The crime of human trafficking has gathered a lot of attention in recent years. In 2011, the Massachusetts Legislature created an interagency Human Trafficking Task Force to make policy changes on the issue of human trafficking. Not everyone charged with human trafficking is guilty of the crime. If you need to speak with a lawyer, call Dhar Law LLP in Boston today at 617-391-0592.
International Issue of Human Trafficking
The United Nations defines trafficking in persons as the "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 giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation."
Human trafficking is not just a problem in foreign countries, it occurs all over the United States, including Massachusetts. It can involve cross-border transportation of foreign nationals, or with U.S. citizens. The Department of State estimated up to 2 million people are trafficked across the globe each year, with approximately 15,000 to 18,000 in the U.S. People may be trafficked for all sorts of reasons, including forced labor and prostitution.
Federal Human Trafficking Crimes
There are a number of U.S. code provisions that address the issue of human trafficking. This includes prohibitions against peonage; involuntary servitude; forced labor; sex trafficking of children; and false documents to further trafficking.
Peonage is also known as debt servitude, or forcing a worker to pay off debt by doing more work. Under federal law, whoever holds or returns any person to a condition of peonage, or arrests any person with the intent of placing him in a condition of peonage shall be fined, and imprisoned for up to 20 years. If the violation includes kidnapping, attempted kidnapping, aggravated sexual abuse, or if death results, the defendant can be imprisoned for up to life in prison.
It is against the law to hold a person in a condition of slavery, or compulsory service or labor against their will. Where a victim is held against their will by actual force, threats of force, threats of legal coercion, or creating a climate of fear, the defendant faces up to 20 years in prison. If the violation includes kidnapping, aggravated sexual abuse, or death, imprisonment may be for up to a life term.
It is a crime to knowingly provide or obtain labor or services of a person by:
- by means of force, threats of force, physical restraint, or threats of physical restraint to that person or another person;
- by means of serious harm or threats of serious harm to that person or another person;
- by means of the abuse or threatened abuse of law or legal process; or
- by means of any scheme, plan, or pattern intended to cause the person to believe that, if that person did not perform such labor or services, that person or another person would suffer serious harm or physical restraint.
It is also a crime for someone to benefit financially from a venture which involves forced labor. Criminal penalties for forced labor include up to 20 years in prison, but can lead to a sentence of life in prison where the violation includes kidnapping, sexual abuse, or death.
Trafficking for Forced Labor, Servitude or Peonage
It is not only the people who force others into labor, service, slavery, or debt servitude who may be penalized under federal law. Anyone who recruits, harbors, transports, provides, or obtains by any means, any person for labor or services in violation of the above laws shall be imprisoned for up to 20 years. Additionally, anyone who obstructs or interferes with enforcement of this provision is subject to the same penalties.
It is a federal offense to recruit, entice, harbor, transport, provide, obtain, or maintain by any means a person to engage in commercial sex act through means of force, threats of force, fraud, or coercion. The law also penalizes anyone who benefits, financially or by receiving anything of value, from participation in such a venture.
Penalties for trafficking depend on the age of the individual(s) trafficked for sex. Where the person is under the age of 14, the prison sentence will be from 15 years to life behind bars. If the person is over 14 but under 18, the minimum sentence is 10 years, up to a maximum of life in prison. Anyone who obstructs or interferes with enforcement of this provision is subject to 20 years in prison.
Defenses to Human Trafficking
Not everyone charged with human trafficking is guilty of the crime. Human trafficking charges are very serious, and can result in life in prison. Human trafficking cases can be very complicated, and require an in-depth understanding of state and federal law, and investigative procedures. The specific defenses available will depend on the individual fact of the case. An experienced Boston-area defense lawyer with experience successfully defending charges of human trafficking, forced labor, and sex trafficking will be able to identify all your options, and evaluate your defense.
If you have questions and need to speak with an attorney, call Dhar Law LLP in Boston today at 617-391-0592.