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The Basics of Human Trafficking Laws

There are two main categories of human trafficking laws: federal and state laws. The relationship between those categories are a bit complicated in that occasionally, federal laws and state laws contradict. But in general, federal laws do precede state laws. In this article, the state laws in question are from Washington. There are likely key differences in other states’ laws.

Federal Laws Regarding Human Trafficking

Trafficking Victims Protection Act
What is it?
This law was passed in 2000 and it was reauthorized five times, the latest being in 2019. It structures human trafficking legislature through the 3 P’s: Prevention, Protection, and Prosecution. This was a landmark in establishing the status of human trafficking in federal law.
Why does it matter?
The Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) created several key protections for victims. It established the T-Visa, which prevented the removal of trafficking victims who met certain requirements. These requirements included having helped law enforcement prosecute or investigate human trafficking. In a similar vein, the TVPA created a legal status known as “Continued Presence” which gave human trafficking victims access to similar federal benefits as refugees, if the victims were needed by law enforcement. Protections of victims, such as mandated restitution and the ability to sue traffickers, were laid out in this piece of legislature. It created the basic framework for federal prosecution of human trafficking.

Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act
What is it?
The Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act was passed in 2015. The purpose of this law was to increase compensation for victims and update classifications of certain human trafficking crimes. In regards to the previously established 3 P’s, this legislature was mainly aimed at protection of victims.
Why does it matter?
It increased the penalty of crimes related to human trafficking. The added revenue was directly added to the Domestic Trafficking Victim’s Fund. U.S. citizens and permanent residents who were victims of human trafficking were allowed to access aid allocated by the previously mentioned TVPA act without official certification from the department of health and human services. It also extended the statute of limitation for human trafficking offenses to ten years after the victim turns 18, enabling greater prosecution of traffickers.

The PROTECT Act
What is it?
It was passed in 2003 by Congress. In terms of the 3 P’s established by TVPA, the legislature was meant to enforce prosecution laws regarding human traffickers. It focused on child victims of trafficking, mostly making it easier to prosecute child-traffickers.
Why does it matter?
The act almost eliminated the statute of limitations for child victims of human trafficking. It lowered the possibility of bail for those accused of serious crimes against children. PROTECT allowed better prosecution of sex tourism, particularly crimes that victimized children.

Washington State Codes

RCW 9A.88.085
What is it?
This law centers around sex tourism. It prevents businesses facilitating travel (Travel Agencies) from advertising sex as an attraction. Violations of this law are classified as a Class C Felony.
Why does it matter?
Sex tourism is an exploitative industry that takes advantage of vulnerable women and children. It is also an industry with rampant child abuse, especially in countries with weaker child protections. North Americans tourists are a large contributing factor, making up almost 25% of sex tourists abusing children outside of the U.S.

RCW 9A.40.100
What is it?
This establishes Washington’s definition of human trafficking, distinguishing between human trafficking of the first and second degree. In addition, it creates minimum fines for convicted human traffickers at one thousand dollars.
Why does this matter?
The fines given to convicted human traffickers are funneled into support for trafficking survivors. Moreover, it ensures that human traffickers are punished, at least monetarily.

RCW 9.68A.101
What is it?
This criminalizes the promotion of commercial sexual abuse of minors. Violation of this law is classified as a Class A Felony.
Why does it matter?
It allocates additional protections for minors, who are particularly vulnerable in society. In addition, this can minimize bias (particularly appearance and behavior based) when prosecuting cases.

RCW 40.24.010
What is it?
This allows victims of human trafficking among others to use the state’s address confidentiality program. They are allowed to keep their addresses confidential and protected from public disclosure. For mail, they may use a substitute address.
Why does it matter?
The code is another layer of protection for victims who escape. The address confidentiality program gives victims anonymity and security which may incentivize reporting of human traffickers.

RCW 9.96.060 and 9A.88.040
What is it?
Gives an affirmative defense (a set of facts that lowers or prevents punishment for a criminal act) in court regarding the prosecution of prostitution if the defendant’s actions were a result of being a victim of trafficking.
Allows minor victims of trafficking who were convicted of prostitution to request that the conviction be erased from their record.
Why does it matter?
It acknowledges and accounts for the influence that trafficking and coercion has on actions of prostitution. It also protects victims of human trafficking who may fear being accused of prostitution, allowing them to escape and report the crime.

RCW 9.96.070
What is it?
It allows a victim of trafficking to have prostitution charges erased from their record with evidence of the crime.
Why does it matter?
A criminal record is a large obstacle to establishing a better life outside of the sex trade. It may prevent them from renting, getting hired, getting an education, and more. The expungement of their record gives victims a better chance to leave the sex trade.

As a disclaimer, this is not a comprehensive list of all human trafficking laws in the U.S. It is centered around laws that offer protection and help to victims of human trafficking. However, most other laws can be found in the U.S. code which is a collection of the federal laws in the U.S. The main section related to human trafficking is Title 18, Chapter 77. It is named Peonage, Slavery, and Trafficking in Persons. For more specifics into each particular law, you can click on the hyperlinks for a full text of the laws. In regards to Washington laws, you can look at the Revised Code of Washington (linked below) or a collected list of Washington’s laws around human trafficking (also linked below).

U.S. CODE, TITLE 18, CHAPTER 77
https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/18/part-I/chapter-77

COLLECTED LIST OF WA’S LAWS AROUND HUMAN TRAFFICKING
https://www.commerce.wa.gov/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/Landmark-Human-Trafficking_2016.pdf

REVISED CODE OF WASHINGTON
https://apps.leg.wa.gov/rcw/

**Link used for information about sex tourism
https://www.longdom.org/open-access/sex-trafficking-in-the-tourism-industry-2167-0269-1000166.pdf