's labor by any of the previously mentioned strategies. Some common forms of human trafficking include:
- Sex trafficking, both of adults and children
- Domestic servitude
- Forced labor on farms or in hotels
- Debt bondage
Human Trafficking and Slavery Laws
The prohibitions on slavery and human trafficking found in Chapter 77 of the U.S. Code are not the only federal laws relating to slavery and human trafficking, but they address slavery, involuntary servitude, forced labor, labor trafficking, and sex trafficking.
In addition to the criminal prohibitions found there, Congress also established the first-ever comprehensive legislation relating to trafficking victims and their protection in the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) of 2000, which has led to human trafficking prosecutions in various labor environments like the tourism, hospitality, and domestic labor industries.
While the U.S. code section cited above makes human trafficking and related activities crimes, Chapter 78 provides for government agencies, funding, and procedures intended to prevent trafficking. It is important to note that this area of law continues to expand and develop. For example, the Congress added civil damages for victims to the TVPA in 2003, and then expanded extraterritorial jurisdiction in 2008. The TVPA was amended and reauthorized as recently as 2019.
Additional legislation includes the Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act of 2014, which was aimed at reducing sex trafficking among youth in the foster care system, and the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act of 2015, which strengthens services available for victims of human trafficking and establishes both criminal liability for buyers of commercial sex from victims of trafficking and a survivor-led U.S. Advisory Council on Human Trafficking.
Associated Criminal Acts
In addition to outlawing human trafficking and slavery, the federal law also prohibits and punishes a number of acts associated with human trafficking. These include:
- Holding a person in a state of compulsory service or involuntary servitude (known as "peonage")
- Obstructing or interfering with the enforcement of anti-trafficking law
- Luring or enticing a person to go onboard a vessel or any other place with the intention that they be made or held as a slave
- Kidnapping or carrying away a person with the intent to hold or sell them into slavery
- Transporting a person with the knowledge or intent that the person be held or sold as a slave
- Selling a person into involuntary servitude
- Destruction, concealment, removal, or confiscation of a person's passport or other documents with the intent to traffic them or for the purpose of restricting or preventing their travel
- Profiting from peonage, slavery, or trafficking in persons
- Knowingly benefiting from a venture that made use of forced labor
The details of the offense determine the punishment those convicted of these offenses may face.
Human Trafficking and Slavery: Penalties
The penalties for human trafficking are understandably severe. A conviction for holding a person in peonage carries potential fines and a maximum prison term of 20 years in a federal prison. If a death results from a violation or the violation included kidnapping, sexual abuse, or other aggravating factors, the maximum punishment increases to life imprisonment.
Sex trafficking of children, by fraud, force, or coercion carry enhanced penalties. Prison sentences for these offenses carry a potential life sentence and a minimum of 10 years in prison (or more, depending on the details of the offense).
The law also prohibits and punishes attempts and conspiracies relating to human trafficking. It also orders the forfeiture of any property used in violation of the law as well as any proceeds from the act. The law includes clauses for the mandatory payment of restitution to the victim for the full amount of their losses, as determined by the court. Additionally, victims of human trafficking can legally sue for damages, as per the TVPA.
Get Legal Help With Human Trafficking or Slavery Charges
Human trafficking charges are punished very severely and can include prison terms, fines, and restitution. A sophisticated legal defense can help you defend against these or other criminal charges. Contact an experienced, local criminal defense attorney today to learn how they can help plan your defense.