As a survivor of sex trafficking, you have strong legal rights through America's civil justice system. You may be able to file suit against the people who exploited you, along with the businesses who assisted them. Holding your abusers accountable is possible.
- Human trafficking lawsuits
- Sex traffickers and clients may be held responsible
- Third-party trafficking assistance claims
Are you or your loved one a survivor of sex trafficking? You deserve justice. Our experienced attorneys can help. To learn more about your rights, contact our lawyers today for a free, confidential consultation.
We're prepared to do everything in our power to see sex traffickers face justice.
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- Why You Should Consider Legal Action
- Pennsylvania's New Human Trafficking Law
- Meet Our Sex Trafficking Attorneys
- Child Sex Trafficking Lawsuits
- Criminal & Civil Law On Sex Trafficking
- Online Exploitation: Holding Websites Accountable
- Sex Trafficking Lawsuit TV Commercials
Were you or a loved one the victim of sex trafficking? Our experienced sex crime attorneys are here to help. You have powerful legal options, including avenues of legal recourse outside of the criminal justice system. We understand that you may be scared. You may feel powerless. That's how your abusers want you to feel. In reality, you have the power inside you to stand up and demand change. We can help.
Click here to read more about the Jeffrey Epstein sex trafficking & abuse lawsuits.
Legal Help For Human Trafficking Survivors
Victims of sex trafficking often fear stepping forward because they fear retaliation, both from their traffickers and from the criminal justice system. It's an unfortunate fact that many sex trafficking victims who come forward find themselves being prosecuted, usually for prostitution. Sometimes, the criminal justice system gets it wrong. No one should be punished for being the victim of a serious crime.
How We Can Help
You deserve better. Our compassionate attorneys will work tirelessly to protect your rights and ensure that you are not prosecuted for any crimes as you fight for justice.
Do you want to hold your traffickers accountable? Are you interested in learning more about your legal rights? The criminal justice system is not the only way to hold your traffickers responsible for their crimes. Civil justice is also a possibility.
What Is Civil Justice?
The civil justice system is distinct from the criminal justice system. In criminal courts, prosecutors bring cases against defendants on behalf of the state, pursuing justice for society at large. In civil courts, individual plaintiffs bring claims against individuals and businesses on behalf of themselves, pursuing accountability and financial compensation.
Some human trafficking survivors may be eligible to file a private civil lawsuit, and pursue financial compensation on their own terms. Our dedicated legal team is actively pursuing civil litigation on behalf of human trafficking survivors, bringing our extensive experience and resources to the assistance of those who have been harmed by sex trafficking.
Sex trafficking victims have powerful legal rights in both the criminal justice system and the civil justice system. In civil courts, you may have the right to file a private lawsuit against sex traffickers and the businesses and companies who profit from sex trafficking. You are not alone. We believe you, and we believe your story deserves to be told.
You have the power inside you to fight back. We understand how terrifying this must seem. All too often, human trafficking victims are forced to remain in the shadows, living in fear and shame. Human trafficking causes a range of powerful and painful emotions - terror, anger, shame, embarrassment, depression. These are natural reactions to a terrible trauma, but you are stronger than that. You can step forward and share your story with the world.
You can stand up. Human sex trafficking is the fastest growing criminal enterprise in the world. It's a huge business, raking in about $9.8 billion every year in the United States alone. Things won't change until brave individuals find the courage to step forward and fight against the tide. You don't have to go this alone. Our attorneys are here every step of the way.
Filing Suit Against Responsible Parties
Civil lawsuits are part of the solution. By filing suit, you can hold accountable the people and businesses who facilitate sex trafficking. Lawsuits can be filed against individuals who traffic victims, trapping people in lives of forced servitude and degradation. Some lawsuits go even wider, attempting to prosecute entire trafficking networks made up of many individuals.
Hotels, Motels & Truck Stops
Newer lawsuits have gone even further. In an emerging form of civil litigation, attorneys across the country have begun to file human trafficking lawsuits against hotels, motels and truck stops where victims are trafficked. The argument behind these lawsuits is simple. Lawyers argue that, by serving as the site for human trafficking, these hotels, motels and other establishments are profiting from human trafficking and serving to facilitate serious crimes.
Internet Sex Trafficking
Even newer litigation has cropped up around the many websites on which human sex traffickers advertise and sell their victims. The internet age presents numerous challenges, including how to control sex trafficking. Internet sex trafficking is shockingly common.
Any time a person uses the internet to coerce, solicit or sell a victim, they have committed a serious federal crime. In fact, the internet is partially responsible for the massive explosion in sex trafficking that we've observed over the last decade. As in a hotel, the internet provides sex traffickers with anonymity, vital cover under which they can commit their crimes.
New Bill Expands Rights For Sex Trafficking Victims
Hoping to tackle this problem, the United States Congress passed a bill in March 2018 to reduce sex trafficking on the internet. The bill makes websites and other internet-based platforms accountable for knowingly facilitating sex trafficking, and it had an immediate impact.
Craigslist & Backpage.com
Many websites, including Craigslist, chose to shut down their personals sections in response to the new legislation, in part because they knew these forums could be abused by sex traffickers. It was even more ground-shaking when the federal government seized Backpage.com, a website known to be used by sex traffickers.
None of these government measures have stopped the rise of a new type of lawsuit, in which individual sex trafficking victims seek to hold these websites accountable for their role in facilitating sex trafficking. A series of high-profile lawsuits have been filed against the owners of Backpage.com, accusing the individuals of creating and operating a site that allowed sex traffickers free rein to sell their victims on the open market.
Recent Lawsuit Says Facebook Facilitates Sex Traffickers
An even newer sex trafficking lawsuit was filed in October 2018 against Facebook, Engadget reports. Filed in Texas by a woman only identified as Jane Doe (most sex trafficking victims choose to file their cases anonymously), the lawsuit accuses Facebook of operating a social platform that "has continually been used to facilitate human trafficking by allowing sex traffickers an unrestricted platform to stalk, exploit, recruit, groom and extort children into the sex trade." The plaintiff says she was only 16 when she was friended by another Facebook user, who later beat, raped and forced her into sex trafficking. The suit also names Backpage.com, where the victim says her photos were posted, and two hotel owners. Backpage.com is accused of facilitating human sex trafficking by allowing traffickers to advertise victims through the site, while the two hotel owners are said to have "turned a blind eye" to the trafficking occurring at their establishments.
Pennsylvania's Anti-Human Trafficking Law
In 2014, Pennsylvania's legislature approved a new law to stamp out sex trafficking once and for all. This powerful law grants sex trafficking survivors the power to hold their traffickers accountable by filing private civil lawsuits. You can fight back against the people and businesses that hurt you. No longer will you be forced to live in the shadows. You have a voice. We want to help you raise it loud and clear.
Experienced Support For Sex Trafficking Survivors In Pennsylvania
Our experienced sex trafficking attorneys are here to help. Were you or a loved one trafficked for commercial sex acts in Pennsylvania? New legislation protects you, and grants you a voice to speak your truth and take power back from the people who made you suffer.
AbuseGuardian.com is sponsored by a dedicated team of attorneys working to fight for the rights and protections of sex trafficking victims. We have your best interests at heart. The same can't always be said for the criminal justice system, which still prosecutes far too many victims as prostitutes. You deserve better. You deserve to be protected.
Our lawyers will do everything in their power to ensure that you see justice. You were harmed in terrible ways. We understand the powerful and painful range of emotions that you must be feeling. Harness your power. You can do this. Stand up and make your voice heard.
What Is Sex Trafficking?
A momentous new piece of legislation, Act 105, Pennsylvania's Anti-Human Trafficking Law, defines human trafficking in clear terms, and made it explicit that sex trafficking is a form of illegal labor trafficking. As the law states, human trafficking is not solely a crime in which people are trafficked across country or state lines. It can occur in every community, small and large, and not every victim is an undocumented immigrant.
The law also laid out a broad description of who should be classified as a sex trafficker - anyone who financially benefits (or receives anything of value) from the sexual exploitation of another person. That definition may include motels, hotels and truck stops where victims are trafficked for sex, along with the kind of people we traditionally consider sex traffickers.
Today, the law in Pennsylvania is clear. To be classified as sex trafficking for adult victims, there is a requirement of force, fraud or coercion, but no such condition exists for child victims.
Filing A Civil Lawsuit After Sex Trafficking
Pennsylvania's Anti-Human Trafficking Act may have a far wider impact than clear legal definitions. The new law grants sex trafficking victims the right to pursue their traffickers in a court of law. Now, sex trafficking survivors in Pennsylvania have the power to secure significant financial compensation from those who have victimized them.
You can file a civil lawsuit against the people who trafficked you. You may be eligible to secure substantial financial damages, including money to cover your medical expenses, pain and suffering. Compensation may also be able for emotional trauma and counseling.
But the Anti-Human Trafficking Act goes even further, allowing lawsuits to be filed against any individual, organization or business that "participated" in the sex trafficking. These are civil lawsuits, distinct from the criminal justice system. This is a lawsuit that you control, one that takes your best interests into account.
Who Can Be Held Accountable?
With these simple words, the Anti-Human Trafficking Act opens wide the realm of possible defendants in a civil sex trafficking lawsuit. Hotels, motels and even websites may be on the hook for civil damages to survivors. As we've seen, a young trafficking victim in Texas has filed suit against Backpage.com, accusing the now-defunct website of knowingly facilitating sex trafficking by allowing traffickers to advertise their victims on its online platform. Similar claims could be filed under Pennsylvania's Anti-Human Trafficking Act in the near future.
Pathbreaking Lawsuit Filed Against Roosevelt Inn
The first civil lawsuit filed under the new Pennsylvania law came in 2017, when a teenage girl who was enslaved and forced to perform sex acts with men filed suit against a Philadelphia motel owner. As alleged in court documents, the girl, just 14 years old, was confined to a room at the Roosevelt Inn for days, even weeks, and threatened if she left. Then she was made to have sex with men in commercial transactions benefiting her traffickers.
Thankfully, the girl's traffickers have all been convicted, but now, her attorney and a growing number of sexual abuse advocates believe that the Roosevelt Inn should also be held accountable for what happened. In court documents, the plaintiff's legal team argues that staff members at the Roosevelt Inn knew what was happening to the girl, but did nothing to stop it.
The motel's resident manager, Yagna Patel, who is also named as a defendant in the case, has told reporters, "we just rent the room and that's all we can do." If successful, the case against the Roosevelt Inn will show that defendants can no longer use ignorance of sex trafficking activity as an excuse to hide the fact that they materially benefit from this terrible crime.
This is breaking litigation, and we still don't know how the case will fare in court, but it's already bringing hope to other sex trafficking victims across the state. You have a voice. The civil court system will listen when you speak out. Take back your power. Take control. You can pursue significant financial damages and justice against the people who harmed you, and the businesses and websites that allowed them to commit their crimes.
Protections For Sex Trafficking Survivors
Tens of thousands of victims are trafficked every year in America, but few speak out. You may fear the same thing that they do - that you will be charged with a crime and prosecuted if you step forward.
Pennsylvania is working to change that reality. The Anti-Human Trafficking Act creates new protections to shield sex trafficking victims from being prosecuted for prostitution. The law defines a new affirmative defense in prostitution cases, allowing women and men who have been trafficked to argue that they were the victims of a crime, not the perpetrators of one. We can help protect you. Our attorneys have studied this new Pennsylvania law closely, and we're now working with sex trafficking advocates to develop creative strategies to shield sex trafficking survivors from prosecution.
Child Sex Trafficking: How Our Lawyers Can Help Survivors
Were you or a loved one the victim of child sex trafficking? Our experienced sex trafficking attorneys are here to help. As a survivor or the loved one of a survivor, you have powerful legal options. You also have strong legal rights under federal law. With the help of an experienced attorney, you can be safe from prosecution.
Sex traffickers can be held accountable. Step out of the shadows and raise your voice for change.
Criminal Justice System Offers Little Support To Victims
Sex trafficking is a serious crime. Sex traffickers face harsh criminal penalties, as do "legitimate" businesses, including motels and gas stations, that facilitate sex trafficking. But the criminal justice system was never designed to support survivors. Even today, victims of child sex trafficking remain at risk of being prosecuted themselves.
The civil justice system provides another solution. By filing a private civil lawsuit, sex trafficking survivors and their loved ones can pursue justice and financial compensation on their own terms.
Sex traffickers, businesses and individuals can be held liable for facilitating sex trafficking in civil lawsuits. Recent cases have even sought to hold online platforms, including Backpage.com, accountable for allowing sex trafficking to occur. Other lawsuits filed over recent years have gone after hotels and gas stations where sex traffickers are known to ply their trade. In principle, anyone who works to facilitate sex trafficking can be held accountable in a civil lawsuit, including legitimate business owners.
Child Trafficking Victims Now Protected By Law
Most sex trafficked children remain in the shadows, far from the help of criminal prosecutors and civil attorneys. One of the reasons why trafficked children hesitate to get help from law enforcement is the fear of being arrested for prostitution. Even though trafficked children are the victims of a serious crime, they can still be arrested and charged.
Outrageously, it was only until very recently, in 2000, when the comprehensive Trafficking Victims Protection Act was passed to protect trafficking victims from prosecution. It was common for police to arrest trafficked youth for engaging in prostitution, without figuring out that it was forced on them.
Even with these laws, trafficked minors are still being arrested—about 1,000 were arrested in 2010, one study estimates—10 years after the protective laws were already in place.
Trafficking survivor advocates emphasize in their work that this persecution of victims needs to stop—it makes no sense to punish the victim of a crime, and doing so also forces the problem underground. They also maintain that trafficked children should not be referred to as “prostitutes,” a term that suggests free will in choosing sex work, which is not the case in trafficking.
None of these realities change the fact that child trafficking victims are now protected by federal law. You should not be punished for stepping forward. Our sex trafficking attorneys are well versed in current law, both on the federal and state level, to help protect the rights of trafficking victims. We can help protect you from prosecution.
How Traffickers Enslave Children Into Prostitution
Detectives and other professionals investigating child sex trafficking cases note that they’ve observed distinct patterns to how sex traffickers typically operate:
Targeting The Vulnerable
Traffickers often target children that seem especially vulnerable or isolated, taking advantage of these characteristics to help gain victims’ trust, cut them off from friends and family who might be able to protect them, and pull them into doing things they’re uncomfortable with.
For example, children who seem shy, lonely, or ill-at-ease in public may be at significant risk for trafficking, especially if they’re often seen spending time alone. Children with difficult home lives - such as those with dysfunctional, abusive, or neglectful families - are also at risk, as well as those whose families are suffering economically.
Employing A Peer “Recruiter”
Initial contact with a potential trafficking victim is frequently made through a “recruiter” hired by the trafficker, usually someone of the same sex as the targeted child and around the same age, so that the child will feel more comfortable with and receptive to them.
The “recruiter” may befriend would-be victims and spend a lot of time with them, sometimes introducing recreational drugs or sexual practices to them, using peer pressure and other similar forces to make these acts seem normal or “cool.”
Eventually, the recruiter may actively involve victims in prostitution by bringing them to see “customers” or having them meet the people who orchestrate the trafficking operation.
Offering Support & Work
Many trafficking victims, in need of money, work, or a place to stay, are initially pulled into the system through false or misleading advertisements or invitations for jobs or some other seemingly legitimate opportunity for work. Again, “recruiters” may be used to lure the victim.
Ensnaring Victims Through “Relationships”
Another common tactic traffickers use is to establish a bond with victims that resembles a romantic relationship, showering them with attention, affection, and lavish gifts. At first, traffickers may conceal all inklings of their true intentions, making victims believe the relationship is heartfelt and normal, but later manipulate them into performing sex acts as favors, using guilt or withholding of affection as leverage.
When victims have a strong emotional attachment to the trafficker exploiting them, it’s especially difficult for them to escape - not only do they have conflicting feelings about leaving (despite the suffering they must endure), they’re often unwilling to expose the abuser’s crimes to the authorities.
Threats & Violence
A predator may threaten a child’s life or the lives of the child’s family in order to force them to do their bidding. Also common are threats regarding telling secrets to a child’s family members or peer groups to publicly humiliate them.
When these threats fail to intimidate the child, the trafficker may resort to using physical violence, withholding of food and other basic needs, or imprisonment.
You can learn more about common tactics employed by sex traffickers in ensnaring victims from the San Diego Tribune.
Technology Facilitates Child Sex Trafficking
According to researchers at the THORN Project, about 63% of child sex trafficking survivors report having been advertised online. Unfortunately, the Internet provides ideal grounds for traffickers, allowing them to easily and anonymously target unsuspecting minors in various sinister ways:
- Posing as another minor. It’s a common tactic for traffickers to reach out to teens and children through social media while pretending to be in their peer group to gain their trust. After the victim has formed a bond with them, they start making inappropriate requests or ask to meet in person.
- Blackmail using embarrassing or explicit images. Also termed “sextortion,” child traffickers and pornographers may obtain personal information or images to threaten their victims into compliance and submission. Sometimes children are manipulated or intimidated into taking graphic images of themselves and sending them to the predator; other times, these images are obtained without the child’s knowledge, through hacking techniques or remote control of the child’s webcam or other capture device.
Recent Lawsuits Hold Businesses Responsible
Several recent lawsuits are setting precedents for holding businesses liable for supporting child sex trafficking.
A number of victims have filed a civil lawsuit against the administrators behind Backpage.com, an online directory website that offers users free classified ads. According to the plaintiffs, the business was negligent in allowing a large number of child sex traffickers to run listings advertising underage girls in the “escorts” section of the website.
Though the Backpage.com management attempted to address the problem by completely removing the escort section, the plaintiffs say that the company turned a blind eye when the traffickers simply re-categorized their listings as “dating” ads.
Roosevelt Inn Case
In a "first of its kind" civil lawsuit, Roosevelt Inn in North Philadelphia was accused in 2014 of permitting sex traffickers to "pimp out" a 14-year-old girl in one of its rooms. The girl's sexual slavery in the motel, during which she was raped and sexually abused by about 100 men, lasted for 2 years, according to the complaint.
The lawsuit is one of the first to be filed under a newly-passed state law that enables trafficking victims to file suit against motels, hotels, and other similar businesses where traffickers operate.
These recent cases demonstrate that businesses and websites can be held accountable for facilitating child sex trafficking. This is a terrible crime, one that must be met with swift action.
Combatting Modern Slavery
Sex trafficking is "modern slavery," according to the Polaris Project, a non-profit dedicated to studying and disrupting human trafficking networks. Sex traffickers use violence, threats, deception or coercive tactics to force adults and children into performing or engaging in sexual acts for money.
How To Pursue A Sex Trafficking Lawsuit
Are you or a loved one the victim of sex trafficking? Our experienced sex trafficking attorneys are here to help. We've already helped hundreds of sex crime survivors seek justice in the wake of terrible trauma. You can fight back. You have a voice; we want to amplify it.
You have been wronged, but justice is possible. Our dedicated legal team is here to help. You have powerful legal options. Many sex trafficking survivors are eligible to pursue justice by filing a civil lawsuit. You can hold your abusers accountable and secure valuable financial compensation.
Criminal & Civil Law On Sex Trafficking
Sex trafficking of any sort is illegal. It should go without saying that anyone who facilitates sexual exploitation has committed a serious crime. Under federal law, it's illegal to make anyone else work through the use of force, coercion or intimidation. That's true for sex work, just as it is for domestic work, farm labor and any other form of labor.
In 2000, the US Congress passed the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act, which clarified that the federal crime of sex trafficking encompasses "recruitment, harboring, provision, receipt, transportation and / or obtaining of a person for the purpose of a commercial sex act," either through the use of force or threats, coercion, fraud or using systems of indebtedness or debt bondage.
In principle, anyone even remotely involved in sex trafficking can be held criminally liable for their role in perpetuating human suffering. Unfortunately, this can also be true for sex trafficking survivors, who are often wrapped up in criminal proceedings. Fear of criminal prosecution forces many sex trafficking survivors to remain silent about their mistreatment.
Inspired by evidence of widespread sex trafficking discovered on Backpage.com, Congress passed in 2018 a package of two laws to help in the fight against sexual exploitation online. Abbreviated as FOSTA and SESTA, the laws amend existing federal acts to make clear that online companies who facilitate sex trafficking on their platforms can be held liable in criminal and civil courts.
What Is FOSTA-SESTA?
The Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA) and Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA) were signed into law by President Trump on April 11, 2018.
Amending The Communications Decency Act
Both laws were created to amend the Communications Decency Act, which, as amended in section 230, provides that "online service providers" who publish information submitted by their users are immune from liability in relation to that information.
Thus, Facebook cannot be held liable for defamatory messages posted by one of its users, even though the messages may well rise to the level of legally-actionable defamation. Nor can Facebook be held accountable (via a civil claim of libel) for restricting the communications of a user, even though, in some sense, it would begin to serve an editorial role in doing so.
Legal Liability For Facilitating Sex Trafficking
Prior to section 230, it was unclear whether or not a company could be held responsible for the dissemination of offensive or harmful content if it regulated the content shared over its platform. Regulating content (by banning some speech and allowing other speech, for example) would seem to place online service providers in the role of "publisher" and publishers are generally held liable for the statements they publish.
Senators and Representatives feared that online service providers like Reddit and Facebook would be loathe to filter out "harmful" content at the risk of becoming liable for other content on the platform. To allay those concerns, section 230 provided online service providers with a safe harbor, saying very clearly that they could not be held liable for the offensive or damaging things that users publish on their platforms.
Removing The Liability Shield
FOSTA and SESTA change that picture dramatically. The "safe harbor" provision has been limited. Today, in light of FOSTA and SESTA, section 230 can no longer be interpreted to be a roadblock in the fight against sexual exploitation of children or sex trafficking.
It is now a crime to operate a website that "promotes or facilitates prostitution," even if the messages related to sex trafficking are being posted by a user of the site. It could also be a source of civil litigation, as survivors of sex trafficking are now allowed to sue online service providers (like Backpage.com or Reddit) for violating the law.
The idea, apparently, is to force online service providers to clean up their sites, or else be held liable for "promoting" sex trafficking. However, what "promoting" sex trafficking actually looks like has been left vague, so many online service providers have already taken drastic measures to limit their liability. Craigslist has removed its entire "Personals" section, Rolling Stone reports. Reddit has banned several subreddits, including r/Sexworkers.
Many Consensual Sex Workers Oppose FOSTA
Many sex workers are against the change in policy. When sex work moved from the back alleys of America to online fora like Craigslist and Backpage.com, many sex workers saw it as a good thing. Meeting "johns" online, rather than in-person, allowed sex workers to take control over their trade. "Johns" that seemed dangerous could be screened out from the pack more readily, increasing safety for sex workers and, in some cases, eliminating the role of pimps from the equation.
SESTA-FOSTA, however, drives sex work back underground, advocates claim, back onto the street or the clearing houses of the dark web, where the vulnerable become even more so. In this worldview, Backpage.com was the safest place for a sex worker to advertise their services. Now that Backpage has been seized by the government and shut down, sex workers are increasingly being solicited by pimps, often through Facebook or Twitter. Both companies supported SESTA-FOSTA.
Sex trafficking, of course, is entirely different from consensual adult sex work, but SESTA-FOSTA makes little distinction between the two practices, only one of which is a modern form of slavery.
Hubs For Commercial Sexual Exploitation
The pathways into sex trafficking are myriad and distinct. Some victims are manipulated into becoming prostitutes by a boyfriend. Others are brought to America through a web of lies, then sold into sexual slavery when the promised job opportunity doesn't materialize. And some are coerced into the sex trade by their own families.
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Sex traffickers tend to prey on vulnerable populations, including undocumented immigrants, homeless children and runaways. You have rights. Around the world, about 4.5 million people are believed to be caught in situations of commercial sexual exploitation. Another 35 million are enslaved and forced to perform some form of labor.
Commercial Entities Can Facilitate Trafficking
In the United States, child and adult victims are being trafficked through massage parlors, illegal brothels, commercial escort businesses, street prostitution and on the internet, usually orchestrated by a pimp who exerts physical violence or psychological manipulation to keep them trapped.
California is likely the American hub for human trafficking, in large part because its major cities, San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego, are centers for travel from foreign countries, both legal and illegal. Texas, Florida and New York also serve as major centers for the distribution and exploitation of people.
Identifying Those Who Facilitate Sexual Exploitation
The underground sex trade relies on a complex network of players, researchers at the Urban Institute have found. As horrifying as this is, sex trafficking is a business for its perpetrators and, like all businesses, sex traffickers require support.
In their path-breaking research on underground sex economies, Urban Institute experts discovered that, just like reputable businesses, pimps, escort services and other illegal businesses who profit from sexual exploitation need "drivers, secretaries, nannies, and other non-sex workers to keep operations running smoothly."
Alongside these workers, the researchers also heard numerous stories of law enforcement officials, medical professionals and hotel managers who, either by looking the other way or actively assisting a sex trafficker, allowed exploitation to occur under their watch, usually for a monetary kickback. These parties can be held accountable for their role in perpetuating the sexual exploitation of children and adults. Civil lawsuits can be filed against police officers, hotel owners and anyone else who allows sex trafficking to continue under their purview.
At the same time, the advent of the internet has seen an explosion in child pornography, a trend that sex traffickers haven't missed. Many traffickers understand that, as they force young men and women to perform sex acts, pictures and videos of those sex acts can also be sold for a profit.
The internet has also opened new horizons for sex traffickers, who can advertise the services of their victims on Craigslist or secret forums on the dark web.
How Civil Litigation Empowers Sex Trafficking Victims
Civil litigation is a powerful tool in the fight against human trafficking. Upon attaining their freedom, most survivors of sex trafficking have the legal right to file a private lawsuit against the parties responsible for their abuse, trauma and exploitation.
Pursuing justice through the civil court system has three fundamental goals:
- securing financial compensation for victims
- shedding light on an under-recognized problem
- holding responsible parties accountable under the law
Most sex trafficking victims will never see financial restitution through the criminal justice system. While courts are now empowered to include monetary compensation as an aspect of sentencing, this form of restitution is still under-utilized.
Fighting Trafficking Networks In Court
Thus, civil litigation, as the Southern Poverty Law Center notes, "may provide the only means by which victims of trafficking may be 'made whole.' " Moreover, a private lawsuit in the civil court system allows survivors of human trafficking to secure a far wider range of financial damages than are available through court-ordered restitution awards.
In an even broader sense, pursuing sex traffickers and the people who aid them can help to dissuade traffickers from exploiting other vulnerable people in the future. Successful civil lawsuits can have an even greater impact on the behavior of "legitimate" businesses who assist sex traffickers, because it creates a strong financial deterrent.
Discouraging Businesses From Participating In The Illegal Sex Trade
If business and property owners know that opening their doors to sex traffickers could lead to multi-million dollar court judgments, perhaps some will do the right thing and report potential signs of sex trafficking from the start.
Filing a civil lawsuit is also a deeply personal statement. In pursuing their own court cases, survivors take an individual stand against human trafficking in all its forms. It can be deeply empowering to face one's abuser in court and demand justice.
Naming The Abusers
Civil lawsuits can be filed directly against individuals who traffic humans for sexual exploitation or orchestrate sex trafficking rings. It's also possible, under provisions of the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, to file a civil claim against people who "knowingly obtain" the labor of a forced sex worker, including customers (johns) if any can be identified.
Businesses that knowingly allow sex trafficking to occur on their premises can also be held accountable. While this area of law is still developing, a number of early sex trafficking lawsuits have been filed against hotels, motels and truck stops that served as hubs for illegal sexual exploitation. Several massage parlors and nail salons, some of which acted as fronts for sex trafficking rings, have also been sued in recent cases.
Websites Under Fire For Assisting Criminal Exploitation
As sex trafficking has become more and more of an online business, a number of websites have also been implicated in civil lawsuits. In one recent case, a survivor of sex trafficking from Houston filed suit against Backpage.com, a number of truck stops and the Hyatt hotel chain, accusing the defendants of profiting from her exploitation. Now, she and her attorney Annie McAdams are hoping that their legal action will shut down Backpage.com, a business they claim has been trying to hide its use as a hub for sex traffickers.
Sex Trafficking Lawsuit TV Commercials
Did you see a TV commercial about filing a sex trafficking lawsuit? Are you, or is someone you know, being trafficked? Sex trafficking is a serious crime, one associated with strong criminal penalties throughout the country, including in Pennsylvania. You deserve a fighting chance.
Filing A Sex Trafficking Lawsuit In Pennsylvania
No one deserves to be threatened, coerced or forced into doing things they don't want to. Things may feel helpless right now; you might feel as though you have no power in your current situation, but that's not true. In Pennsylvania, sex trafficking survivors and victims are given a fighting chance by powerful anti-human trafficking laws. You are protected.
We can help you. You don't have to live like this anymore. Our dedicated attorneys have the experience, knowledge and resources to help you fight for justice in the civil court system.
Your Right To File Suit
You may have the right to file a civil lawsuit and demand justice. You can use the civil court system to your advantage. You can force sex traffickers and their enablers to answer for their crimes, and secure substantial financial compensation.
Pennsylvania has two court systems. In one, the criminal justice system, sex traffickers can be prosecuted for committing their crimes, punished and incarcerated. In the second justice system, the civil justice system, survivors and victims can step forward and demand compensation from the people who harmed them.
You may be eligible to file your own lawsuit, and pursue justice on your own terms. This is your right. You can make traffickers pay for what they've done. But the legal possibilities only begin with the people who actively trafficked you. These are the direct perpetrators of a crime, but there may be additional individuals and businesses to consider as defendants.
Were you trafficked out of a motel, hotel or truck stop? You may be able to file suit against one of those establishments. Were your "services" advertised on an internet site? You may be able to file suit against the website. Under Pennsylvania's new law, these additional businesses and individuals are often determined to have facilitated sex trafficking.
Anyone who benefits financially from sex trafficking could be liable for financial damages. That may include the hotels, motels and truck stops where victims are trafficked, as well as the websites (including Backpage.com) where sex trafficking victims are advertised.
You can even file your lawsuit anonymously (either as Jane or John Doe) to maintain your privacy and personal security.
Free Legal Consultations
If you or a loved one were the victim of human sex trafficking, our compassionate team of attorneys can help. Federal law empowers you to file a civil lawsuit against your trafficker and any establishment, business or online platform that benefited financially from the trafficking. You have powerful legal options. We can help you take advantage of these laws.
You are not alone. It may feel as though you have nowhere to turn, but that couldn't be further from the truth. Our experienced lawyers are here to assist you throughout your journey. Worried about money? Our attorneys only work on a contingency-fee basis, which means you pay us nothing unless we secure compensation in your case.
Contact our attorneys today to receive a free consultation. You can learn more about your legal rights at no charge and no obligation. There's no risk to reaching out. Your consultation is completely confidential and completely free. Hope is possible.