In recent years, the problem of human trafficking has multiplied exponentially in the United States. At one time, many people considered this an offense that only occurred in seedy locales on foreign lands. The idea of slave labor and child prostitution is deplorable to most Americans, and the fact that these acts occur on American soil is almost unfathomable. Statistics show, however, that the United States is a leading destination for sex traffickers.
According to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, it is estimated that between 100,000 and 300,000 children are victims of child exploitation in the United States each year. While many people believe that victims are undocumented immigrants, the Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that 83 percent of victims are United States citizens.
It is the second most profitable organized crime, following only drugs.
Sex and labor trafficking violate both state and federal statutes. In the past, the federal government left most cases to the states to prosecute; however, with the growth in the number of cases in recent years and the interstate nature of many incidents, the United States government has begun to take an active interest. The FBI, ICE, and other federal agencies conduct sweeps to try to stem the tide .
The FBI's Innocence Lost National Initiative combines the efforts of the Bureau, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, the Department of Justice Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section, and local law enforcement agencies to rescue minors from child prostitution and prosecute traffickers of children. The seventh incarnation of the Initiative's Operation Cross Country sting was the largest to date, recovering 105 child victims of sexual exploitation. In Oklahoma, three teens aged 16 to 17 were freed from prostitution as a result of Operation Cross Country VII.
What is Human Trafficking?
Human trafficking is a term used to describe forced or coerced labor or commercial sex. It is called "modern slavery," but while the means of coercion and procurement have changed, the tactics have been around since antiquity.
Although it is often confused with human smuggling, the two are not the same. Migrant smuggling involves concealing humans to bring them into the country illegally, without proper documentation. While illegal immigrants may soon become victims of this crime through debt servitude, trafficking in persons is a separate offense.
The crime does not require transportation as a defining characteristic. Often, victims of human sex traffickers are moved from city to city, but this is not always the case. Labor or forced domestic servitude typically leaves the victim in one home, restricted from movement.
The crime is defined and proven by three elements, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime:
- Act – recruitment, transport, transfer, harboring, or receipt of persons
- Means – threat or use of force, coercion, abduction, fraud, deception, abuse of power or vulnerability, giving payments or benefits
- Purpose – exploitation including prostitution, sexual exploitation, forced labor, slavery, removal of organs, and other types of exploitation
Often, victims are vulnerable populations including illegal immigrants and runaway, homeless, and disenfranchised youth. Four-fifths of all victims of sex trafficking are United States citizens; 95 percent of labor trafficking victims are foreign nationals, with 67 percent undocumented aliens. Traffickers exploit the vulnerability of these individuals, often luring them with false promises and then enforcing servitude in the labor or commercial sex industries through abuse.
Oklahoma Human & Sex Trafficking Laws
The heartland is not immune to child prostitution and sex traffic crimes. With its proximity to Texas, one of the leading states for these types of crimes, and major interstates spanning the borders from north to south and east to west, the state is a hub for moving both drugs and humans. Since 2007, the National Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline has received more than 700 calls from Oklahoma.
Oklahoma's laws are a part of the state's kidnapping statutes. Defined in 21 O.S. § 748, it is 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."
Both state and federal law prohibit the participation of anyone under the age of 18 in a commercial sex act. Any person under the age of 18 found to be engaged in "sexually explicit performances, prostitution, participation in the production of pornography, performance in a strip club, or exotic dancing or display" is assumed to be a victim. Anyone who persuades, coerces, entices, or aids a minor to participate in a commercial sex act may be prosecuted as a trafficker.
In Oklahoma, trafficking in humans is a felony offense punishable by a minimum of five years in prison and a maximum fine of $10,000. If the victim of is under the age of 18, the penalty is doubled, carrying a minimum of ten years in prison and a maximum fine of $20,000.
Since 2000, the federal government has begun to take a strong stand against this crime in all its forms. Federal legislation includes two notable acts on which most state laws are based:
- Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2013, part of the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013
- William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008
The United States Criminal Code defines and prohibits human trafficking in chapter 77 of Title 18: Peonage, Slavery, and Trafficking in persons. The primary sections dealing with human labor and child sex are found in 18 USC §1589 – 1591:
- § 1589. Forced labor – maximum penalty of 20 years in federal prison; if a kidnapping, attempted kidnapping, sexual assault, attempted murder, or death occur, the maximum penalty is life in prison
- § 1590. Trafficking with respect to peonage, slavery, involuntary servitude, or forced labor – carries the same penalties stipulated in § 1589
- § 1591. Sex trafficking of children or by force, fraud, or coercion – minimum of 10 years to life if the victim is aged 14 to 17; if the victim is under the age of 14, the penalty is 15 years to life
Legal Defense in Oklahoma
If you have been charged with trafficking in humans, accused of aiding child prostitution or forced labor or servitude, you need experienced defense counsel as quickly as possible. As this crime grows, so does the desire of legislators and prosecutors to take a hard line against it.
Call (405) 418-8888 today to speak confidentially with an attorney about your case.
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