The Florida Legislature has deemed human trafficking a form of modern-day slavery. The law is governed by Florida Statute §787.06. With victims ranging in age, from children to adults, the Legislature finds that these victims are subjected to force, fraud, and/or coercion for the purpose of either sexual exploitation or forced labor. Human Trafficking is defined as “transporting, soliciting, recruiting, harboring, providing, enticing, maintaining, or obtaining another person for the purpose of exploitation of that person.” Victims trafficked for the purpose of Sexual Exploitation are typically subjected to prostitution and/or the sexual entertainment industry. Victims used for the purpose of Labor Exploitation are subjected to domestic servitude, restaurant work, janitorial work, and/or migrant agricultural work.
In Florida, is Human Trafficking the Same as Prostitution?
The answer is complicated. And the question really should be worded differently. Is that person a prostitute or a victim of human trafficking? A “prostitute” may not be working for anyone, perhaps just doing it for the money. A victim of human trafficking is typically forced into the trade. However, many argue that there is a great overlap and both the “prostitute,” and the victim of human trafficking have been exploited in some way. A prostitute may be a victim of human trafficking and a victim of human trafficking likely meets the definition of a prostitute.
How Does Human Trafficking Work?
Most people think of human trafficking under the umbrella of prostitution and pimping. The sex trade is most highlighted in the news. However, human trafficking is the trade of humans for sex, forced labor, exploitation etc. The definition is quite broad, and the victim's age is irrelevant. The Department of Homeland Security as well as the Florida lawmakers refer to human trafficking as modern-day slavery.
Traffickers typically use force, or trickery to lure individuals in and then gain physical, mental and/ or emotional control over their victims. The traffickers then force the victim into working or commercial sexual exploitation. Thus, the slavery comparison.
What are the Signs of Human Trafficking?
It seems as though human trafficking awareness has come to light in recent years. More “pimps” are labeled as traffickers and the federal government is getting involved. Human trafficking charges may be pursued on the state or federal level depending on the facts and circumstances. Human trafficking can be hard to identify or determine but many mental health agencies agree that some signs remain consistent:
- Poor mental health
- Poor physical health
- Lack of control
These signs are broad and can be indicative of many problems, not just human trafficking. Law enforcement agencies are becoming more and more educated about the intricacies of human trafficking and are trying to educate the public so that society can be aware of the problem. Therefore, prosecutions for these instances are becoming more prevalent, not just in Florida, but nationwide.
What is the Difference Between Human Trafficking and Pimping?
Lately, the trend is that there is little or no distinction between a pimp and a sex trafficker. If someone is using threat or coercion to control the body of another for exploitation purposes, then that person is subject to criminal prosecution if caught.
What are the Penalties in Florida for Human Trafficking?
Under Florida law, any person who knowingly, or in reckless disregard of the facts, engages or attempts to engage in human trafficking, or benefits financially by receiving anything of value from participation in a venture that has subjected a person to human trafficking. The penalties for a Human Trafficking conviction vary depending on a number of different factors. These factors include, but are not limited to:
- Whether the act(s) involves the use of coercion
- Whether the act(s) involves labor or services
- Whether the act(s) involves commercial sexual activity
- Whether the victim is an adult or child under the age of 18
- Whether the victim is an authorized alien
- Whether the act(s) involves the transfer or transport of the victim from outside the state to within the State of Florida
- Whether the victim is mentally defective or mentally incapacitated
- Whether the offender is the parent, legal guardian, or other person having custody or control of a minor who offers to sell or otherwise transfer custody of the minor to be subject to human trafficking
- Whether the offense involves permanent branding of, or directions to brand, a victim
Second-Degree Felonies are punishable as follows:
- up to 15 years in prison
- up to 15 years of sex offender probation
- up to $10,000 in fines
First-Degree Felonies are punishable as follows:
- up to 30 years in prison
- up to 30 years of sex offender probation
- up to $10,000 in fines
Life Felonies are punishable as follows:
- up to Life in prison
- up to Life on sex offender probation
- up to $10,000 in fines
The degree of an offense will be reclassified to a higher degree if the defendant causes great bodily harm, permanent disability, or permanent disfigurement to another person during the commission of the offense.
What are Some Legal Defenses to Human Trafficking?
Defenses to Human Trafficking will depend on the specific allegations and section under which the defendant is charged. Some potential defenses to the crime of Human Trafficking include:
- Lack of knowledge on the part of the defendant
- No reckless disregard of the facts
- No financial benefit to the defendant
- The defendant was not the parent or legal guardian of the child or did not have custody or control of the minor child
- False allegations
- Identification of the defendant
The defendant's ignorance of the victim's age, the victim's misrepresentation of his or her age, or the defendant's bona fide belief of the victim's age CANNOT be used as a defense. The victim's lack of chastity or willingness or consent of the victim is NOT a defense if the victim was under the age of 18 at the time.
As you may have already gathered, prosecution of these crimes can be complicated for several reasons. We have learned through multiple law enforcement agencies that “catching” the trafficker can even be difficult because their victims are taught to run and escape the police because if they are caught, the punishment at the hands of their trafficker/ pimp is far more extreme than that which they meet by law enforcement.
Often times, the testimony of the victim may fall apart for multiple reasons. They become fearful of their trafficker, they lack the credibility to sustain cross-examination, or they simply are not emotionally or physically stable enough to sustain the stress and pressure of a trial.
How Do You Know If Someone is Truly a Victim of Human Trafficking?
Human trafficking is real. It is a problem. And those individuals who engage in the “modern-day slavery” trade should be prosecuted in my opinion. However, like all crimes, the defendant has a right to be presumed innocent and is entitled to a fair trial. Overzealous prosecutors and law enforcement agencies must use caution in labeling individuals as victims of human trafficking. Not all people in the sex trade are “victims” from the criminal defense perspective. Cases should be scrutinized, and defendants' rights must be protected because it is the law, the penalties are severe and wrongful convictions are very possible.
How Might Someone Be Wrongfully Convicted for Human Trafficking?
USA Today reported that lawmakers are drafting legislation that may lead to wrongful convictions. Wrongful convictions are not the only problem. Wrongful prosecutions can ruin lives. The unknowing minor participant in a trafficking ring can be prosecuted with the ring-leaders even though their participation is minor. The mere fact that an individual is prosecuted for human trafficking places a strong negative stigma on the individual regardless of whether or not they are convicted. It is important to hire an experienced criminal defense lawyer who has a thorough understanding of the laws and defenses associated with human trafficking. Contact Powers Sellers & Finkelstein, PLC today for a free case evaluation.