Human trafficking has become an international buzzword as technology has assisted sex trafficking and a problem once considered a foreign affair is becoming an increasing problem in the United States. While trafficking in drugs continues to be the most profitable crime, trafficking in humans is the second most profitable, and it is quickly closing the gap.
Human trafficking is not the act of smuggling illegal immigrants across the nation’s borders, although many such illegal immigrants become the victims of human trafficking once they arrive on American soil. Despite the number of undocumented immigrants who fall victim to human labor trafficking, Bureau of Justice Statistics figures indicate that the majority of trafficking victims—83 percent—are U.S. citizens.
The explosion of human trafficking has prompted swift action against the criminal activity through increased legislation and enforcement. Both state and federal law enforcement agencies attempt to arrest and prosecute traffickers and to identify and rescue their victims.
While intrastate trafficking may be charged one of the District Courts of Oklahoma, interstate trafficking, or transporting a victim across state lines for the purpose of forcing labor or commercial sex, is a federal offense.
In general, human trafficking is forced servitude, typically either through labor trafficking, in which a victim is forced to work long hours for little to no pay, or sex trafficking, in which a victim is forced to engage in prostitution or other commercial sexual activity.
Human trafficking may involve abduction, human smuggling, and debt servitude, but it is increasingly victimizing runaways and disenfranchised youth. Victims are those who feel trapped by their circumstances, including undocumented immigrants and the homeless.
It is the transportation, recruitment, or detainment of a person through force, threat, coercion, fraud, or abuse of power for the purpose of sexual exploitation, forced labor, or other types of exploitation including organ harvesting.
The demographic of labor trafficking victims and sex trafficking victims is staggeringly different. While nearly all labor trafficking victims (95 percent) are immigrants, nearly all sex trafficking victims (more than 80 percent) are United States citizens.
State law defines human trafficking as “modern-day slavery that includes, but is not limited to, extreme exploitation and the denial of freedom or liberty of an individual for purposes of deriving benefit from that individual's commercial sex act or labor."
In 2013, the FBI’s Innocence Lost Initiative, in conjunction with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, the U.S. Department of Justice’s section on Child Exploitation and Obscenity, and local law enforcement agencies, conducted a nationwide sweep in an attempt to identify and rescue victims of child trafficking. In Oklahoma, Operation Cross Country VII recovered three victims of human trafficking—16 and 17 year old girls forced into prostitution.
Both state and federal law prohibit minors under the age of 18 from engaging in commercial sexual activity, including prostitution, pornography, and exotic dancing. Any minor under the age of 18 discovered engaging in prostitution or other commercial sex act is presumed to be a victim of trafficking.
While most child sex trafficking involves minors aged 16 or 17, FBI research indicates that many children become involved in prostitution at a much younger age. In fact, statistics show that the average age of entry into prostitution is 12 years of age.
Child prostitution, or prostitution involving a minor under the age of 16, is a felony punishable by a maximum of 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $15,000.
However, trafficking in humans carries stricter penalties, and prosecutors will be more likely to charge an act of child prosecution with the more serious offense of human trafficking. If a person is convicted of the trafficking of a victim under the age of 18, he or she is subject to a minimum sentence of 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $20,000.
If the victim is aged 18 or older, the minimum sentence for human trafficking is five years and a fine of up to $10,000.
Human trafficking does not require transportation as an element of the offense, but when a person is taken across state lines for domestic servitude, prostitution, or other act of human trafficking, the federal government takes jurisdiction over the case.
Federal human trafficking laws are intended to trafficking in persons and the sexual exploitation of children. The penalties associated with a federal conviction are even greater than those associated with an Oklahoma conviction.
Human labor trafficking is punishable by a maximum of 20 years in prison, unless the offense involves kidnapping, sexual assault, attempted murder, or results in a death. In such a case, it is punishable by a maximum of life in prison (18 U.S.C. §1589).
Child sex trafficking penalties depend upon the age of the victim. If a victim is aged 14 to 17, the offense is punishable by a minimum of 10 years in prison and a maximum of life. If the crime involves a child under the age of 14, child sex trafficking carries a minimum sentence of 15 years and a maximum of life in prison.
The media, legislators, law enforcement, and civil rights groups have all turned a sharp eye to human trafficking, and because of intense scrutiny of the offense, Oklahoma district attorneys and U.S. attorneys will aggressively and zealously pursue conviction and maximum penalties.
To consult a defense attorney admitted to practice in both the state and federal courts of Oklahoma, call (405) 608-4990 today.