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Human Trafficking Awareness Day: How Can Lawyers Help?

By William Peacock, Esq. on January 10, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Tomorrow, January 11th, is National Human Trafficking Awareness Day. And part of awareness is understanding exactly what human trafficking is, and what you, as a lawyer, can do to help.

Much attention has been paid to the issue lately, both in terms of campaigns for increased criminal sanctions, and awareness campaigns by advocacy groups. But if you want to help combat the sex slavery, forced labor, indentured servitude, and other injustices of human trafficking, you must look beyond the bounds of the courtroom.

Stronger criminal sanctions are a start, but we can do more. Here is some information that can help.

What is Human Trafficking?

When you hear the term, you probably think of sex slavery or forced prostitution. The term is far more encompassing than that, however.

The United Nations defines human trafficking more broadly:

"[T]he recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs."

Human trafficking is not just sex slavery. It is forced labor in nail salons, massage parlors, and in cleaning services. It is holding humans hostage, and forcing them to work for free, by threatening to turn them in to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). And it is surprisingly common. California Attorney General Kamala Harris notes that it is a $32 billion-a-year industry, second only to drug trafficking in terms of profitable, popular, criminal enterprises.

How Lawyers Can Help

On a macro level, lawyers are already doing a lot to fight human trafficking. Lawyers and lawmakers nationwide have pushed for increased criminal penalties and worked to enforce these new laws.

And the ABA has engaged in a year-long effort to fight trafficking, which included the passage of model legislation to combat trafficking. They have also worked towards increasing awareness:

What Can You Do?

On the micro, everyday level, start by advising your business clients of the problem, by ensuring that you do not help others advance immoral and illegal conduct, and don't turn a blind eye, even if it means losing a client or two. Even if you work outside of the criminal court system, you can and should still play a part in combating trafficking.

As attorneys, we have a duty not to use our abilities to advance illegal activity. If you suspect that your small business clients may be using coerced labor, or if they are using suppliers or supply chains that utilize trafficked humans, make an effort to educate your client on the immorality and illegality of forced labor. And if you know that your clients are using forced labor, you may have an ethical duty to either drop the case, or turn your client in (in cases "reasonably certain to produce death or bodily harm.")

In short, pay attention and speak up. And if the client won't listen, don't play a passive part by ignoring the problem.

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