Human Trafficking Laws in the United States

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The crime of human trafficking involves a trafficker using force, fraud, or coercion to make an individual perform labor or engage in commercial sex. Human trafficking often involves severe violence directed at its victims and is connected to a host of other crimes, including gang activity, drug operations, property crimes, organized criminal operations, and other violations of state, federal, and international law. Because of these connections, it is important to know how human trafficking laws and other criminal statutes interconnect.

The Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) is the cornerstone of U.S. efforts to combat human trafficking. There are three main components of the TVPA – Protection, Prosecution, and Prevention – commonly called the three P’s, The TVPA provides protection to victims of trafficking and established the T visa that allows temporary U.S. residency and a path to U.S. citizenship. It expands the crimes and penalties available to federal agents pursuing traffickers, and enhances U.S. international efforts to prevent trafficking. The TVPA mandated the creation of the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking within the State Department and has sponsored public awareness campaigns and federal task forces to help implement its programs.

The TVPA defines different types of trafficking as:
• Commercial Sex Act: Any sex act on account of which anything of value (money, drugs, shelter, food, clothes, etc.) is given to or received by any person.
• Slavery: A form of exploitation where people are legally considered personal property. 
• Involuntary Servitude: A scheme, plan or pattern that causes a person to believe that if they do not enter into or continue a labor obligation or situation, they will suffer serious harm, abuse, or other negative consequences. 
 Peonage: Peonage is involuntary servitude based upon a real or alleged indebtedness.
• Debt Bondage: Similar to peonage, debt bondage involves a debt that seemingly can never be paid off, forcing the victim into exploitative labor indefinitely. 

The TVPA of 2000 and subsequent reauthorizations created a number of additional crimes and remedies and re-codified several preexisting crimes connected with human trafficking. These offenses are generally referred to as Chapter 77 crimes because they appear in Chapter 77 of Title 18 of the U.S. Code. Chapter 77 laws are some of the main statutes federal prosecutors use to convict human traffickers. 

Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act

The Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act of 2015 states that individuals who purchase sexual acts from human trafficking victims may be arrested, prosecuted, and convicted as sex trafficking offenders when this is merited by the facts of a particular case. It also established the Domestic Trafficking Victims’ Fund, which allows money obtained from arrested traffickers to be given to states to assist victims of trafficking.

Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act

This law, enacted in 2014, strengthens existing laws on child welfare, including additional stage actions related to
foster care and adoption. This law recognizes how states’ welfare agencies play a key role in the longer term stability and assistance to minor victims of trafficking.

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