Human trafficking is an abhorrent crime that has reached epidemic proportions in the United States and throughout the world. Federal and state laws provide survivors with civil remedies against traffickers and businesses that enable these grievous acts.
An estimated 25 million people are trafficked worldwide, according to Polaris, a non-profit organization that seeks to end human trafficking. World Population Review estimates that 199,000 human trafficking cases occur in the United States every year, with California, Texas, and New York among the states consistently with the highest numbers of victims.
Although the criminal prosecution of human traffickers is important for providing victims with justice and safety, it does little to restore their lives. Civil action can help victims of human trafficking receive compensation that will allow them to access the therapeutic resources they need to recover and enjoy fulfilling lives.
What is human trafficking?
- Sex trafficking that compels commercial sex acts by force, fraud, or coercion, or that involves victims under the age of 18,
- Labor trafficking, which includes recruiting, harboring, transporting, providing, or obtaining a person for involuntary servitude or debt bondage through force, fraud, or coercion
Who are the victims of human trafficking?
While Americans tend to believe human trafficking is a problem that is far removed from their community, it is a widespread issue that can occur in virtually any community in the nation, regardless of its size.
Traffickers resort to tactics such as manipulation, violence, false promises, and even romance to recruit victims. Human trafficking victims can be of any age, gender, or nationality, but they are typically individuals who are economically or psychologically vulnerable. According to 22 U.S.Code § 7101, human trafficking is modern-day slavery that primarily exploits impoverished women and girls who lack educational and economic opportunities.
The Impact of Human Trafficking
Human trafficking victims suffer extreme maltreatment, often over an extended period, that results in physical and psychological injuries that can last a lifetime.
Trafficking victims who were sexually exploited may have been subjected to rape and physical abuse from multiple individuals over the course of months or years, according to The Exodus Road. Most do not receive medical attention when needed. The physical effects can include:
- Untreated sexually transmitted diseases
- Poor health status, resulting in higher risks of cancer and diabetes
- Improperly healed injuries
Victims of labor trafficking may also be forced to complete repetitive tasks in unsafe conditions. The physical effects could include:
- Severe infections
- Respiratory issues
- Unhealed injuries
- Long-term physical effects from exposure to contaminants
The psychological effects of being trafficked can be profound. Victims may lose their sense of humanity as they become objectified, resulting in powerlessness and loss of dignity. The long-term effects can include the following:
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Dysfunctional relationships
- Memory loss
Social and Economic Impact
Human trafficking victims may be separated from their families and social networks for long periods of time. They may become an enigma and feel isolated, or even be shunned or stigmatized by their families, making them vulnerable to re-victimization. They may have been unable to attend school or learn the skills necessary to live independently.
The Trafficking Victims Protection Act
Human trafficking violates federal and state criminal statutes that can result in imprisonment for human traffickers.
The Trafficking Victims Protection Act, 18 U.S.Code § 1595, is a federal law that provides civil remedies against traffickers and any individual or entity that financially benefits from trafficking or who knows or should have known that they were doing business with a trafficker. Businesses enable trafficking by providing products and services to traffickers.
The civil lawsuit may be filed by the victim or a state attorney general. The statute of limitations is 10 years after the trafficking occurred or, in the case of a minor, 10 years after the victim’s 18th birthday.
State Trafficking Protections
Trafficking is also a violation of state criminal and civil codes. The states of California, Texas, and New York have passed laws that allow victims to file civil claims against traffickers and those who enable traffickers. A human trafficking attorney can help survivors determine whether their cases should be tried in federal or state courts.
California Civil Code § 52.5
Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code (Title 4, Chapter 98)
The Civil Practice and Remedies Code provides human trafficking survivors with civil remedies against traffickers and those who intentionally or knowingly benefit from participating in trafficking ventures. Survivors can claim actual damages, including psychological injury, reasonable attorney fees, and exemplary (punitive) damages. Depending on the nature of the offense, the statute of limitations is none or 10 years. In the case of a minor, the statute of limitations is 10 years from the date of their 18th birthday.
New York S672/A3186
The Senate bill S672 and Assembly bill A3186 state that New York human trafficking victims may file a civil action against traffickers and businesses that knew or should have known they were promoting or profiting from trafficking activities. Victims may sue for compensatory and punitive damages plus attorney fees.
The statute of limitations is 15 years after the victim was freed or, in the case of minors or victims with a disability, 15 years after the minor reaches the age of majority or disability ceases. Disability can include being a minor, lacking legal capacity to make a decision, imprisonment, and other incapacity/incompetence.
Which industries enable human traffickers?
Holding industries accountable for facilitating, promoting, and enabling trafficking is an important component in the fight to end trafficking. Without the help of these businesses to house and transport victims and finance their operations, the ability of traffickers to continue operations would be disrupted.
Individuals working in these industries, like truck drivers, also have opportunities to identify and stop trafficking by reporting suspicious activities to the proper authorities. Businesses must be willing to prioritize human rights above their own profits.
According to Polaris, traffickers use the following industries to run their operations:
Hospitality/hotels and motels
Health care institutions
Social media websites
Human Trafficking Survivors May Be Entitled
to Substantial Compensation
The psychological and physical damages human trafficking victims experience can take several years of therapy to overcome. This can require extensive financial resources, which many survivors lack. Even with therapy, some injuries may be permanently disabling.
Compensation can help victims access the care they need, experience an increased sense of justice and empowerment, and enjoy financial security. Compensation may include, but is not limited, to the following:
- Medical expenses
- Rehabilitative expenses
- The cost of therapy
- Pain and suffering
- Emotional distress
- Mental anguish
- Loss of earning capacity
- Loss of ability to enjoy life
- Punitive damages
When should I contact an attorney?
If you are a human trafficking survivor, you have the right to seek justice and compensation for your injuries. The statute of limitations is intentionally long to allow survivors sufficient time to psychologically prepare to participate in a lawsuit. Survivors who wish to file a lawsuit should do so as soon as they are ready.
Help Is Available If You Are a Human
Human trafficking survivors faced their ordeal alone in a hostile environment without advocacy. Advocacy is one of the most significant benefits survivors can experience when hiring an attorney. In a civil lawsuit, your attorney is on your side, protecting your interests while vigorously fighting for you to receive maximum compensation.
If you have survived the trauma of human trafficking, you no longer have to fight alone. Legal representation can ensure you are in a strong position to recover your well-deserved compensation and take back your power. Contact The Lanier Law Firm today to get started.