Human Trafficking Law

Human trafficking has become an issue of increasing international concern in recent years. To forestall its growth in Florida, penalize human traffickers, and protect its victims the Legislature passed a series of laws. These laws were aimed at curtailing the practice, which they described as a form of modern-day slavery. In which victims are subjected to force, fraud, or coercion to both forced labor and sexual exploitation.

What Qualifies as Human Trafficking?

In passing Florida statute 787.06, the Florida Legislature acknowledged that although many human trafficking victims are forced to work in the sexual entertainment industry, trafficking also occurs in the form of the exploitation of labor, which includes:
  • Domestic servitude
  • Restaurant work
  • Janitorial work
  • Sweatshop factory work
  • Migrant agricultural work
To qualify as human trafficking, the alleged perpetrator must have used force to transport, solicit, recruit, harbor, or provide another person for the purpose of exploiting him or her. Coercion is legally defined as:
  • Using physical force against someone
  • Restraining, confining, or isolating someone against his or her will without lawful authority
  • Threatening to restrain, confine, or isolate someone against his or her will
  • Using lending or other forms of credit to establish a debt when services or labor are pledged as security, but only if the value of the labor is not applied toward liquidation of the debt and the length and nature of the services are not defined or limited
  • Destroying, concealing, withholding, or possessing someone else’s passport, visa, or other immigration document
  • Causing financial harm to the alleged victim
  • Threatening to cause financial harm to another
  • Luring someone by fraud or deceit
  • Providing a controlled substance to someone else for the purpose of exploiting him or her
Under this definition of coercion, a number of different practices can qualify as human trafficking, including:
  • Keeping others confined
  • Isolating victims from the public and family members
  • Confiscating passports
  • Threatening to use violence against family members
  • Telling victims that they will be imprisoned or deported if they contact the authorities
  • Refusing to release the victim’s funds
Generally, when the victim is a minor, the prosecution is not required to prove that the defendant coerced the individual into forced labor or sexual exploitation. Simple exploitation will be enough to obtain a conviction in these situations. However, if the victim was an adult, the prosecutor will need to provide evidence of coercion to obtain a conviction.

Penalties

The penalties for a conviction of human trafficking depend on the age of the victim and whether the human trafficking was for labor or services or sexual exploitation. For example, engaging or attempting to engage in human trafficking for the labor or services of a minor under the age of 18 years old can be charged as a first degree felony under Florida statute 775.082, which is punishable by up to 30 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. This is true even if the defendant is accused of benefiting financially from participation in a venture where another was subjected to human trafficking. Defendants can also be charged with a first-degree felony for:
  • Using coercion for labor or services or commercial sexual activity of an adult
  • Enlisting a child under the age of 18 years old who is an unauthorized alien for labor or services
  • Using coercion for labor services or commercial sexual activity of an adult who is an unauthorized alien
  • Enlisting labor or services by transporting children under the age of 18 years old into Florida
  • Using coercion for labor, services, or commercial sexual activity by transporting an adult from out-of-state
Some defendants, however, could be charged with a life felony if they are accused of:
  • Transporting a child under the age of 18 years old from out-of-state for commercial sexual activity
  • Enlisting a child under the age of 18 years old or someone who is mentally incapacitated for commercial sexual activity
  • Being the parent or legal guardian of a minor and then selling or transferring custody of the child, knowing that as a result of the transfer, the child will be subject to human trafficking.
If a defendant is charged with causing great bodily harm, permanent disfigurement, or permanent disability to another person during the commission of a human trafficking offense, the degree of their charge will be reclassified. For instance, a first-degree felony will become a life felony. Furthermore, any real or personal property that was used, attempted to be used, or intended to be used in the furtherance of human trafficking can be seized by the state.

Prohibited Defenses

Defendants are also prohibited from raising certain defenses, including that:
  • They did not know the victim’s true age
  • The victim lied about his or her age
  • They believed that the victim was over the age of 18 years old
  • The victim, who was aged 18 or younger, consented to the exchange or had a reputation for being unchaste
Otherwise, defendants are permitted to provide evidence demonstrating that the victim voluntarily engaged in prostitution. However, this could open defendants up to charges of soliciting a prostitute or deriving support from the proceeds of prostitution.
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