Civil Remedies for the Victims of Human Trafficking

Human trafficking is the fastest growing and second largest criminal industry in the world, generating roughly $150.2 billion worldwide (2016 report). According to the Trafficking in Persons Report produced by the State Department, approximately 27 million men, women and children are victims of some form of human trafficking. Florida is one of many states that deals with the horrors of human trafficking. In June, law enforcement officials arrested 85 people in a human trafficking sting operation in the Tampa Bay area. After California and Texas, Florida has the most human trafficking cases in the entire country according to the Human Trafficking Hotline. Human trafficking is defined as a form of modern slavery where human beings are traded for labor through the use of force, fraud, or coercion. The majority of people that become victims of human trafficking are forced into some form of commercial sexual labor like prostitution. It is important to note that people from all walks of life have become victims of human trafficking. While human trafficking and sexual abuse are commonly associated with women that come from disadvantaged communities, both sexes are at risk as well as all sexual orientations, and ages. Victims of sex trafficking are generally young—often underage—and otherwise vulnerable people who have endured months and years of sexual and physical abuse at the hands of traffickers and buyers. They may be raped on a daily basis, often in astonishingly cruel, dehumanizing, and sadistic ways. They may turn to drugs and alcohol to numb the pain. They may also be forced by their traffickers to use drugs and alcohol in order to foster dependence and maintain a state of confusion, helplessness, and hopelessness. Usually, by the time law enforcement “rescues” a victim of sex trafficking, the victim has suffered so extensively that the damage is often irreparable. Victims almost always need immediate medical attention and long-term rehabilitation to remedy their physical injuries and weakened conditions. They also generally need years of counseling, and even then prospects for recovery may be limited. Victims enslaved while young face limited career prospects and educational opportunities, and their physical and mental scars may present further roadblocks.

In short, victims need a lot of help in attempting a return to normalcy if such a thing will ever be possible. Is there any civil remedies for the victims of human trafficking? Often the traffickers are judgment proof and low level operatives in a bigger criminal enterprise. Congress has passed federal laws have made it easier for victims to recover from human trafficking offenders through civil suits and expanded the forms of restitution available to victims. In 2000, Congress passed the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA), the first comprehensive law in the United States to penalize the full range of human trafficking offenses. Congress reauthorized the TVPA in 2003, adding a civil cause of action, codified at 18 U.S.C. § 1595, allowed trafficking victims to sue their traffickers for money damages in federal court. The new law initially opened the civil courthouse doors to victims of only select violations of the TVPA, but the TVPRA’s reauthorization in 2008 expanded the private right of action to encompass the entire list of anti-trafficking offenses. Federal law permits victims of human trafficking to bring a civil suit against both traffickers and anyone who financially benefited from his or her victimization and knew or should have known the acts were in violation of the law. This could include hotels, banks, and other owners of businesses that knowingly financially benefit and assist human traffickers. Statistics show that hotels and motels were involved in significant amounts of cases of human trafficking and labor exploitation. If a hotel – through an employee – knowingly rents a room to a trafficker (either a “pimp,” or buyer of sex) for the purpose of a commercial sex act, or should have known that it was renting a room to a trafficker for that purpose, the hotel can be held liable for civil damages to the victim. Also some financial institutions are financially benefiting from human trafficking and have failed to do anything to stop it. If these institutions know or choose to ignore clear evidence of human trafficking they could be held civilly liable for damages. Groundbreaking lawsuits have been filed in Texas against hotels and truck stops alleging they have not done enough to prevent the crimes from happening on their property. Florida attempted to give these same remedies to victims of human trafficking under Florida state law under— House Bill 167 and Senate Bill 1044 that would hold business owners liable if they “knowingly or in willfull blindness” facilitate trafficking crimes. Hotels and motels are the biggest targets since the bulk of sex trafficking crimes take place on their properties. The legislation is currently on hold as it has had a strong pushback by the hospitality industry. But there are still civil remedies in federal court for the victims of human trafficking. If you, a family member of friend has been a victim of human trafficking, call Rowe Law Offices to see if you may have a case for civil damages against those who financially benefited from the sexual abuse and trafficking you had to endure. We must all step forward to try to stop this crime against humanity.