Soliciting/engaging-in prostitution and human trafficking are separate crimes. The former involves seeking/paying or giving/providing sex for a fee. Under federal criminal statutes, the latter involves slavery, indenture/servitude, peonage (slave wages), coercion, intimidation, and other elements of forced labor. Under state law in Massachusetts, human trafficking requires proof of “subjecting”, recruiting, enticing, harboring, or transporting another in connection with commercial sexual activity. As a criminal defense attorney who routinely defends clients accused of all types of sex offenses in state and federal court, I am concerned by trends that attempt to conflate one (sex for a fee) into the other (sex trafficking). I believe this is the product of intentional “messaging” by law enforcement designed to combat the public’s increasing tolerance for the decriminalization of certain offenses, like prostitution, for which criminal sanctions and penalties are now more likely to be viewed as disproportionate, draconian, moralistic and archaic.

It is my related opinion that it has become the modus operandi of certain prosecutors and police departments, nationwide, to try to paint sex-for-fee cases into things far more serious, and darker, than they often are in an effort not only to sway public opinion but also to compete for anti-trafficking funding that can result in additional personnel and increased dollars for cash-strapped police departments, DA’s Offices, and law enforcement agencies. Sometimes “a happy ending” at a local message parlor is just that, a sex act (usually manual in nature) between consenting adults in exchange for an additional fee (normally a healthy tip). The damage done to reputations, livelihoods, and individual freedoms (Here, in MA human trafficking carries a penalty of a mandatory 5 yrs. to 20 in State Prison.) by continuing to “paint” misdemeanor conduct with a broad felony “brush” by suggesting there should be no distinction between the refenced offenses, is unacceptable and antithetical to fundamental fairness and due process. For that reason, it is critical to hire an experienced defense attorney who not only knows the difference, but who is prepared to aggressively expose, and oppose, any effort to blur and exaggerate these respective lines of distinction both in courts of law and public opinion


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