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Last Updated on: 17th October 2023, 02:54 pm
Human trafficking is a terrible crime that involves exploiting people for labor, services, or commercial sex. As a federal human trafficking lawyer, I have seen first-hand the trauma and devastation this causes victims. That’s why I am so passionate about helping survivors and stopping traffickers.
In this article, I want to explain the key federal laws against human trafficking, how cases are investigated and prosecuted, and what defenses attorneys can use. My goal is to help other lawyers, law enforcement, advocates, survivors, and concerned citizens understand how we can work together to combat trafficking and support victims.
Human trafficking involves using force, fraud or coercion to compel someone to provide labor, services or commercial sex. Traffickers prey on vulnerable people and maintain control through psychological manipulation, threats of deportation, document confiscation, isolation from friends/family, physical and sexual violence. Victims can be anyone – U.S. citizens, documented immigrants, or undocumented immigrants. Traffickers exploit men, women and children in many industries like agriculture, construction, restaurants, massage parlors, hotels, domestic service, and more.
There are two main types of trafficking defined in federal law:
Trafficking does not require smuggling or transporting victims across borders, though that frequently occurs. Traffickers often use psychological coercion and manipulation to control victims, rather than overt physical force. These crimes undermine human rights and fuel organized crime.
Over the past two decades, the U.S. has passed several laws to combat trafficking and assist victims:
These laws equip prosecutors with tools to hold traffickers accountable and protect victims. They allow federal agencies to investigate trafficking nationwide. Cases can be complex and require experienced attorneys.
Federal agencies take the lead investigating most trafficking cases. Key agencies include:
These agencies have specialists trained in trafficking investigations. They work closely with federal prosecutors from the Department of Justice Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit and local U.S. Attorney’s Offices.
Many agencies participate in Human Trafficking Task Forces funded by the Department of Justice. These task forces take a collaborative approach, combining federal, state and local law enforcement with victim service providers and community groups. They help streamline investigations, identify victims, provide services, and build strong cases.
Investigations often start with tips, for example:
Investigators use many techniques to uncover trafficking and build cases, such as:
Building strong trafficking cases takes time and expertise. Prosecutors must prove elements like force, fraud, coercion and lack of consent. Victims may be afraid to speak out due to trauma, loyalty to traffickers, or fear of deportation. Many cases hinge on victim testimony, requiring patience and care to gain trust and cooperation.
Once investigators uncover trafficking, the case moves to federal prosecutors. Here are key steps in the prosecution process:
Federal prosecutors have many tools at their disposal in trafficking cases, including:
However, these cases also have many challenges, such as dependent victim-witnesses, trauma impacting testimony, and complex trials. Winning requires experience and dedication.
When representing clients accused of trafficking, defense attorneys have several strategies to contest the charges:
Skilled defense lawyers find weaknesses in the prosecution’s case and raise doubt about their ability to meet the burden of proof. However, trafficking cases can be uphill battles for the defense given the power imbalance between victims and traffickers.
Those convicted of federal trafficking crimes face severe sentences. Maximum penalties under key statutes include:
Sentences can be enhanced in certain circumstances, for example if a trafficking crime involves kidnapping, sexual abuse, attempted murder, or if it is part of an ongoing criminal enterprise. Fines up to $250,000 per count are also possible.
Those convicted often face forfeiture of assets connected to their crimes. They must also pay full restitution to compensate victims for their losses. Some are required to register as sex offenders.
As a trafficking attorney, my passion is supporting survivors and helping them rebuild their lives. Here are some of the ways we assist victims:
I also train law enforcement, community groups, businesses and others to spot trafficking and respond compassionately. We need everyone’s help fighting these terrible crimes.
Trafficking victims have endured so much, but they have incredible strength and resilience. It is an honor to support their healing and empowerment. With the right help, survivors can move forward and thrive.
While we have made progress, human trafficking remains a massive global problem. Millions are exploited through force, fraud and coercion each year. Too many cases go undetected and unpunished.
To end trafficking, we need a comprehensive approach focused on:
With determination and working together, we can make progress against these horrible crimes. Trafficking victims deserve justice. Let’s send the message that exploitation will not be tolerated, while extending compassion to those who have suffered.
This is the great work we must do – not only as lawyers – but as a society that believes in human rights, equality and justice for all.
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