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Federal Human Trafficking Lawyers

By Spodek Law Group | February 12, 2023
(Last Updated On: October 17, 2023)

Last Updated on: 17th October 2023, 02:54 pm

Federal Human Trafficking Lawyers – Helping Victims and Stopping This Horrible Crime

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.

What is Human Trafficking?

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[1]:

  • Sex trafficking – inducing commercial sex acts by force, fraud or coercion, or with minors.
  • Forced labor – obtaining labor/services through force, fraud or coercion to subject victims to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage or slavery.

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.

Key Federal Anti-Trafficking Laws

Over the past two decades, the U.S. has passed several laws to combat trafficking and assist victims[1]:

  • Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) – Passed in 2000, this landmark law defined trafficking crimes, provided tools for prosecution, and established the T visa for immigrant victims.
  • TVPA Reauthorizations – Congress has reauthorized the TVPA several times, most recently in 2013, adding new protections and support for victims.
  • 18 U.S.C. §§ 1581-1597 – Criminal statutes defining forced labor, sex trafficking, document servitude, benefitting financially from trafficking, and more.
  • 22 U.S.C. § 7102 – Statute focused on sex trafficking of minors and trafficking by force, fraud or coercion.
  • 18 U.S.C. § 1591 – Primary federal sex trafficking statute carrying harsh penalties.
  • 18 U.S.C. § 1589 – Primary federal forced labor statute with severe penalties.

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.

How Trafficking Cases Are Investigated

Federal agencies take the lead investigating most trafficking cases. Key agencies include[5]:

  • FBI
  • ICE Homeland Security Investigations (HSI)
  • Department of Labor
  • Diplomatic Security Service

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[5].

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[5].

Investigations often start with tips, for example:

  • Victims or witnesses reporting abuse
  • Suspicious activity observed by the public or law enforcement
  • Online advertising indicating trafficking
  • Tips from service providers

Investigators use many techniques to uncover trafficking and build cases, such as[6]:

  • Victim interviews
  • Reviewing financial records
  • Obtaining search warrants for phones/computers
  • Undercover operations
  • Surveillance
  • Infiltrating trafficking networks with informants

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.

How Trafficking Cases Are Prosecuted

Once investigators uncover trafficking, the case moves to federal prosecutors. Here are key steps in the prosecution process:

  1. Prosecutors review evidence – They determine if there is sufficient evidence for criminal charges.
  2. Filing criminal charges – Prosecutors file a criminal complaint or seek an indictment from a grand jury.
  3. Arrest traffickers – Law enforcement arrests suspects once charges are filed.
  4. Detention hearing – Prosecutors argue for pre-trial detention of defendants who may flee or endanger victims/witnesses.
  5. Grand jury indictment – Evidence is presented to a grand jury, which may issue a formal indictment.
  6. Pretrial motions – Defense and prosecution file motions contesting evidence, witnesses, etc.
  7. Plea negotiations – Prosecutors may negotiate plea deals in some cases to avoid a lengthy trial.
  8. Trial – Trafficking trials often involve testimony from victims, investigators and expert witnesses.
  9. Sentencing – If convicted, prosecutors recommend sentences based on federal guidelines.

Federal prosecutors have many tools at their disposal in trafficking cases, including[1]:

  • Harsh penalties under TVPA statutes
  • Asset forfeiture to seize traffickers’ illicit proceeds
  • Witness protection programs
  • Special immigrant visas for victim-witnesses
  • Victim restitution

However, these cases also have many challenges, such as dependent victim-witnesses, trauma impacting testimony, and complex trials. Winning requires experience and dedication.

Common Defenses in Trafficking Cases

When representing clients accused of trafficking, defense attorneys have several strategies to contest the charges[2]:

  • Consent – Argue the alleged victim consented to the work voluntarily, not due to force, fraud or coercion.
  • Lack of knowledge – Defendant was unaware the victim was being trafficked.
  • Entrapment – Argue law enforcement induced the crime.
  • Factual innocence – Defendant did not commit the alleged acts.
  • Unreliable witnesses – Attack witness credibility due to bias, lack of memory, incentives to fabricate, etc.
  • Lack of evidence – No evidence proves the elements of trafficking beyond a reasonable doubt.
  • Unlawful searches – Seek to suppress evidence from unconstitutional searches.

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.

Sentencing and Penalties

Those convicted of federal trafficking crimes face severe sentences. Maximum penalties under key statutes include[1][3]:

  • Sex trafficking of children or by force, fraud or coercion – 15 years to life in prison
  • Forced labor – 20 years in prison
  • Unlawfully confiscating passports or immigration documents – 5 years in prison
  • Benefitting financially from trafficking – 10 years in prison
  • Conspiracy to engage in trafficking – Life in prison
  • Obstructing a trafficking investigation – 20 years in prison

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.

How Lawyers Defend and Support Victims

As a trafficking attorney, my passion is supporting survivors and helping them rebuild their lives. Here are some of the ways we assist victims:

  • Connect them to counseling, medical care, housing, job assistance and other services
  • Help them apply for immigration relief through Continued Presence or T visas
  • Represent them in civil suits against traffickers
  • Advocate for criminal record relief and vacatur of past convictions related to being trafficked
  • Educate them on their rights and options
  • Provide an empathetic ear and reassurance

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.

The Path Forward – How We Can End Trafficking

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[4]:

  • Prevention – Community education, corporate responsibility, monitoring recruitment practices.
  • Protection – Victim identification, trauma-informed services, immigration assistance.
  • Prosecution – Building strong cases, harsh penalties for traffickers, asset forfeiture.
  • Partnerships – Collaboration between law enforcement, government, NGOs, businesses, communities and survivors.

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.


[1] Department of Justice – Human Trafficking [2] Federal Human Trafficking Defense Attorney

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