Sex Trafficking

Florida statute 787.06 defines human trafficking as transporting, soliciting, harboring, recruiting, or obtaining another person for the purpose of exploitation. Human trafficking can involve forced labor, such as domestic servitude, janitorial work, sweatshop factory work, migrant agricultural labor, and restaurant work. However, human trafficking is notorious for the exploitation of young women and children in prostitution or the sexual entertainment industry. This aspect of human trafficking is referred to specifically as sex trafficking.

Defining Sex Trafficking

Sex trafficking involves recruiting, harboring, transporting, providing, or obtaining a person, knowing that fraud or coercion will be used to force that person to engage in prostitution or a commercial sex act. Commercial sex acts include prostitution as well as:
  • Sexually explicit performances, both private and public, that involve acts or shows that are live, photographed, or recorded and intended to arouse sexual desires
  • The production of pornography
Coercion is defined under Florida law as:
  • The use or threat of physical force against another
  • Restraining or confining another against their will and without legal authority
  • Threatening to isolate or confine others against their will
  • Using lending or other credit methods to establish a debt, for which labor or services are pledged as security if the value of the services is not applied towards the debt and the nature of the services was not defined or limited
  • Destroying or withholding a victim’s passport or visa
  • Threatening financial harm
  • Using fraud or deceit to entice or lure the victim
  • Providing a victim with a controlled substance in an effort to exploit them
Those who are convicted of employing these methods to force a person into performing a commercial sex act can be charged with a second degree felony under statute 796.045, which is punishable by up to 15 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. However, if the victim was under the age of 14 years old and the offense resulted in the victim’s death, the charge will be increased to a first-degree felony, which carries a penalty of up to 30 years imprisonment.

Prior to 2008, Florida’s definition of child sex trafficking also required prosecutors to demonstrate that the child was forced through coercion or fraud to participate in prostitution, pornography, or stripping. In an effort to align Florida law more closely with the federal Trafficking Victim Protection Act, the state Legislature eliminated this requirement. As a result, minors in Florida no longer face the same evidentiary burden as do adult trafficking victims and prosecutors no longer need to prove that minors had been the victims of force or fraud in order to obtain a sex trafficking conviction. In making this change, the Florida Legislature explicitly recognized that whenever prostitution involving a minor is facilitated by a third party, that child is automatically considered to be a victim of sex trafficking regardless of the tactics used.

Furthermore, prosecutors also do not need to establish that the third party trafficker knew that the victim was a minor. This means that like statutory rape laws, child sex trafficking is a strict liability offense.

If a parent or guardian of a minor transfers custody of a child to someone else, knowing that he or she will engage in prostitution, perform naked for pay, or otherwise participate in the trade of sex trafficking, he or she can also be charged with a first-degree felony. Offering to sell or transfer custody of a minor is also punishable as a first-degree felony. In fact, anyone who knowingly benefits financially from sex trafficking can be prosecuted.

Civil Remedies

In 2006, state lawmakers enacted a civil cause of action that allowed labor trafficking victims to sue their traffickers in court for three times the amount of the actual monetary damages that their forced labor caused them to suffer. To determine the amount, plaintiffs use a prevailing wage estimation provided by the federal government. Soon after, a similar law was introduced that allowed sex trafficking victims to collect damages from their traffickers. However, because prostitution is not a legally recognized form of labor, the federal government does not provide a prevailing wage estimate to determine the value of prostitution-related transactions. To address this, the Legislature determined that the amount of damages that victims of sex trafficking should collect is equal to three times the amount gained from the illegal prostitution in which the victims were forced to participate, under statute 772.104. According to this provision, victims of sex trafficking are entitled to a minimum of $200 in addition to attorney’s fees and court costs.
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