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Human Trafficking

In this, the second part of my blog series on Federal Sex Crimes, I will focus on human trafficking. The State Department describes this crime as: “It is a crime of exploitation; traffickers profit at the expense of their victims by compelling them to perform labor or to engage in commercial sex in every region of the United States and around the world.” Presently, an estimated 24.9 million victims worldwide are compelled to be sex slaves.

Human traffickers are known to prey on adults and children of all ages, backgrounds, and nationalities, exploiting them for their own profit. Human trafficking occurs when a trafficker uses force, fraud, or coercion to compel another person to work or engage in a commercial sex act, and does not require crossing a border. Although smuggling of migrants across a border may lead to human trafficking and sex crimes, my primary focus is on those occurring within the United States.

In this blog, I will examine the policy considerations of Federal law enforcement agents who are investigating these offenses. In addition, I will discuss a major difference in how human trafficking cases are investigated.

Victims are Vulnerable Members of Society. What makes human trafficking such a hot political issue is that it involves what society has historically viewed as the most vulnerable members of society: women and children. The State Department reports that eighty-three percent of all victims of human trafficking are women. Likewise, the average age of those being compelled to work as sex slaves is seventeen, with many thousands much younger. Id. These vulnerable victims combine with society’s intolerance for the mistreatment of women and children to produce zealous Federal investigators who are vigorously pushing the envelope of law enforcement proccedures.

Federal Policy. The increasing political climate against human trafficking can be traced to a number of Federal statutes passed by Congress. For example, under 18 U.S.C. § 1589, a person is guilty of a twenty-year felony if he knowingly provides or obtains the labor or services of a person by any one of or by any combination of, the following:

  1. by means of force, threats of force, physical restraint, or threats of physical restraint to that person or another person;
  2. by means of serious harm or threats of serious harm to that person or another person;
  3. by means of the abuse or threatened abuse of law or legal process; or
  4. 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, shall be punished as provided under subsection (d).

Each of the enumerated prohibitions in § 1589 reflects a common and different aspect of coercion used by traffickers to keep victims as commercial sex slaves. A bit later, the statute makes it a crime for any person to benefit financially from the trafficking. 28 U.S.C. § 1589(b).

In 2000, Congress passed the Trafficking Victims Protection Act. 22 U.S.C. § 7101 et seq. The TVPA has a stated purpose “…to combat trafficking in persons, a contemporary manifestation of slavery whose victims are predominantly women and children, to ensure just and effective punishment of traffickers, and to protect their victims.” 22 U.S.C. § 7101(a). The teeth of the TVPA comes from many provisions authorizing inter-agency task forces and expansion of broad powers to the President to stop all forms of human trafficking.

The result of these and other laws is a comprehensive Federal response to end human trafficking. American policy has developed into the “3P” paradigm: prosecution, protection, and prevention. The 3P paradigm has become the fundamental framework used around the world to combat human trafficking, including work by the FBI in the United States.

The FBI relies on the 3Ps to investigate human trafficking and commercial sex crimes. The FBI operates Child Exploitation and Human Trafficking Task Forces. The ultimate goal of these task forces is to recover victims and investigate traffickers at the state and federal level. Central to FBI Task Forces is the “Anti-Trafficking Coordination Team.” The ATCT leads FBI enforcement efforts through specialized training of human trafficking experts, leads and intelligence. Id. The ATCT provides action plans for how to conduct investigations and then helps carry them out. Presently, twelve FBI field offices participate in the ATCT, which include Atlanta, Boston, Cleveland, El Paso, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Memphis, Miami, Minneapolis, Newark, Portland, and Sacramento. Id.

Another example of the FBI’s work in the area of human trafficking is found in the “Enhanced Collaborative Model Human Trafficking Program.” The ECMHTP is a multi-agency task force initiative funded through the Department of Justice. The ECMHTP is a task force that works in a collaborative approach with other agencies to ferret out human trafficking. The ECMHTP includes agencies from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, local prosecutor’s office, federal law enforcement, state/local law enforcement, and a community service provider, with the goal of proactively identifying victims of human trafficking. Id.

The take-away from the breadth of these FBI initiatives is the high level of Federal commitment to stopping human trafficking.

How Investigations Work. The various task forces overseen by the FBI seek information on human trafficking from many different sources. The following is a non-exhaustive list of the ways the FBI obtains human trafficking information:

  • Tips from the public
  • Calls to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline
  • A referral from a law enforcement agency
  • A referral from a non-government organization
  • Proactive victim recovery operations
  • Outreach to state governments and community entities

Although technology and undercover operations make-up an integral component to other sex crime investigations, human trafficking relies far less on technology. This noticeable difference requires investigators and prosecutors to rely more on witness testimony and less on actual physical or electronic evidence. While investigators may find some physical evidence, generally it is a witness’s testimony that will lead to an indictment.

For example, consider an anonymous tip to local law enforcement that a group of young women are being held against their will and are forced to work as sex slaves. Law enforcement passes the tip on to the FBI who works to end the on-going criminal activity with eyes on freeing those being abused. The FBI’s primary goal is to free the victim, which drives the investigation. This is an important factor because it changes the focus of investigators and how they are completed. Uncovering evidence needed to secure a conviction takes a backseat to locating and freeing the victim.

Do not confuse the FBI’s focus on freeing victims from abuse to mean they are not concerned with making arrests. The FBI has freed thousands of victims over the last decade, which has included a nearly equal number of successful prosecutions. Id. However, the FBI’s motivation and haste to free victims can lead to mistakes in the investigation ranging from the mishandling of evidence and violations of Constitutional Rights of the accused.

Regardless, the commitment of the FBI represents in many ways the intolerant political culture for any type of human trafficking and/or commercial sexual crimes by our society. Although a human trafficking investigation may look different than others or rely on less physical evidence, it is important to remember the FBI pursues these cases with diligence and persistence.

Considerations for You. If you are being investigated for human trafficking, then there is a good chance that you will not know about it until you are arrested or indicted. The secrecy needed by the Bureau to protect victims often translates to defendants not learning of an investigation until they arrested.

If you have been charged with human trafficking or sex slavery, then you have a serious problem that requires serious legal help. Do not trust your freedom to any attorney. You need an experienced and talented attorney who can help you avoid spending decades in prison. Mark Satawa has the experience and expertise to help you. Call Mark for the serious help you need.

Mark Satawa

Mark Satawa is a criminal defense attorney specialized in forensic DNA,
sex crimes, child abuse, shaken baby, medical child abuse, white collar,
and federal crimes.